Suzan Dlouhy, founder of five-year-old Melbourne label SZN, is also trying to create clothes “I would personally want to wear as a … uniform”. A former public servant who studied environmental management and policy before coming to fashion, Dlouhy’s collections are even smaller than 10 pieces – usually she’ll show between four and eight. She works with a single maker, and still creates one-off garments on a personal sewing machine. Scarcity is a central theme.
Each collection explores a different method of waste-reduction, from remaking second-hand clothes to using scraps left over by other fashion brands. Lately, she’s been working with organic cotton, trying to create patterns that use textiles as efficiently as possible. She’s “driven by process, not an aesthetic … I try and do everything to reduce it to its most simple form.” Yet the end point fits comfortably within the same dark aesthetic. “Often [my process] leaves you with a big voluminous shape. Sometimes … I’ve been so simplistic or minimal.” She talks about cutting things down, simplifying patterns. “I’ll realise, ‘Is that not … a pair of light drop-crotch pants just like ancient Indian garb? Did I just design myself back into a traditional garment?’ ”
As for her uniform, she avoids anything that clings to the underarms, “so I could wear it multiple times before I wash it”. She gravitates to “things that were black, so they didn’t look … dirty immediately”. For Dlouhy, reducing “laundry is a big factor in sustainability”.
In her runway shows, Dlouhy casts models “based on who they are” not their gender. With a background in one-off pieces, SZN’s output remains one-size-fits-most. Now mother to a four-month-old baby, she found “the fact that I could wear the same garment from the beginning to the end of my pregnancy was actually really good. I became my own test model for that size range.” Terzini’s take on gender is just as loose: “There’s no such things as women’s and men’s, in a way … the world is a bit freer, and a bit more loving these days.”
For both Dlouhy and Terzini, clothes are about grappling with the future. “The more conceptual you get … the further away from reality and the body shapes you get … you’re no longer trying to echo what the body can wear but looking at future ideas,” Dlouhy says.
At present, Dlouhy teaches sewing at The Social Studio in Melbourne to supplement her label. She also DJs for income – something Sydney fashion designers typically do for credibility, not cash. Ultimately, she would like SZN to become a full-time job. But making one’s output sustainable and one’s business sustainable are two very different challenges.
The irony, and beauty, of the end-of-the-world aesthetic coming back into fashion is that, for those who first dreamt it up in the 1980s, and their contemporary disciples, the style is about ending the cycle of fashion. Each collection bleeds back into the previous, and forward into the next. Visually, it speaks to a catastrophic future, but conceptually it’s about saving the present. This style asks us to shatter the gender binary. It asks us to consume less. To develop a simple, personal “uniform”. Fashion has taken an apocalyptic turn. Perhaps we’re trying to imagine this future in order to prevent it.