Credit: Lester Jones

It’s probably no wonder Tessa and Beth MacGraw instruct their models to literally skip smiling down their runway. The sister act behind womenswear label bearing their surname have a lot to be happy about.

In the five years since they set up shop, the pair has scooped up the VAMFF National Designer Award 2016 (along with its $100k cash prize haul), won Best Australian Emerging Designer at the industry-voted Australian Fashion Laureates, and pitched to judges including Victoria Beckham as finalists in the global Woolmark Prize. 

We spoke to the sisters off the back of their celebrated return to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia to talk design, fashion partnerships and their approach to creating clothes that fun women want.

Models backstage the macgraw Resort 2018 show
Credit: Getty Images

HOW DOES A CREATIVE VISION FOR YOUR COLLECTION EACH SEASON BEGIN? [Beth] We like to start off with a vision of our girl and kind of create a story around her, so for this year we’ve created a bit of an English aristocrat but in a modern way. She’s a young girl about London and she probably heads over to the Cotswolds for the weekend. She loves warm tones and a mini skirt and a lot of eyeliner and mascara, and she’s a cool girl but she’s also got a bit of a Brit punk attitude.

YOUR DESIGNS HAVE BEEN DESCRIBED AS PRETTY, FEMININE, SIXTIES-INSPIRED AND VERY WEARABLE. WHAT WORDS WOULD YOU USE TO DESCRIBE YOUR BRAND? [Tessa] She’s a rebellious girl. She’s opulent, she’s royal, she’s cool, she has fun, she’s got a personality, she’s not afraid to wear a print with a little hand-drawn swan, but also wear her little swan print skirt with a book to make it a little tougher. 

Macgraw CWA darning love onto shirts
The designers enlisted women from the Country Women’s Association to darn hearts on their Resort 2018 pieces
Credit: Getty Images

Fabric is something that is obviously very important to you both – you created the world’s first lace made from wool to keep us all winter. Can you tell us a bit more about that? [Beth] We were in Paris representing Australia as part of the International Woolmark Prize, which was a very interesting experience. We’ve picked up some really amazing stockists as a result of it. It was pretty intimidating, but we went in and presented this innovation we’d come up with, the world’s first super-fine merino lace. 

“We had to walk into a room with about 17 judges from all around the world: Victoria Beckham, the designer of Lanvin, the creator of Net-a-Porter…”

Can you give us a little more info about some of the fabrics we saw in your Resort 2018 collection[Tessa] We always love using silks and cottons… and we love a lace, but we also want to push that as well to show an evolution… We’ve also developed a really special tulle, [which] we almost didn’t done [in time for the MBFWA show]. We were developing it for [the eight weeks prior] and it was touch and go whether it would get here, but it was in… our final look.

Macgraw tile clip third 15speed gif

The final look featuring tulle at macgraw Resort 2018
Credit: Getty Images

Is it true that you design a lot of your own prints? [Beth] We do. All of our prints are created [in-house]. You’ll never see them within any other designer. Tessa actually sketches them out from a blank piece of paper when we begin and we kind of work into our story, so this season [with] the aristocratic girl… we have incorporated swans and hearts and sashes with loyal written across and we are actually putting little messages under the collars of some of our blazers.

So we’ve seen pastels and we’ve seen stripes before in your runway. Can you talk more about the colours we saw on your Resort 2018 runway? [Tessa] Well yes there was definitely colour. We’ve stepped away from pink this season and we’ve got blood orange and gold, navy, macgraw blue – our signature colour – in the shirting and white. We always love whites. It’s quite strong and but a more opulent colour palette this season.

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The brand’s signature ‘macgraw blue’ fabric with a new season swan print
Credit: Getty Images

How important is the casting process when it comes to picking the right models to walk your runway shows? [Beth] It’s extremely important. We look for a certain girl that will fit into the story we’ve created, but we cast smiles as well. A lot of models are quite surprised when we ask them to give us a little smile when they walk in and a lot of girls [find it difficult]. So yes, we cast models and smiles. We bribe them backstage with a special custom-made macgraw dressing gown that they get to keep afterwards.

“They had to smile [in the show] to keep the gift.”

Smiling models are not a common phenomenon on high fashion runways
Credit: Getty Images

Music and fashion have such a close working relationship these days. How do you choose the music for your shows? Our poor DJ – we are super controlling with our music to be honest. We’ve got a pretty clear idea of what we want and so does our show stylist Kelly Hume, so we come up with a few ideas of what songs we might like and whether we would like to be light or shade. We’re not afraid to have a song in there that people would tap their feet to and we don’t have to have the coolest music.

You are two sisters that design together. What would you both say you bring to the brand and about each other? [Beth] I think we fit together pretty well. Tessa is immensely creative and she’s very good at getting people to do what she wants, which is very important in production. Somehow she just wraps them all around her little finger and you know I think she brings fun.

Sisters Beth and Tessa MacGraw on their Resort 2018 MBFWA runway
Credit: Getty Images

And you Tessa? Well, Betty is definitely better with money, so she’s got a more sensible side I think – choosing fabrics is an expensive thing. But Betty is also really creative. She generally comes up with the concept of the collection, the inspiration, the beginning. [She’s also] really good with photoshoot concepts. We’ve both got different backgrounds: I studied fashion design and Betty did PR and marketing, so we’ve kind of got strengths from different areas. But every decision is really made together across the board, so yeah, it’s a good fit.

Video Credits
Creative Director: Justine O’Donnell
Motion: Lester Jones
Presenter: Fleur Egan  

View the Macgraw Resort 2018 Collection in full here.