Bianca Spender’s handshake is as firm as they come. Encasing both of her hands around mine, the celebrated Australian designer holds eye contact to welcome me into her Sydney terrace and explain why – in and amongst well-loved antiques and artworks – her children’s Lego is on the floor. “It’s just a home, right?” she quips. “I decided to not pack it away. It’s a home at the end of the day.”
On Thursday night guests were invited inside Spender’s world (literally) with the invitation’s fine print offering to dress attendees. Her home in Bronte was opened up to media and friends of the brand and Spender had moved her dining room table to the courtyard – a narrow strip of terracotta tiles hemmed in with lush greenery – and adorned it with all of the bread and all of the cheese wheels. As she stood in her stone-walled kitchen and addressed her guests, Spender talked about the need to make a connection with her audience, something she’s never been able to achieve with a traditional catwalk where the whole show is over in 12 minutes.
“I have to be very honest, when I did my last show I could objectively look at it and say that it was special and unique but I was very disconnected from it and I wasn’t experiencing it in real time because I was backstage,” Spender explained to GRAZIA. “Each girl gets eight seconds before they walk back out again. And the whole thing is over in 12 minutes. And then everyone runs from that show into another one. You don’t even get that moment to kind of experience it through other people’s eyes.
“I didn’t feel connected to my audience and I didn’t feel that I got the tell enough of the design story.”
As Spender talked through her latest Resort 2020 collection, models meandered through the home. There was no music, which felt odd at first but after a minute or two, unlike the linear runway show, we each had a minute to soak a sleeve or a ribbon or a pattern into our minds – and Spender’s narration helped describe the journey each iteration of a dress had gone through.
Spender’s Resort 2020 collection is a self-described marriage of couture and craft. Mismatched florals set against checks with a ribbon added here or there, it seemed a peek inside your grandmother’s treasured sewing box “[My inspiration] began with all of these women who had made clothes in the 1930s,” explained Spender. “Whether it were women in their living rooms at home or women in the studio draping things on dummies or sewing things by hand, there is this magic moment when you have this quiet space with your body.”
“Even though they were poor or didn’t really have enough food to eat or even though they were working on a property far away, these women would still be wearing these beautiful floral dresses and checkered aprons with these buttons,” she continued. “Any time any garment died, they’d unpick the buttons and put them on something else. They’d have this basket of scraps of these precious bits of fabric that they didn’t know what they’d do with but they kept them all in a basket and they’d say, “One day I’m going to make this and put a sleeve on this.”
There are no zips in this collection; no fastenings and every dress is cut on the bias so as to “fall off the body”. “There might be one button for a wrap dress,” says Spender. “I wanted all the dresses to have this ease that you were as comfortable in them as you were in your pyjamas.
“People shouldn’t have to put on jeans and a t-shirt to be comfortable. They should be able to put on a beautiful dress and flats and that be their run-around.”
The daughter of lauded designer Carla Zampatti is celebrating her tenth year in the Australian fashion industry and just like the fine red wine being served around us, with age and experience comes maturity and an invaluable wisdom. “I’m intrinsically a risk-adverse person, I like security,” Spender says. “Being in fashion is an interesting one for me because I love creativity but you can’t have security and creativity at the same.
“You have to get lost before you’re found. When you’re lost it’s usually because you’re pushing for something really new.”
“Turning ten years really gives you a big body of work that you can look back on and see so many times where you thought it wasn’t going to come together and then it did,” she continued. “It’s a fortifying moment as a woman.”
Like the Lego left out on the floor in the living room – as though her son had just momentarily gone to fix himself a snack – this night felt as though Spender had just invited us all back to her place late at night and we were sitting around chatting by the refrigerator light. She’s right, you just don’t get that takeaway from a runway.
We should do this again.