The first time I met Susan was during one of her presentations at her atelier de couture (fashion workshop); I was immediately captivated by her professionalism in every detail. The sweetness of her words, the rhythm she used, and the elaborated vocabulary made me feel like a piece of fabric in the hands of a fashion designer creating art. I was totally in confidence and could have stayed all night to listen more about her work. I was imagining the sewing needle waltzing, wondering how a humble piece of fabric could be turned into one of these beautiful dresses that she made. Determined to learn more about Susan who started her brand MATERIALBYPRODUCT in 2003, we finally met again.
The rendez-vous was at La Belle Miette on Collins Street; the place was perfect. I almost felt likeI was in Paris. After ordering a few Ladurée macarons of course with a Mariage Frères tea she began to share with me that she was 14 years old when she saw a documentary about Chanel that gave her the desire to become a well-known fashion designer herself. Chanel? You mean Coco? (wink) Ok it was definitely a great topic for my blog and I wanted to know more about Susan. When she contacted me to ask if I would accept to be a part of one of her campaigns (a selfie campaign, the idea was opportune and intrigued me), I didn’t hesitate one second. After making a few arrangements, we were off to Brisbane. 2 days just with Susan, to understand this fascinating creative designer with her Italian background.
To quickly describe Susan, I would say she is a woman with vision. Her vision was to build a respectable maison de couture and she did.
She started in 2003 and opened her ambitious atelier on Collins Street. She couldn’t find a better place in Australia to express her fashion art and continues to always be inspired by Coco. Collins Street is certainly the most Parisian street that we can find in Australia; and to confirm this we even call part of this street the Paris end (but this will be for another article, let’s go back to our inspiring lady). The idea of Susan was to imagine dresses and outfits for women, going to work everyday, looking for elegant clothes but that were also very comfortable for the woman of 21st century. This was also the desire of Coco Chanel who created the modern woman with for example the little black dress after the second war.
Fashion is always renewable and we definitely need designers to re-invent fashion, to shake up our stylish habits and re-invent outfits with new techniques. Susan’s technique is absolutely prodigious and I can’t stop looking at the perfect finish of each piece of garment.
When Susan invited me to come with her to Brisbane to start a selfie campaign, I obviously accepted. At the same time, Susan was invited by QAGOMA (Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art) during the Cindy Sherman exhibition to introduce her work as fashion designer always inspired by Coco Chanel and how artists (in this case Cindy Sherman) allow her to be creative.
Cindy Sherman is an American photographer renowned for using her own image to explore the fascination of our modern society for self-image and narcissism and the cult of celebrity that contemporary societies accentuate. Imagine my surprise when I realised that Cindy Sherman had the audacity to include a series with Chanel. I wondered what Coco would think of it? Which was the same question for Susan.
How has CHANEL been such an influencer in your life as a woman but also in your life as a fashion designer?
Actually I dress the women Chanel envisaged in the future! Professional, working women who are buying their own fashion and are not dressing for their husbands. They are busy professionals who do not have time to compete with their girlfriends. They are the boss or consciously dressing for the job (and life) they want.
How could you describe your work?
MATERIALBYPRODUCT’s unique, minimal and meticulous tailoring language is neatly summed up as; the cut, the mark, the join.
Stylistically I have carved out a niche that combines glamour and intellect.
How was your work evolved since you started?
The core philosophy of crafting a tight wardrobe that takes you from the week end to evening in the least amount of pieces remains the same. Over fourteen years I have measured, fit and hand crafted pieces for hundreds of women all with their own unique requirements. This makes me a better tailor. It also pushes design evolution from the very real inspiration of working with amazing women.
One thing I definitely notice about Susan is her determined willingness to discover techniques, to observe details and create an unique style.
Where do you see MATERIALBYPRODUCT in few years? (Thinking about Coco who maybe didn’t imagine herself being so famous in the world)
Welcoming more women and men to MATERIALBYPRODUCT.
Do you have a favourite piece in your collection?
I am an old tailor in a young woman’s body so my favourite pieces are always jackets. In homage to Chanel I also always pursue the ultimate little black, jersey dress that is a comfortable as a t-shirt but looks a million dollars.
What are the changes that you notice in fashion? The positive and the negative?
As the global fashion houses get bigger and bigger there is a discerning base of people who want beautifully crafted, luxury fashion with provenance that is relevant to their time and place.
And how do you see the future of fashion?
It is particularly exciting for me to welcome a younger client who would normally spend twenty years buying into mass aspirational labels by-passing that offering to find MATERIALBYPRODUCT because it aligns with their social conscious as well as ticking all the fashion boxes.
Because you have a “Coco crush” (smile) to use your expression on Coco who was French, could you explain to me in few words what is French style for you?
French style for me as the Creative Director of MATERIALBYPRODUCT is being able to get dressed at 6am and go, go, go all day (without needing to change). Pieces that just work because the quality of the cut, cloth, fit, construction and style are excellent. An adjustment of a scarf or the way a jacket is belted (while in an elevator) transforms and outfit from sitting at the desk easy to cocktail.
We recently went together to see Cindy Sherman, you were fascinated by the Chanel Room, how do you find inspiration in art?
Art that strikes me with beauty and makes me think at the same time always inspires me.
Do you think Coco Chanel if she was alive will be on social medias taking selfies?
I think the young Coco would have been the original celebrity blogger/selfie queen for sure. I like to guess she would have embraced it and actively taken control of putting out images of herself as an older woman at work out and at the height of her creativity.
I’m also preparing an article about it, watch this space.
What is your motto every day?
I am here to give my creativity to the world and invite as many people as possible to come and enjoy it.
I want to finish this interview on Susan’s motto because it’s exactly what I have experienced with her. A determined woman who has this desire to share and give, and after all isn’t it correct to think that all creativity starts from with an act of generosity, a desire to share. And how interesting to know that the word ‘generosity’ comes from the Latin root: ‘genere’ which means ‘to engender’, or ‘be born.’ A talented fashion designer is born few years ago and you can go to visit her atelier on Collins Street and for all women always busy or hesitating with their wardrobe, you can definitely trust MATERIALBYPRODUCT.
Read Susan’s article on her blog “Coco, Cindy and Susan’ who shares her experience at QAGOMA during Cindy Sherman exhibition.
Susan and I at QAGOMA