Abbey Rich is a Wonder Woman.
It was while studying her BA in Textile Design that Abbey put up her first small collection online. In just two years, her self-titled label has garnered substantial print and social media interest; now sending garments to an international audience as her cult following continues to grow. Abbey's made-to-order capsule collections are designed and hand sewn in North Melbourne, structured pieces with a functionally sophisticated intent.
In scouting for a figure to represent the S17 'Regarding Strength and Beauty' collection, Abbey's strong look and independent energy attracted us immediately. Her enterprising attitude and genuine character epitomises the wonder women who make up the Radical Yes! community. Modelling and sourcing outfits for the campaign, Abbey played a significant role in making the resulting look book something we're incredibly proud of.
As 'Regarding Strength and Beauty' launches, we caught up with Abbey in her North Melbourne studio to chat about running a business, strength, beauty and the creative process behind her latest collection.
Interview by Alex Birch, Images by Agnieszka Chabros.
At the helm of your own fast expanding independent label, you don’t seem to be one for sitting back and delegating. Designing, printing fabric and managing all the admin and marketing, you wear all the hats. Have you always had an intrinsic sense for business? Can you tell us a bit about your design and production process?
I am a control freak and I think that is why I don’t delegate but I definitely don’t think it is because of my business sense. I have no experience in business and my label took off completely by accident. Marketing and social media have come quite naturally to me but emails and finance are things I struggle with everyday. My designs are inspired by my life and the things I see and experience – I talk about the environment, relationships or
the body in my work because at the time I am influenced by these things. My practice whether it be clothing, art or design is my way of making sense of my life and the world around me. I design, print, package, send and oversee admin for ‘Abbey Rich’ whilst my mate Laura Clark does the pattern making and constructing.
Looking at your Instagram (@abbey_rich), your personal aesthetic is evident. Pantsuits, overalls and bright prints feature heavily. What attracts you to these garments? Do you tend to look for clothing with a practical bent?
Clothing has become quite integral to my mood; I look for items of clothing that make me feel strong and individual. I love pantsuits for this; overalls for their functional yet beautiful aesthetic for when I am painting and bright prints for how they make me feel. But a pair of high-waisted jeans and a black turtleneck and a pair of sneakers is almost just as appealing to me on most days for it’s functionality and ability to make me feel my most productive.
As the face of our recent S17 Look Book, you also designed and sourced the linen garments and vintage ensembles featured. We adore the looks you compiled and would love to hear about the inspiration and process behind these ensembles.
With the concept of ‘Strength and Beauty’ for the shoot I was excited to collect garments that reflected these ideas and made me feel strong and beautiful. That was pretty much the extent of my process, I just scoured my wardrobe for things that complimented the shoes whilst making me feel good! It was so beautiful to be so involved in the whole process.
The Radical Yes SS17 collection is titled, ‘Regarding Strength and Beauty’. Do you feel that strength and beauty are interdependent concepts? When do you feel you are most strong and beautiful?
I feel the most beautiful and strong when I am wearing silk and making art. Lately I have been really drawn in by how materials feel against my body and the subsequent way that makes me feel. Art and fabrics have this sensuality to me. Even if I am at my most exhausted and the look of tiredness is clear across my face, I feel strong and beautiful because I am working my hardest, living what I love and learning the most. I do think, for me at least, strength and beauty are interdependent. If you are strong within yourself I definitely think
it shines out, creating beauty. When I feel unproductive and down I do not feel as beautiful as when I feel strong and productive.
The Annie suit from your recent ‘flesh or bone’ collection is styled with our tasseled Dharmas in the recent look book. What’s the story behind the new collection? Who do you envision wearing these pieces?
The ‘Annie’ suit is inspired by Diane Keaton’s character in Annie Hall, to me she is such a vision of strength and beauty. The collection is more developed than my past work, I feel this is the culmination of a huge year and I’ve thrown everything I have learnt into it. I am the most proud of this collection. ‘Flesh or Bone’ comes from my place as a woman artist and the discomfort I hold with that title; as time goes by I see less value in defining gender. As an
artist and as a woman I am often seen as flesh, as soft or weak. I am emotional (in a negative way) because of my gender, apparently. So this collection is about how I, as a woman am strong and emotional and that is okay – I am valid.
I envisage this collection being worn on days of productivity and strength or leisure. The ‘Annie’ suit is cosy layered up with turtlenecks and a scarf, yet still stylish and strong and I can imagine the wearer going to the gallery and sipping a strong black coffee on a wintery weekend. I think it fits with this collection of Radical Yes! shoes because I also hope the wearers of my clothing feel strong and beautiful!
Linen and other natural textiles are frequently at the centre of your collections. What is it about these materials that you find so attractive? How are they to work with?
Hemp and Bamboo are such beautiful fibres, they are better for the environment. I try to eat organically, use products with lower chemicals so why wouldn’t you want organic natural fabric against your skin? I choose organic, natural fibre cloth because I don’t want my customers to absorb chemicals through their skin. Natural fibres have been around forever, for a reason. Their drape and feel is beautiful. Different weaves of the fabric allow for different functions, so you are often at the mercy of how the fabric behaves and I love that – it is quite beautiful.
What does being radical mean to you?
Being true to yourself, making bold choices that are good for yourself and those around you. Taking steps that you think are right and not being afraid to pave your own path.