How It's Made: Go Behind the Seams of this Feminine Australian Label
Welcome to How It’s Made. Where we go behind-the-scenes with your favourite brands to find out how their most popular products are produced. For our next instalment, we visited one of our favourite fashion designers, Alice McCall, to discover how her beautiful and intricate designs are created.
Alice McCall has been at the forefront of the Australian fashion industry for over a decade. A regular at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, her show is always one of the most anticipated of the schedule. Playful designs mixed with a strong brand ethos make it one of Who What Wear Australia’s favourite labels. For this reason, we were delighted to be invited inside her Sydney studio to watch where it all unfolds.
Keep scrolling to get lost in the magic of Alice McCall.
Who What Wear Australia: Tell us about how Alice McCall launched.
Alice McCall: When I was 19 I moved to London and worked as a stylist for Conde Naste Bridal. Here I began designing and creating one-of-a-kind silk pieces on the side. My mother was a designer herself, so designing had always been a hobby of mine. Through the contacts I worked with, more and more people started purchasing and wearing my creations, including (to my disbelief!) Kate Moss and McQueen muse, Katy England. Eventually, I got asked to design for another Australian fashion label, so I moved back to Sydney. In 2004, I decided to go out on my own and launched Alice McCall at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
WWW: Your pieces are worn by celebrities and influencers around the world—what do you think it is about your designs that resonate with so many people?
AM: It is always so humbling seeing my designs on celebrities. I like to think they have a point of difference, be it an intricate embroidered detail or a unique cut or silhouette. On a consumer level, I think my designs resonate with so many girls and women because they are very much occasional pieces. Our dresses and playsuits are the types of outfits girls wear to days and nights out that they want to remember. Whether it is a school formal, a best friend’s wedding, or even just a night on the town with the girls—it’s clothing you want to create memories in.
WWW: Where’s your studio? Are your pieces designed and made in-house?
AM: Our head office is based in Sydney and this houses all our departments, from e-boutique to wholesale and of course, my design room. All of my designs are made in-house from start to finish. I have such a fantastic team of pattern makers, dress makers and graphic designers who are an integral part of the design process. Once we are happy with the sample piece, we send this off to get manufactured.
WWW: What’s your bestselling piece?
AM: One of our bestselling pieces is a playsuit from our Cruise ’14 collection. It’s a moss green, pleated playsuit that sits off the shoulder—we still get calls and emails about it today. Playsuits have become a fundamental piece in every Alice McCall collection because they are exactly that—playful. On a design level, with playsuits you have the freedom to be a little bit fun and cheeky. I also love that playsuit’s play with proportions so they can be a couple of inches shorter than your typical mini dress.
WWW: What are your favourite trends for A/W 16?
AM: It’s no secret that I love lace, so I feel that lace is going to be a big trend for A/W16. Our collection features a number of lace variations. I played with a lot of colour and contrast. We have a beautiful powder blue lace midi-length dress that has the contrast of a baby pink lining. There is also a lace story in buttercup yellow, and then injections of classic white and black laces. I definitely have the mentality that you can never have too much lace.
WWW: You use incredible fabrications. Where do you source your materials?
AM: I source a lot of fabrics from vintage clothing or fabrics in furniture or curtains. I also scan through Etsy and purchase old doilies and use these for inspiration when we develop our own fabrics.
WWW: Where do you search for inspiration?
AM: My inspiration is boundless, I genuinely can find it anywhere at any time. I can be inspired by a cup of tea if it is made well enough. The challenge is trying to channel this to create one cohesive collection. Something that continues to inspire my designs is vintage clothing from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. I also find that travel keeps me inspired.
WWW: How important is Instagram and social media for your label? Does it help direct designs and re-cuts?
AM: Instagram truly is a phenomenon! It is without a doubt the most used app on my phone. I am very happy with the brands presence on social media, we have over 230K followers on Instagram and this is growing every day. On a promotional level, Instagram is a fantastic platform to keep customers aware of our product. Posts to Instagram definitely drive sales, however I think ultimately it is product that sells. Customers are not going to buy a product that they are not satisfied with, no matter how many people post imagery of it.
WWW: Talk us through the process, from start to finish, of creating one of your bestsellers.
Designing the Shake It Off Playsuit from A/W16:
When starting a new collection I always look to pieces that have sold well in the past, the design team puts on their "bestseller hats" and we brainstorm cuts, colours and fabrications. For A/W 16, we have designed a playsuit that was inspired by the cut of our top selling playsuit from Cruise ’14. I sourced a beautiful piece of lace jacquard fabric from an upholstered chair I found in a vintage store and began draping this over a mannequin. The whole process involved lots of pinning, nipping and tucking. This was then passed onto my pattern-makers and dressmakers to create a toile that I can continue working with. I say this all the time, I would be nowhere without the fantastic team I work with every day!
From here we looked to colours. Blush is such a feminine colour and works so well with the fabric we developed, so that was a no brainer. Blush garments also tend to be top-sellers, collection after collection, so this definitely influenced the design choice.
Once a sample was developed in the correct colour and fabrication, we moved onto fittings. With the new fabric, I could play with proportions a little more. I decided to make the sleeves less full and add a bit more length to the garment. I kept the hemline quite organic and I am very happy with this design choice as it accentuates the beautiful jacquard texture in the fabric.
The final part of the design process involves collaborating with our production, retail, wholesale, operations and merchandising teams to discuss fabric issues, functionality, the customer and pricing. The whole process is incredibly timely, but it really does pay off seeing customers, influencers, bloggers and celebrities in the product of all your hard work.