Afterpay Australian Fashion Week has well and truly wrapped for the year; as it comes to a close, it’s natural to wonder what the future holds for fashion down under. While the runways of Carriageworks and beyond hosted some exceptional collections this season, some of the most exciting designs came from the Next Gen showcase.
Since way back in 1996, the program has funded a runway of four emerging designers, launching the careers of Australian fashion royalty Anna Quan and Camilla and Marc — as well as trailblazers like Erik Yvon, Phoebe Pendergast, and Asiyam. This year did not disappoint, with rows of Australia’s most respected stylists, editors and buyers loudly applauding the innovative collections. Yet, there was one name that many of the industry’s crème de la crème could not get off their lips — Rube Pedder.
The 23-year-old designer is an inner-west local an area known to many as the heart of creatives in Sydney. It feels natural that Pedder finds herself in a realm halfway between fashion design and art, applying conceptual thought to traditional couture in a way that demands its undoing. In other words, she aspires to create “casual couture”, a more grounded take on high-end fashion that pushes artistic boundaries — reminiscent of the late Vivienne Westwood. Pedder’s unique approach to smocking and dreamy printmaking began receiving attention after the release of her graduate collection, 'Handle With Care'. Characterised by the distortion of delicate silhouettes and surrealist digital and hand-etched prints, the collection was quickly in demand by top stylists across the city.
As such, many were eagerly anticipating what Pedder would dish up for her AAFW runway debut. Pedder’s first look provoked visible gasps from the audience. The collection, ‘A Still Life’, takes the distinct experimentations of her early work to another level as the dreaminess of her prints interact with the abstract shaping of her couture. As exclamations and applause echoed through to backstage, Pedder stood humbly biting her nails. We sat down with the designer a few days later to chat about her inspirations for the collection and plans for the future. Much like her approach to couture, Pedder is refreshingly grounded.
How are you feeling in the aftermath of your AAFW runway debut?
Excited, motivated, and a little exhausted. I’m just really happy. Everything exceeded my expectations. Seeing my work on a runway and appreciated by so many has been a fulfilling experience. I’m feeling grateful that platforms such as Next Gen exist.
How far did you push your usual boundaries for this collection?
This collection, I wanted to continue my experimentation of the technique smocking. My aim was to create pieces where the visual imagery made sense with the forms I was experimenting with. I had been drawing/photographing still lives. These developed into creating pieces such as the ‘vase dress’. Not only is its shape reminiscent of a vase, but the image itself is a vase. I aimed to include some more so ‘wearable’ pieces in the collection without sacrificing artistic integrity. I pushed to create a range of garments that, whilst making sense in the collection, I could imagine my friends enjoying, such as the mini skirts. I further pushed to follow and play with traditional aspects of a fashion collection, such as cohesive prints and finishes, to form a visually harmonious body of work.
It’s rare to see such a distinct voice in emerging designers, particularly one so consistent. How did you uncover and develop the unique aesthetic of Rube Pedder?
Thank you! My work is more than a duty or even a practice. Instead, it acts as a mode for my own self-expression as both an individual and an artist. Acting as my core creative outlet, my designs present a remarkable and rare opportunity for me to celebrate the broader themes that underpin each piece: freedom and artisanal experimentation. Conceptually, it blurs the boundaries between art and fashion by invoking notions of surrealism and rebellion in a modern context. To accomplish this innate duality, which is the defining feature of each piece, I am constantly on a mission to strike a balance between delicate and explosive forms, drawing on exquisite and subtle silhouettes and art forms that I warp into something unconventional and uniquely my own. I was also a pandemic graduate – perhaps designing my first two collections in isolation aided my experimental approach to design, that led to the aesthetic that exists now.
You’ve previously described your label as “casual couture”. What does this mean to you, and who is the Rube Pedder wearer?
The defining feature of my designs remains their capacity to pay homage to historical and couture textile techniques, in particular smocking, and to showcase a remarkable beauty that doesn’t stray from D.I.Y sensibility. From a personal standpoint, I have ambitions to use my work as a catalyst in heightening the accessibility of couture. Through the exploration of casual couture in both aesthetics and practice, I have identified the opportunity to do so.
The Rube Pedder wearer is someone that appreciates craftsmanship and beauty and someone that wants to venture into something unique to what the commercial world has to offer.
Do you have a mission as a designer?
At the core of my work is an innate investment in the slow production methods of craftsmanship. Because of these bespoke methods of practice, the end products are unique and delicate pieces that must be handled with immense care. Given this focus is at the very essence of my designs, it is my mission to inspire a higher level of respect in the treatment of clothes that expands beyond my pieces. I hope that my work can be a real-life demonstration of the space that exists for fashion to be simultaneously artistic, experimental, fun, and wearable.
After such a successful debut, there is definitely demand for a Rube Pedder solo collection. Is this something you would consider, or do you have other plans?
I would love nothing more. There’s definitely lots to consider, and I need to make sure I have the resources to deliver what I would want too. For now, I’m hibernating and going back to work, but I might see you next year!
Feature and Photos: Phoebe Wolfe
We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which this show took place.