The Designers’ Guide: Easton Pearson Archive is an incredible retrospective of your body of work and the first major exhibition from Museum of Brisbane’s Easton Pearson Archive. How did the archive come about?
We started consciously keeping garments from about 1996, when a conservation-minded friend suggested it, and it just became an automatic habit. Eventually it got so big that we had to build a part of our workroom to house it. We referred to the garments constantly for our new collections, and came to understand what a valuable resource it was. We stored them by season, with our linesheets to refer to when we wanted something. When we closed in 2016, Dr Eliadis – an art patron and philanthropist – acquired the garments from us and subsequently donated them to the Museum of Brisbane. We had discussed potential galleries and museums, but MoB was a perfect choice. It means the collection stays in Brisbane, is still accessible for us both to refer to and write about, and there are opportunities to utilise it as a teaching tool. We have donated an additional 5,000 objects, accessories, ephemera, media clippings, photographs and many other bits and pieces that help to tell the story of the garments’ design and production, but also offer an insight into running a fashion business.
It must have been a surreal experience selecting garments from 28 years of design – especially since the complete archive consists of more than 3300 garments and 5000 accessories and documents! What was your thought process behind selecting the 200-odd pieces for this exhibition?
As the concept for The Designers’ Guide was to reveal the process behind our collaborative techniques and to articulate and clarify our ways of working, it became easier to add and subtract garments by the techniques they embodied. We tried to include a broad cross-section of artisanal skills, whilst maintaining a coherent aesthetic and flow through the exhibition. As you can imagine, it took many months. We’re pleased this first exhibition is to be one of many, and we get the chance to explore different aspects of design in the future, and give real insight into our idiosyncratic working methods.
The selection showcases your various innovations and how your practice evolved over time. Was there anything that you discovered about yourselves that you only noticed when given the opportunity to revisit your work on such a scope?
It is so bizarre to stand outside your practice and see it as a complete body of work, when for 28 years it was a dynamic all-consuming universe for which we were responsible. We discovered many things: Even though we knew that brown and bronze were hard to sell, we used them in more collections than was prudent; after decades we could still look at a garment and be in the workroom in Mumbai working on it as if it were yesterday – garments hold memory very well; ours was an extraordinarily collaborative relationship; we were very lucky.
Twenty-eight years is a significant period of time – did your artistic ethos change as your careers progressed, or did the longevity only solidify the need to stay true to the beliefs you had at the start of it all?
Both are true. Our beliefs fundamentally stayed the same, but as our understanding and our opportunities grew, the visible artisanal hand became the foundation of our entire practice. This was our strength aesthetically, but commercially it was very difficult to manage, and we made some reluctant compromises as the business of the brand became imperative.
Each garment tells a story of your inspirations and ideas at the time, but what would you say is the overarching narrative of The Designers’ Guide: Easton Pearson Archive?
Although the curation of this exhibition is immaculate, and the collection looks so cohesive inside these refined walls, our inspiration was always a wild mash up of shadowy mythologies of our own devising, brought to life through the fabrics and techniques we were exploring at the time. As we went on, one collection morphed into another. You could say the narrative is the history of our passions and experiences, underpinned by the need to make a viable business out of the result!
I can imagine that it would difficult for each of you to pick a favourite piece from the collection, but are there any that hold any special significance or were crafted at an important juncture of your lives?
The answer to that question would change on any given day, and depending on which aspect of the collection we were thinking about. Our runway collection from summer 2002 is certainly one of the most significant. It was our first solo show at Mercedes Fashion Week in Sydney, we were on a creative high. It was one of the most diverse collections in terms of reference and technique, and the show itself evoked exactly the aesthetic of post-colonial cross reference that we were exploring.
The growth of the slow-fashion movement and sustainability in the industry is something that blossomed alongside your label over the years and continues to do so. What are your thoughts on how the Australian fashion industry has changed for the better in terms of ethical and sustainable practice?
We are at a watershed in terms of ethical and sustainable practice. Australia is in a difficult position in some ways as we have no serious manufacturing industry or textile industry left here. That said, there is an exciting opportunity for young designers to begin their independent practice with these tenets at the foundation of their brand. The demand for authentic clothing is growing exponentially, and counterintuitively having the restraints of working in a resource poor environment can lead to great innovation, such as repurposing.
What is one key piece of advice you would like to impart on fledgling fashion designers?
Small and agile is going to be a huge advantage. The world is changing so fast, and your time has come. Be clever, frugal and optimistic.
At this stage of your lives, how do you define happiness?
An abundance of friends and family of every age, more to do than can be, the joy of knowing who you really are, with time to explore it.