MATERIALBYPRODUCT (MBP) epitomises Melbourne’s uniquely beautiful approach to fashion. Ensconced in Fitzroy’s urban laneways, the semi-couture studio has been quietly outfitting some of Australia’s most discerning doyennes for the past eight years.
Designer Susan Dimasi has a deep appreciation of simplicity; her considered designs are physical manifestations of timeless intelligence. Classically trained in tailoring and draping at RMIT University, Dimasi has also spent time as a garment curator and in historical textile preservation in gallery collections. Drawing on her well-rounded understanding of design, she has perfected an understated yet immediately distinctive aesthetic that reflects the MBP personality.
MBP garments are constructed using high quality materials – typically silk, wool and leather. Dimasi experiments with surprising fabrications including vegetable tanned pig and kangaroo leather, high twist georgette and industrial felt. Starting their transformation from cloth to clothing, textile surfaces are programmed with a pattern, akin to a musical score, with functional and decorative markings. Cutting and pleating flow from the markings. Cutting is minimal, and engages both the positive and negative space on each side of the scissor to attain a zero-waste lay. Pleating follows the human form, aiming for simplicity and ease of movement. Finishing the cutting and pleating, hand-stitching and silk binding are employed to assemble different elements into the final piece. This process is as poetic as the garment.
Dimasi has a strong role in garment production, often sitting with her hand stitching artisans around the production table. She is also engaged in fitting clients and the maintenance of garments. Her fastidious attention to detail remains one of the fashion house’s greatest assets, collections gather increasing emotional and physical longevity with each permutation. The close relationship between design, making, wearing and thinking ensure that all aspects of garment life are integrated, resulting in high performance and functionality throughout.
Extending the MBP vision beyond each garment, or season, Dimasi sees each as a step in curating an entire wardrobe. Her intention is to create items that can exist across decades and owners. This is evident when perusing the archives, where all pieces hang in harmony, any piece or year resonating with the clear direction of the MBP narrative.
The archives are a further example of Dimasi’s commitment to designing clothes to be worn: she maintains parallel collections. One set of archives are preserved in mint condition, the other worn by Dimasi herself, to document the patina that develops as garments journey with a wearer. Re-shooting the MBP archives in March 2012, Dimasi chose not to photograph the mint collection, but the worn one. She intends to honour the inherent value that emerges alongside the memories embedded in visible signs of wearing. The images prove striking in the generally cluttered, overly-perfect fashion editorial landscape.
Collection showings reinforce these ideals of the beauty in imperfection creating intimacy, even within some of the biggest international fashion events. Stripping back catwalk drama to emphasise the wearable aspects of clothes, MBP showings gather viewers in a circle formation, then unorthodoxly beautiful models undress and dress, performing and ritualising the wardrobe. I have been privileged to attend some of these shows during the brand’s development in the past eight years, and have always witnessed the wonder and delight of attendees, from the gentle Fitzroy workroom, to the grandeur of Australia Fashion Week.
To facilitate the continuing value of MBP garments, the house has created their Return to Maker program. Clients can return garments for customisation, embellishment or resale. A culture of shared history is generated by documenting highlights during a garment’s life, memorable moments of wearing that forms part of the MBP online brand archives.
Acclaimed for innovation, MBP collections and pieces are recognised by a variety of industry awards. Highlights from their overpopulated list of achievements include the Premier’s Design Award, private commissions from Björk and Sarah Blasko, showings in Paris, Barcelona, London and Lausanne and fielding numerous invitations for public speaking at both Australian and international design conferences. MBP is also regularly invited to participate in the National Gallery of Victoria’s special exhibitions. Many of the pieces included in the NGV exhibitions are then purchased by the gallery, committed to collecting and archiving many of MBP’s most experimental pieces.
In the Australian fashion landscape, MBP are a rare example of pushing the horizons of conceptual design in both an artistic and business sense. Their recognition within creative and academic circles ensures the house’s elevated standing over the common paradigm of fast and flippant commercial fashion. While MBP embodies such strategies for design elegance that their garments may seem unattainable to everyday people, on the contrary acquiring a MATERIALBYPRODUCT piece, while requiring a certain initial investment, will provide both an emotional and physical legacy, even with extensive wearing.