Credit: Lester Jones

It’s been six years since the Australian fashion world’s coolest design duo – Heidi Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke – sold the majority share of their wildly popular brand sass & bide to department store jugganaut Myer, much to the concern of purist fans.

The pair stayed on until 2014, then waved goodbye for the last time on their New York Fashion Week runway before disappearing for a well-deserved rest in the style wildernes (or to be more precise, France and the northern beaches of Sydney respectively) with their young familes, re-appearing on rare occasions for social or charity events.

Since then, the brand under Myer’s helm has tried a raft of creative directors, to far less critical (and cool factor) acclaim, despite the brand ramping up impressively on a commercial level. (There are now 45 sass & bide stores in Australia and New Zealand.)

But this year s&b bosses set in place a solution for their designer conundrum that was both radically different and a nod to the label’s early ingredient for success: it teamed a carefully selected crew of like-minded experts as a design collective rather than relying on a single creative director to carve out its aesthetic. And fans of the much-lauded recent Resort 2018 runway show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia would argue the gamble has paid off.

For this Studio Session episode, we spoke to a representative for sass & bide’s new faceless creative team about being entrusted with one of Australia’s all-time favourite fashion brands.

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sass & bide Resort 2018 runway show at MBFWA
Credit: Getty Images

Sass & Bide is now headed by a design collective. Can you explain what that means? [It] is a group of five of us who have between usalmost 20 years of experience working with the founders of sass & bide [Heidi Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke]. We all focus on different areas of the product, whether it’s knits and tees or ready-to-wear or denim, and all bring something different. I think we understand the vision of the girls and the essence of the brand… every season we design is our favourite until we design the next one, so its always evolving.

Who would you say your Sass & Bide women is? Who are you desgining for? We design for quite a few different women but the most important thing is her spirit and her quirkiness. The sass & bide women loves to play with her clothes, she loves to dress up. She is free-spirited, she has a sense of humour, she will put things together in a different way from another women. That’s what we love, that quirkiness and the sense of play in the clothes. Also, obviously we have that sexiness too – shes a strong women.

sass & bide Resort 2018
Credit: Getty Images

your label has such a huge following. What would you say it is that keeps people coming back? If you talk to many people, they all have a different point of view, whether it’s the tailored jackets, the statement pieces or the accessories that can just be a ruffle or a collar that changes your entire outfit. Also, there’s basics that are just so easy to wear: the T-shirts, the knits with subtle details different from everybody else.

Would you agree art is something that is fundamental to the brand, whether it’s through the original prints or architectural shapes that you use? We are constantly inspired by [art] and also different cultures and craft as well. We have a team of print designers who create all our prints and embellishments, so its really important for us that we develop everything from scratch and it has that hand touch to it. 

sass & bide Resort 2018
Credit: Getty Images

What inspired this Resort 2018 collection? Barcelona and a house there which was desgined by Antoni Gaudi called Casa Batllo, which has [recycled tile and glass] mosaics covering the [exterior] walls. Theres the dragon roof which has inspired some of our embellishments… and then on the inside of the house… it’s quite minimal. The energy of Barcelona, especially Barcelona at night… has been key for our designing this year. This is the first time in quite a few years that we’ve shown a Resort collection and the fabric weights and the embellishments really reflect that. It’s obviously a more sexy time of the year.

WHAT’S THE PROCESS WITH CREATING A RUNWAY COLLECTION AS A DESIGN COLLECTIVE? We started quite a few months ago and all had an idea of mood we wanted in this collection, which was vibrant and energetic. Then we collected vintage swatches and [were] constantly looking at art and architecture and saw Casa Batllo and were attracted to the different things of the house – the curved lines, the decorative exterior – and straight away started sketching from that and imagining those colours brought into beading and sequinning and applique work. We have quite a few techniques this season which we have developed especially with that inspiration in mind so the curve and cream arches of the interior loft of the house we have imagined with invisible stitching which was hand embroided through the cream panels of the dresses.

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Can you tell us the special story related to a cult movie behind the white denim jacket? We [were] inspired by the chimney pots on the roof of the house which were actually also an inspiration for Star Wars. George Lucas saw those and was inspired to create from that, but we have taken from that a different way. There is a new white denim jacket which is really more of a couture piece with this beautiful twist in the body and that’s inspired by the chimney pots.

sass & Bide is known for its custom prints. Can you talk to us more about your inspiration for them this season? For this collection’s prints we were inspired by the decorative elements of the house, mainly the mosaics on the outside and also a little bit of the iron work and the gates. While painting it, we came up with the term of ‘serene fiesta’ for the prints, so although the collection as a whole is Fiesta Barcelona, there is a kind of a serenity and a paintly beauty of the prints.

Bespoke prints: sass & bide Resort 2018
Credit: Getty Images

Are there any colours that you haven’t used before or might be new one of your runways? We love colour at sass & bide but we also love the simplicity of ivory to go with all those colours. There’s a fiesta red, which is an important colour [for this collection] – its really about the heat of summer, especially summer evenings, and walking down the streets in Barcelona feeling amazing. I think a lot of girls love that bright red really makes you want to go out and party. The ivory interior of the loft of the house was quite important and we have some quite sculptural pieces in ivory and are accentuated with black or gold.

The accessories have it: sass & bide Resort 2018
Credit: Getty Images

We’ve seen some really amazing resort 2018 accessories in the showroom. Can you talk us through how they are going to be styled for the show? We’ve concentrated on the moulding and the metalwork aspect of the inspiration this season, and worked with craftspeople and different technqiues, mixing it back with different metals. This season in the clothes you’ll see less metallic embellishments because we’ve really foucused on the metal in the jewellery. Its quite a fierce look – it’s about mismatching your statement earrings and layering bold bracelets.

Creative Director: Justine ODonnell
Video: Lester Jones
Presenter: Fleur Egan

View the full sass & bide Resort 2018 runway collection here