Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Strateas-Carlucci-sphere

Peter Strateas
and Mario Luca Carlucci had early success with their first label Trimapee before closing it down gently to go straight to Paris with their next venture Strateas Carlucci, a picture of tailoring, construction and form..

interview: Grant Fell photo: Superteam Studios

Grant Fell: Lets start at the beginning. Strateas Carlucci is Peter Strateas and yourself, Mario Luca Carlucci - are you both born and bred Melbournians? Mario Luca Carlucci: I am from an Italian background. Both my parents were born in Italy. Peter’s parents are both Greek. Peter’s father was born in Greece and his mother was born in Australia. We have been mates from school. We went to high school together. It was a really small school and the art department was even smaller, five students in the class. We had the same passions, aesthetics and that kind of stuff. We became mates in art class!
It’s a good combo Greek and Italian. It’s very Melbourne actually. (laughs) So post-school you studied communications and industrial design. That is interesting as those two combinations of creative pursuit are quite suited to fashion and also unusual at the same time. Exactly! Peter went on to study communication graphic design and I went on to study industrial design. We never set out to start with a fashion brand which is an interesting aspect to our story. We had another friend called Tristan and he studied architecture. The three of us had these different design disciplines and being great mates we started this creative, collaborative thing, doing random bits and pieces. From graphic design, sculptural work, commissioned art work, any kind of odd job that we found whilst we were studying, we started to form this business called Trimapee and from that, fashion came into play. We were experimenting with some print making, some art works and then started experimenting with garments. We started selling bits and pieces to friends and a few stores and that’s how it grew and evolved, really organically. Before we knew it Trimapee had a real fashion collection! This was all happening, by the way, out of Peter’s parents garage out in the suburbs, which was really funny. We turned Peter’s parent’s garage into a design studio. (Laughs) Trimapee started in 2006? We officially launched it in 2006 as a ready-to-wear fashion collection. Prior to that, it was established as a company, but as I said, it was a creative, collaborative, project-based company not just a fashion company. But yeah, the first fashion ready-to-wear collection was 2006. Actually, the way it all kicked off was that we entered the collection which was at that stage just menswear into the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, a start-up programme. There was a competition and we were selected as a finalist and the prize for that was to be in a runway show for fashion week. That was our first step into the industry, so after our first runway show it put our name on the map, so to speak. It was very theatrical, not your average runway show and Dan Zizys was a part of it. Not your standard menswear show! (laughs) So early on, you were pursuing a number of different creative paths. When did you realise that fashion was a good business option or did you just decide you liked fashion more and concentrated on that? It was one of those natural progressions. We have always been into fashion and style. I know this may sound a little clich├ęd and wanky, we didn’t so much call ourselves fashion designers as we had a really broad idea about what design is. So for us we just really wanted to hone in on fashion and it was a balance between doing something creative and having some commercial viability to survive, and sustain ourselves as a business. I think it was a really great balance for us to pursue something creative but also to sustain it, and hopefully, make some money out of it. (Laughs) I think that’s the reason ultimately why we decided to go down the fashion road as opposed to any of the other mediums. 

Tell us about Trimapee as a fashion label over those first five to six years. Trimapee was great. It has been really good to us and quite successful locally. We went down the retail path, we wholesaled throughout Australia and at our peak we had about 40 to 50 stores stocking us and we also opened our own retail stores. Our first flagship store was in Johnson Street in Fitztroy, then we moved to the city and also had a pop-up store in JPO. It was doing really well. Our decision to move on from Trimapee wasn’t a financial one, if anything, it was that we felt we out grew it. We started it so young, we were 21 to 22 years of age and it took off quite fast really. We were still learning and as you know we didn’t come from fashion backgrounds so this whole experience for us has been like one long apprenticeship from fashion to business and all in between. So for us, it was just about growing and learning as we went. We were really happy with how we were going with Trimapee but we got to a point with the last few seasons we were taking it in a different direction. Traditionally, Trimapee is known for a dark aesthetic; androgynous, more streetwear as opposed to where we are now. Our tastes changed, we grew up, I’m a dad now, (laughs) our personal style changed and our vision changed. I think for us we were initially planning on keeping Trimapee going and introducing this new element into the brand. It’s hard to change something when it’s so established and people know it for what it is so we decided to end it on a good note and wind things down which has just happened a month ago. We launched Strateas Carlucci in the mean time which is a completely new goal and vision for us, so that was the decision, to have that transition from one to the other. Smart, very smart. Good to hear. A lot of people when they are young like you were, develop a new brand and they just keep going with it as that is what they think they are destined to do. You guys look like you are taking your vision to another level and another place. Thank you! So far it’s proved to be the right choice, the right decision. We still had Trimapee and we launched the Strateas Carlucci collection in Paris in January of this year. For us that was our testing ground. We thought if you can make it and show in Paris, your backing is good and you can be successful there, then that warrants us to continue on and we are doing something right, so to speak. So we thought we would test it out in Paris and see how it went and if we fell flat on our faces then we were making the wrong decision or if it was well received, which it was, then this is the path for us. We still had Trimapee as our back- up, we didn’t go, “alright, we are ending it and then starting a new one.” We overlapped the two and that was done consciously. Well done again! The access into Paris, did that come through the Stealth Project partnership? Yes it did. The guy who heads Stealth Project is Mark Rushton, he is famous for launching brands. He helped launch the Japanese brand Julius. They are one of the most famous Japanese brands at the moment. He helped those guys get off the ground. He works a lot with new emerging designers leaning towards a darker aesthetic but also more artisinal in terms of the garments and construction. The way I like to put it, is he is more of a curator, he hates the term showroom so I would never like to call him a showroom. (laughs) He has this space and he has four or five designers from around the world that he hand picks and works with. Basically, he curates them in his gallery and everyone comes and he invites buyers. We essentially do our own sales but he brings the right people to us. We started talking with Mark towards the end of last year. This was before we had anything on paper, we were still working with the whole concept of what Strateas Carlucci was to become. He really dug the idea and we started working on a collection and before we knew it, we were in Paris showing the first range. So this was the first official fashion show for Strateas Carlucci? Yeah, it was the first official showing of the collection. No one had even seen it and we were working so close to the wire, it was the second to third week of January and literally we were still getting pieces together. We had the photo shoot for the collection in early January as well. We were really pushing for time and it was such a whirlwind. Then we finally got the range together and flew to Paris and basically showed the collection. No one had seen it and that’s including Mark. He had seen bits and pieces. This was the first time that anyone had seen anything! Where was the show held? In a gallery space in Paris. It was kind of beautiful grungy, almost like an S&M dungeon, very cool, that’s what we called it; the dungeon. (laughs) It suited the aesthetic of the garments and it was really great. We were really pleased with the outcome. Did the show lead to obtaining some stockists in Europe? Yeah it did. We had quite a few buyers come and see it and they bought after the first season. For this type of level that you are dealing with, you only hope that with the first season you will get some buyers and stores to see it, let alone buy it. We surprised ourselves and also Mark, as he was very realistic with us about it all and we had no expectations. He was realistic with us about how brands can go to Paris and show season after season and show for years without picking up any stockists. It is just a matter of getting in front of the right people, showing and growing. So we thought, okay we will go over there and we will show and see what the response is like. We were lucky enough after the first season to pick up eight stockists. Mind boggling for us, we were blown away. They weren’t just any old stores, they are some of the worlds leading boutiques. So, to have that confidence to go into the next range and having the buyers see this range and look at the quality and to see us as a new brand was interesting for them as well. We are a new brand but we have had this experience not only in business but also client experience with Trimapee over the past 6 to 7 years. I think at this level they are not just buying a garment, they are buying into the whole concept behind a brand as well, and that is something we are really passionate about. We really try to portray that idea through the garments, through the stories, through the photos and everything else that we do. Now, after our second season we were back in Paris in June and September for men’s and women’s for the summer collections. So you have been there three times this year? Four times this year! It’s been a busy year! (laughs) That is truly fantastic! We have 16 stockists worldwide. We are stocked in France, Italy, Hong Kong, USA, Finland, China, Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, yeah quite a few. How are people in Australia, are they aware of what you are doing? We haven’t officially launched Strateas Carlucci in Australia yet. I think the whole strategy was that we wanted to be seen as an international brand, we wanted to launch over there, hopefully become successful and then come back to Australia and then say this is what we have done. Sounds familiar! (laughs)  I am sure! (laughs) With Trimapee we were doing great things for six or seven years and yeah, sure the press and the industry knew about us and so forth but it’s really until you make the trips overseas and make a name for yourself overseas, that’s when people start to prick up their ears. Welcome to the party, we know that one (laughs) Exactly! We want to strike when the time is right. We are thinking if we can get sponsorship dollars together we might do a show in Sydney next year and it’s not for sales but purely to say, here we are and this is what we are doing. In the meantime we are talking to the likes of you guys at Black Magazine and a couple of other mags that want to do features, but we are being really selective at the moment. We are all about slowly but surely, our strategy is wanting to enter the market slowly and let people discover us. Our motto has always been slow and deliberate wins the race. The Turtle won the race, go the Turtle. (laughs) That’s right! (laughs) So do you have any retail presence in Australia at the moment? We are in one store in Perth called Zekka and the only reason we are in that store is because she comes to Paris and sees the collections. Their store is absolutely beautiful, we are the only Australian brand they carry which is great for us. Haider Ackermann and designers like that are the others they stock. Now we have this space in our showroom, that’s a new kind of concept for us. Part of it is retail, part of it is showroom and part of it is bespoke tailoring and handmade garments. We have launched this space now, where we are wanting to do it by appointment only. Customers coming in, having a look at the collection, coming in for a few hours, we serve you tea, coffee, champagne and whatever else, we get to meet you, you get to meet us, we measure you up and make you a garment that may not be on the rack. Trying to change the rules of retail a little bit. It’s not a new idea, a lot of designers overseas are doing this already. It’s almost like an open studio, they open their workshops up to the public and people who want to buy, it is like a gallery. That is what we are doing now in Melbourne but that being said, there are still a few other stores in Australia we are talking to about the future also. We know a few stores here in New Zealand you should be talking to as well! Now, lets talk about Ribal and Gil from Superteam Studios. We’ve known these guys for years, we have had the same circle of friends even since highschool, I think. We’ve really become close with them over the last few years, we’d see each other at the same parties and then we started working together. We just hit it off, we all share the same vision and it is so easy. We have worked with so many photographers who are super talented but sometimes it felt as if the photographer was pushing their own agenda, which is good and fine, but with the guys at Superteam we just understand each other, we sit down, we have meetings, we throw ideas around, it’s super casual. We have the same work ethics, we are all so hard working. I remember the first shoot we did with Dan Zizys as the model, we drove to our location which was fours hours away at 5am in the morning. We did the shoot over two days and then they literally stayed up for the next 48 hours as we were leaving for Paris - we needed the final images - and they stayed up to get it done. They are those kind of people. It is such an easy relationship and like I said the most important thing for us is, that common understanding, that common vision. It looks like a perfect meeting of aesthetics between you both. So let’s talk about your fabrics and design techniques. You use Kangaroo hide and Merino wool, Australian-centric fabrics? Yeah, that’s right. Launching on an international platform was all about luxury for us. The best of the best really, from fabrication to the fits. Everything is still made 100 percent in Melbourne and we source as much as we can out of Australia. We actually use New Zealand wool also. Then, the majority of the other fabrics come from Italy and Japan. For this collection we used Australian Kangaroo leather and also Merino wool, that was our point of difference to other brands especially on the international scene. What we were doing with the leather, as well, was unusual. Kangaroo leather is quite elastic, quite stiff and thick. It is more traditionally used for saddles, whips, hats, shoes and boots and things like that as it is such a strong hide. We worked with a tannery in North Queensland and worked the leather back so much and tried to get a really soft handle to it, we eventually created this beautiful dull, matt, waxed look to the leather. Everyone was really surprised by the fact it was Kangaroo as it was unusual and also how beautiful the handle was. So yeah, that was a good point of difference for our debut collection. In terms of your design aesthetic you have this sculptural background in your art pieces and in your PR release you talk about Origami so how would you describe your structural design aesthetic? For us, we like construction, tailoring and form. A lot of other designers express themselves in other ways, through colour and patterns or something like that. For us it’s about shape and silhouette. That’s why a lot of the collection is black as well, we really believe that monochromatic colour palettes really help with very strong forms and silhouettes. It’s all about texture as opposed to colour and patterns that other designers may use. The way we work is very hands-on and structural. We do a lot of paper patterns, dummy fits and that type of thing and from where an idea starts and how it evolves over that process, well it can turn out to be very different in the end, and that’s the beauty of the way we work. Our whole methodology is quite different to other designers as we weren’t formally trained and weren’t formally taught. Some could say that was a hindrance but we try to look at it in a positive sense and we try to do things in our own way, with our own knowledge and our own skills. It’s all about the structure for us and creating new shapes, taking tailoring into a realm that wouldn’t traditionally happen. I think we are in the right spot right now, it feels really good. Who are you inspired by most, as designers? We love Yohji back in the day. Helmut Lang during the late 80’s and 90’s, that classic sensibility and having that timeless element. It is still relevant to today. That’s the thing we love most about good design, it should be timeless, you should be able to wear it in 20 years time and it should still be relevant. That’s why we love the legends, but in today’s world Rick Owens definitely paved the way for young designers. He has broken a mold for a lot of designers, not necessarily our aesthetic, but definitely admire what he has done for this particular type of design. Anne Demeulemeester, her tailoring, and what she has been doing for years has been absolutely amazing. From New Zealand it would be NOM*d and Zambesi, of course we relate to their aesthetic and admire their design.