Interview By Arabella Peterson
Now more than ever, we need brands built on community, connection and conversation—the brainchild of Bondi locals Trish Fairbairn and Michelle Gillespie, Dead Pretty is just this. From collaborations with emerging and established artists to community initiatives, Trish has taken the best bits of the fashion industry and made a one-stop-shop for authentic, thoughtful pieces.
All this aside, Dead Pretty is just about having a bloody good time. Its carefully curated selection encapsulates that feeling of a long summer day by the beach, followed by throwing on a pair of 501s and heading to the bar. With a casual, effortless ethos quintessential to the coast and reminiscent of Australian icons; as Trish puts it, Dead Pretty is about dressing down, not dressing up.
For anyone thinking of entering the world of fashion or business, there are some gems ahead (including be nimble, be equipped and be "you"). Also, Trish gives her thoughts on authenticity, giving back and supporting the life philosophy of "looking like a tart but thinking like a politician." Enjoy!
You've been working in the fashion industry in different roles for many years, what were those roles, and how did your interest in fashion begin?
It started at home, cutting out paper Vogue patterns with my mum and grandmother. My mother immigrated here from London and had quite the high street look. The clothing in Australia took her by surprise when she arrived and she’d often make her own. I made all my formal dresses and some of my sister's and later won the local Lions Club Fashion Designer of the year when I was 16!
After graduating from the East Sydney Fashion Design College, I cut my teeth under Collette Dinnigan; then I had my own lingerie line which I sold to shops on Oxford Street. I later spent a lengthy career in Sales and Development for large Apparel companies designing and manufacturing for mainstream fashion retailers like Sportsgirl, Sussan, and numerous others. Here I did many buying trips overseas, manufacturing in Australia and China and in high volume.
Desiring to work for a smaller, more creative business, I later worked under Fleur Wood. I was working with Fleur to make her designs come to light for her eponymous brand and also Anthropologie who Fleur supplied under several labels. I have fond memories of travelling to India and working with talented craftspeople, also travelling to New York to source vintage at the flea markets and meeting the Anthropologie buyers.
I owned a fashion label with my good friend Laurence Pasquier which was also the name of our brand, and we sold to stores like Robby Ingham, Pretty Dog and other smaller more specialised boutiques around Australia. The highlight was when Audrey Tautou (Laurence's childhood friend) visited Sydney and launched our range at, "Bloodorange" which was an iconic Sydney store.
Finally, my label "Tales of the Fallen" was born, which had a distinctly Bondi vibe. Together with my designing bestie Teresa Ruiz, we made dreamy silhouettes using the finest Japanese cotton, and french lace that also tilted its head to past eras.
what are the most significant changes to the industry that you've noticed in your career?
I distinctly remember when local manufacturing went offshore to China and India many years ago, and particularly all the makers leaving the Surry Hills areas where factories once were. It was sad to see the cutters, machinists and even fabric wholesalers disappear. In a way, with COVID it's nice to see a resurgence of local manufacturing blossoming again.
The loss of cool, curated retail boutiques bricks and mortar has been a sad thing to watch but a sad reality with soaring rents, high costs and competing Westfields. I'm dreaming of one day a Barneys NYC inspired department store launching here in Sydney.
The older model of three or four seasonal collections a year has shifted and now it's more about transeasonal and monthly drops. Brands have to produce not only exceptional products but also an impressive digital presence and authentic personality to stand out and be taken seriously. Almost everything these days is inhouse from PR to shoots to graphic design. I think that's the secret of really knowing your business and taking control.
what do you love the most about dressing and accessorising?
It's a personal expression of mood and a way of channelling what I’m feeling. I don't really dress up; I dress down. It's kind of the way of dressing in Bondi. For me, I love finding that cool vintage tee, customising my old 501s and getting my earrings and chains on, or, I grab a super retro lurex top and throw on my denim jacket, pencil skirt and connies! I love mixing the androgynous tomboy look. The secret is in the details, that belt or your partner's shirt.
What three words would you use to describe the essence of dead pretty?
There are so many words that spring to mind; effortless, coastal, nostalgic. But I think the three words that sum it up best are authentic, australian, unapologetic.
Describe your DP muse.
It's the girls and women that we love who have that strong sense of self-awareness and style. There's a certain tomboy/rebel vibe. From the well-known Chloe Sevigny, Blondie, Cher, Grace Jones and my fav PJ Harvey who once eloquently said, "I enjoy looking like a tart but thinking like a politician."
We love our Aussie ladies; Kylie Minogue, Olivia Newtown John, Emma Balfour, Chrissie Amphlett, Milly Alcock, Margot Robbie and Cate Blanchet.
All our muses can rock a band tee and jeans or lurex minidress and exude unapologetic confidence.
What would you dream beach to bar ensemble look like?
A Grace Jones Studio 54 inspired low cut jersey batwing wrap top worn with blazer (1970's Lauren Hutton vibe) , tailored pant or high waisted jeans with my fav pair of metallic retro pumps. ( most probably Connies for dancing)
DP is very community focused, whether that's working with local artists or donating to Australian causes - has that always been an important part of the business for you?
Connection to your local base is paramount. We try to reflect the people and environment around us. That's what makes us authentic. The feel-good factor is the most satisfying part of our business.
what is important when selecting brands to stock on DP?
I stick to my mantra of "conversation-starting". I love it when people ask, "Wow, I've never seen that before. Where did you get that?"
The criteria for selecting brands is to make sure we make it easy for our customers who want to know what they are buying has longevity, is produced sustainably and supports local industry or artisans. For example, is it made in small drops, by hand or with a community?"
It's also essential for us to ask, "Does it hurt animals?" We specifically started our very own Pinatex bags and soon belts, which is a non-leather material made from discarded pineapple leaves.
what do you look for when selecting artists for your seasonal collabs?
I look for authenticity. It's out there; it's just about making the connections. All the collabs we have done have bought me great joy. The artists have been so lovely to work with, and their artwork captures this. This dimension of Dead Pretty I really love and will continue to bring to our customers.
how have you had to adapt to covid and everything that 2020 has shifted?
If there's one keyword to answer this question, it's "be nimble". Although we have always been online; being able to respond quickly to what people are feeling and what is happening around you is vital, whether that's what you post on Instagram or what you offer.
Responding to a crisis does infiltrate our business, whether it be the fires or our current pandemic. We were able to make small contributions to WIRES with the sales of our Shift Happens tee, and we were able to use our deadstock liberty print fabric to construct face masks. We donated 50% of our profits of sales to also assist Women's Community Shelters in Redfern with some much needs funds towards violence against women and children.
COVID has shown us that retail during this time, it's less about the outer and more about the inner. We have been able to offer outstanding products made in Australia for the home sanctuary, Incredible ceramics, velvety foil socks, handmade soaps from Melbourne and a locally published magazine full of colour bursting fashion.
do you have any advice for young up-and-comers trying to get into the industry at this time?
Be "You". No one else can. Be equipped. Gain the skills that allow you to run your own business. Maybe it's graphic design, perhaps photography, website functions, Instagram functions to more practical skills like taxes, stock inventory and business development and oh yeah, a business plan first up!
what exciting things do you have coming up for the rest of 2020?
Dead Pretty will launch its own beach to bar resort wear made proudly in Australia. A long time dream of ours, it will embody the relaxed lifestyle so many of us enjoy around the Australian coast. It will fuse my love of the '70s, '80s and '90's dance nightclubs, icons, models and muses. Timeless and nostalgic, you will be transported back to past eras.
We believe that more than ever when you purchase a piece of clothing, you also buy peace of mind that it was made ethically; we make everything here in Oz. We will continue to bring conversation-starting pieces from local and abroad from reworked and recycled denim clothing and accessories from AYPE Works NYC to hand crochet bags and jewellery from Suryo.
We continue to support our local artisans such as Degoey Planet ceramics, Fazeek soaps, Brie Leon and continue our vegan range of Dead Pretty bags and accessories. More exciting collaborations with local Australian artists, musicians, and visionaries to come in 2021!