An Interview with Fashion Editor : Niki Bruce
We had the absolute pleasure to meet with Niki Bruce just before our AW20 Artisan Runway, to chat with her about how our label came about, and the inspiration behind our latest collection and show concept. Meeting in our boutique in March, we were introduced to a friendly, unassuming and down-to-earth lady with a keen intelligence and honest, interesting insight into the world of fashion.
Artisan Fashion: A shot by Niki of our A/W 20 Runway.
With over 20 years of experience in the media working as an editor and writer for numerous publications including Herworld Singapore, her knowledge on Asian as well as international fashion trends is simply breathtaking. From seeing a myriad of trends come and go in the commercial fashion industry, to exploring exciting emerging and niche design labels in her style blog, Niki offers us a thoughtful and fascinating angle on fashion, with her finger firmly on the pulse.
Unisex Fashion: A shot by Niki of our A/W 20 Runway.
Finding out that she worked and lived for many years in Singapore, my home country, I was just so thrilled to chat with her about everything from Singapore goth street fashion, what had been happening in the local design scene since I left to return to Melbourne, and her obsession with the colour blue, mixing it with a healthy does of black, as can be seen on her Instagram gallery.
Now that the dust had settled from our runway event and I have had a chance to breathe after saving my small business from the upheaval of the world, I jumped at the chance to interview Niki and pick her brain further on her unique insights and opinions. As someone who works in fashion and knows that the industry is really not glamorous and just a lot of hard work, I just adore her candid honesty! So here goes...
Drape + Detail: A shot by Niki of our A/W 20 Runway.
JUDE: Your fashion career spans 20 years, I read. What particular design trends have you found most inspiring during your fashion journalism work in Asia?
NIKI: Yes, I’ve been working in fashion for a very, very long time. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go, most have been shallow and fleeting - the size of a bag, the heel of a shoe, particular colours … but nothing really impactful.
In the last five to ten years, however, there have been some much more interesting, and much more impactful ‘trends’.
The first was the growth of online shopping, this enabled people to shop brands from all over the world, no matter whether or not they had a store in a particular country. Small, independent brands have been able to grow without having to rely on the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ like magazines, global fashion weeks and department stores.
This movement was particularly helpful for Asian fashion brands - Japanese brands had industry recognition from the 1980s (mostly because they were produced in Paris), but now small brands from South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and more, have been able to not only grow in the region, but to also find customers around the world.
The rise of K-pop has also raised the awareness of Asian fashion and style - without YouTube and other social media platforms, this wouldn’t have happened.
Perhaps the most important, and hopefully impactful ‘trend’ has been the increased awareness of the importance of producing sustainable, ethical and slow fashion. It has been most obvious since 2018, but the movement has been around for at least a good 10-15 years. Again, social media platforms have enabled anyone and everyone to launch a fashion brand with these core values and reach like-minded customers.
During the recent pandemic upheaval I’ve discovered hundreds - yes, hundreds - of Australian fashion brands that are creating or curating clothes that fit within the parameters of sustainability, ethics, recycling, upcycling … This is a movement that is only going to increase. It is something I’m looking forward to seeing how it will impact the global fashion industry.
JUDE: Who is your favourite designer and why?
NIKI: Hmmm … That’s such a loaded question! I have friends who are designers and I don’t want to piss them off. I have to say Yohji Yamamoto - he has always been clear about who he is, what he makes, and his design aesthetic was groundbreaking. Alexander McQueen. I don’t really need to explain why, he just is the best. I have a soft spot for original Chanel - but not for Chanel under Kaiser Karl.
Currently I’m a fan of some interesting Australian brands - Et Al, Alpha60, Chris Ran Lin, ESS Laboratory, Aura Studios, Par Moi, Veronica Tucker, ABCH, Anna Cordell. And there are a few Asian brands I’m keeping my eye on too: Toton, Hemu, Soe Jakarta, Purana and Happa. All of these brands are doing something that is part of not only the slow fashion and sustainable fashion movements, but they are also creating pieces that incorporate their traditional and cultural practices; this is what makes them interesting.
JUDE: How have your thoughts on gender neutral fashion and silhouette been enhanced and changed by your global fashion experience?
NIKI: It is obvious that the gender neutral fashion movement began in Asia. You just have to look at the work by the original Japanese designers to see where the influence began. Linked to this is the use of volume, ‘skirts’ and ‘dresses’ in traditional Asian clothing and the adoption of less aggressive versions of masculinity - Kpop anyone? All of these things have circulated the fluid world of social media and mixed with the growing awareness of gender neutral, gender fluid, trans and other identities. Add in pop culture and music, and the concept is sure to continue to be influential in the development of fashion industry trends.
I don’t think gender neutral fashion has generally been done particularly well - put a beefy bloke in a kilt? That’s not fashion forward or inclusive. Working with models and celebrities like Asia Kate Dillon or Rain Dove is more impactful and respectful. Obviously it is the smaller independent fashion brands that work better in this space - Telfar for example - and then they get ripped off by the big commercial brands trying to ride the trends. Sigh. This is why we should #supportlocal more often.
JUDE: How does Australian fashion compare to some of the design trends you’ve seen abroad?
NIKI: Sigh. Does Australia have ‘fashion’ or just clothes? It’s not all bad, but the majority of Australians are not interested in big F fashion. They buy clothes, sneakers, sportswear, but that’s about it. In the larger cities you have more people interested in ‘fashion’ but again it’s not cutting edge, it’s just pretty or the same as what the rest of the world is wearing.
What does give me hope, however, is the increase in younger people investing in vintage and secondhand clothing. The majority are doing it for its sustainability values, but it does mean that at least they are looking more original, developing their own style and learning how to sew. Although I have to say that the current obsession for the Y2K and the 90s is so scary! I lived through them both, and honestly so ugly!
I think the best that can be said about the current Australian fashion trends is the support for sustainable and ethical brands, production and the idea of buying less but buying better. I have hope that the current dependence on high street and fast fashion brands will reduce and our outdoor-loving, nature-hippy people will waft around in handmade organic linen smocks in naturally dyed shades of green and pink. :)
JUDE: Since the major events of this year happened, with the global pandemic and social and political upheaval, what direction do you see Australian fashion moving into?
NIKI: Wow. Big question. Honestly I don’t think anyone can really say what will happen with the Australian fashion industry right now. There is already news that Paris Fashion Week will be returning in September, but there is also some statistical and lots of anecdotal reports that people are not going to be shopping the way they were prior to Covid19.
Many people have realised that there is more to life than working too long in boring offices just to buy more clothes and things that they don’t need. I have hope that the smaller, more personalised, more bespoke, more sustainable, more ethical, slow fashion, handmade Aussie brands will be able to grow thanks to the recent interest in, and support of, the concepts of #shoplocal, #supportlocal, etc.
The scary realisation that our supply chains are terribly dependent on the rest of the world - food production, manufacturing - will also hopefully wake people up to the fact that #madeinaustralia, #madeinmelbourne might be worth spending what’s left of their money on when they want to go shopping.
On top of the major issue that we have nowhere to go, and therefore don’t need anything apart from pyjamas to wear, is the fact that so many people have lost their jobs, and that the country is currently in a recession. The cost of production in Australia has always been a problem - Australian made fashion items are not cheap. No money, no need for new clothes … this is a conundrum.
Still, there are also lots of positives - a move towards supporting local, the focus on sustainable and ethical shopping, the fact that sometimes we all just want to buy something pretty no matter how much money we have … There’s hope for systematic, positive change in the Australian fashion industry. We just don’t really know what it is going to look like.