I first met Peter Strateas and Mario-Luca Carlucci in 2008. A friend took me to a shindig they were hosting in the store of their fashion label, Trimapee, in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Dressed head to toe in black, Mario, or Mars as we affectionately call him, was the life of the party: full of energy and with an almost childlike but infectious curiosity. Peter was the quiet one: composed, kind, and clearly the yin to Mario’s yang. Fast forward six years and the boys are still the yin to each other’s yang, still dress head to toe in black, but have since launched a more mature fashion line that is killing it in both the Australian and international markets. I spoke to my old buddy Mario from the boys’ East Brunswick studio about the secret to a successful business relationship, their amazing year, and the masculine/feminine duality of their designs.
When and how did you two meet?
Peter and I met in high school. We were two of five students in our art class and hit it off straight away as we shared the same interests. We became good friends and it eventually blossomed into a business.
You founded your first fashion label, Trimapee, in 2006 when you were just 20 and 21. What gave you the motivation to start a business at such a young age?
Looking back at it now, seriously, a little bit of naivety (laughs). It began as a collaboration between Peter, myself, and another friend, Tristan. We were doing a number of projects and fell into clothing organically. We started making t-shirts and other bits and pieces firstly for ourselves, which we then turned into a small range for a couple of stores. The word spread and we had our first Ready-To-Wear Collection in late 2007 or early 2008. We never sat and planned to have a fashion label or a business; it just came about haphazardly. We learned along the way and made mistakes but also threw ourselves in the deep end and it ended up being an amazing experience.
After you ended Trimapee, you were reborn as Strateas.Carlucci two years ago. How do the two labels differ and why did you decide to go in this new direction?
We began Trimapee, as you said, quite young and I guess we just grew and changed and matured, and as we did, so did our design aesthetic and our taste. And our skill set, too. Trimapee was more focused on easy-to-wear, luxury sportswear. We wanted to make it affordable but also test the boundaries in the local market. With Strateas.Carlucci, it is completely the opposite. There’s a big focus on tailoring, structure, fabrication, and quality…not to say that Trimapee didn’t have any of those things, but it just moved from one side of the spectrum to the other. To be honest, the plan was to have them run simultaneously, to have Trimapee almost like a diffusion line, but the workload was just too much. After our first season showing the collection in Paris, we had quite an overwhelming response and I guess that was the breaking point for us to say, “yep, let’s give this thing our all and put everything into it and see where it takes us.”
How does your partnership work? Is there something you take the lead on more and something Peter does?
Yeah, we definitely have our defined roles in the business. As you can tell, Peter is not on the other end, it’s just me. He’s quite shy when it comes to interviews.
I was kind of hoping he would hop on as well.
I can throw the phone to him later when we’re done but yeah, he’s always pushing me to do it. But in terms of the creative process, we both share that. We come up with the concepts together and are both hands-on in that area of the business. Where we differ is that I will handle more of the sales, client relations, and press, whereas Peter works more with the manufacturing side and making sure that production is underway. We wish there was more time spent on the creative process but as many designers will tell you, especially in such a small team, only about 10% of your time is spent developing a collection and the rest is running the business. It’s that balance between the creative and the commercial side that is the key to a successful business.
And what would you say is the secret to a successful fashion duo?
There’s no real secret, but if I had to pick one, I would say a good working relationship. Peter and I have this almost sibling relationship. His mum’s my mum and vice versa. We argue but then we make up five minutes later. I think it’s important to have that open relationship where you are able to share ideas, be on the same page, but also offer something distinct. We’re quite different people and we both have different tastes but that’s what makes it so special; when you bring these two opposing worlds together, it can create something unique. Also, not bottling things up. Of course you also need to have a product that people want, a vision that’s unique, and everything else in between.
Your career has had a lot of highs and this year has been especially big. What have been some of the highlights?
We have had such a big year! We won the Woolmark Prize for the regional finals, which was a massive surprise. Earlier in the year, we also won the Tiffany & Co. National Designer Award at the Melbourne Fashion Festival. Those kinds of accolades gives you the confidence that you’re doing the right thing and that not only do the customers support you, but also the industry does. It’s refreshing because you work really hard, you’re locked away in a studio in the middle of nowhere, and when you present your work to the world, you’re not really sure what the outcome is going to be. So they’ve been the biggest highlights. (I remind Mario of the GQ Designer of the Year Award the boys won in November). Oh yeah, that just came through a few weeks ago. It’s pretty cool (laughs).
Tell our readers about your current collection. Are there pieces that are particularly special to you?
This current collection is called In Digital. It’s our sixth season and we feel like we’ve really come into our own vision and are really proud of it. There are a few key pieces that have become a bit of a signature for us. The basis of what we do is centered on three main things: construction, tailoring, and fabrication. But also there’s this utilitarian element—we want our clothing to not only look great but also to serve a purpose. There are a couple of jackets in the collection in the style called “Inverted.” They are amazing tailored garments which look and feel beautiful, but are also quite diverse in the ways you can wear them. For example, you can zip the jacket in the front but you can also fold the lapels down. This really embodies what we are about as a brand: how diversified our clothes are and how anyone who wears them can interpret them in their own ways. Leather has always been a strong part of what we do. There’s a jacket called the “Fracture Anarchy,” which has got a big zip detail in the back, and it’s become a bit of a statement piece for Strateas.Carlucci. It’s nice to have these cornerstone pieces that people start to recognize as your brand.
You predicted my next question. So is leather your favorite fabric to work in?
We do love leather but funnily enough, I have to say that wool is (my favorite). Before we were even introduced to the Woolmark guys, we had about 60% of our collection, whether for summer or winter, made from or featuring Australian Marino wool. As a fiber, it is just so versatile—you can knit it, so you can have a full fashion knitwear line, but you can also weave it and apply it to tailoring. With new technologies, what you can do with wool expands; it’s just incredible. Second would be leather. Leather is a little more challenging as its got limitations and obviously it’s very expensive so you don’t want to make too many mistakes. But there is always a key leather capsule in our collections.
Do you prefer designing for women or men?
We design the collections as one, kind of genderless line. And that’s what we found has become really strong as part of our vision. We have this kind of masculine/feminine duality in the collection. We don’t want to use the word ‘androgynous’ as we are not making a unisex collection. If we do a jacket for men and a jacket for women, they will come from the same idea, but be tailored to a man’s body and a woman’s body, respectively, rather than being one piece that any gender can wear.
In terms of your women’s line, is there a particular body type you design for? Or can women of all shapes wear your clothes?
Our focus is around tailoring and the idea of masculine/feminine duality. That being said, any woman can wear the garments, despite her body shape. It’s not about designing for 6ft thin supermodels—in reality, that type of woman is not our typical customer. We design our collections for real women who appreciate quality and who are comfortable in their own skin.
Do you think the fashion industry presents an idealized image of a woman’s (and to a lesser extent, a man’s) body, and what do you think are the consequences of this?
As a whole, sure I think the industry is trying to sell the idea of beauty to help sell their products, which inadvertently affects our perceptions as an audience. But, we are more about the garments and the idea behind the clothing, and ultimately, we want our collections to evoke positive emotions, leaving women feeling special and beautiful. The way we achieve that is focusing our energy on creating beautifully constructed garments, where the emphasis is on the craft, and not the body type.
Why did you choose to work in fashion? Or was it more something, like you said earlier, that happened organically?
We wanted to do something creative that would have a commercial element. It just kind of happened that fashion was the answer for us. It keeps us motivated as we work to a really tight schedule, and any creative person will tell you that time and organization are the biggest enemies to creativity…I know for me in particular. Fashion is a really nice balance between the two worlds of creativity and commerciality and you can create a complete universe around it. It doesn’t end or begin with a garment; it extends far past that.
What do you think of the state of the Australian fashion industry, in comparison to, say, Paris, Milan, or New York?
In the big scheme of things, Australia is still a very, very young industry and it’s very small in comparison. But I feel in the last few years, there have been some massive strides, and globalization plays a part in that. Nothing is what it seems anymore. The rise in social media and the push of online retailers has meant that there’s a lot more support and focus on other regions, and Australia is one of them. There are pros, but there also challenges, like manufacturing. Take our case for example: we buy all our fabrics from Italy, we ship them to Australia, we make everything locally, and then we ship it back out to other parts of the world. So we are double handling freights, taxes. But creatively speaking, there are some amazing things happening and some really cool and fresh designers coming out of Australia, and I think it’s going to continue to grow and get stronger and stronger.
Which other designers, Australian and international, inspire you?
To be honest, we kind of stay detached in our own little bubble, which I guess is a good and bad thing (laughs). That being said, we are massive fans of the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. He’s always been a big point of inspiration for us, not so much what he is doing now but what he was doing back in the 80s and 90s. He kind of pioneered this new look with silhouettes, drape, and volume, and some of that has inspired our work in an indirect way. We love, love (Colombian-born, Paris-based designer) Haider Ackermann at the moment. He’s really incredible. And it goes without saying, Rick Owens has been a really big influence as he opened the door to this dark realm for designers to enter into. Not that we’re in that aesthetic anymore but he definitely took the idea of sports/street lux wear and brought it to high fashion. We like any of those hybrids where you can take something that’s the complete opposite of something and bring into a new spectrum.
Where do you recommend to go shopping in Melbourne?
There’s some great shopping in Melbourne. For really cool designer luxury designer wear, Harrolds, a menswear-only store that stocks some really cool labels, whether international or local. Assin carries some really incredible not-so-well-known designers from all around the world. They have a really nice selection. Marais is amazing as well. For local designers, many of them open up their own spaces.
What or who, personally and/or professionally, inspires you?
We always get asked where our inspiration come from and the truth is that every little thing that surrounds our lives is what inspires us. From family and friends to the music we’re listening to or a book we’re reading, an artist or an artwork we see; it’s so haphazard and there’s no formula when it comes to inspiration.
Having said that, our last collection was inspired by the late indigenous artist Emily Kngwarreye who has a really amazing story. She began painting in her early 80s and broke away from the traditional indigenous painting style as we know it—with the fine dots and the fine brushwork—and went along the lines of general abstractionism. She used free brush strokes and her works are heavy, textural, and on really large-scales. What inspired us about her was this idea of someone breaking away unintentionally from something so traditional and deep-rooted. That’s just one example: we saw an artwork of hers and loved it visually but on further investigation, we got to know about her work, and funnily enough, in the end, it was not the work that inspired us but more her process and her story.
Finally, describe your label in three words.
Structure, texture, and quality.
Photos courtesy of Strateas.Carlucci