Heidi Middleton achieved fame and fortune as the co-founder of groundbreaking Australian fashion label Sass & Bide. She met fellow co-founder Sarah-Jane Clarke at high school in Brisbane and they went on to create one of the world’s most iconic fashion labels, loved by celebrities like Madonna, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Having moved on from Sass & Bide, Ms Middleton relocated to Paris, where she drew inspiration for her next creative venture – Artclub, an atelier of art, slow fashion and vintage clothing. She spoke with My Weekly Preview in the lead-up to her visit to the Sunshine Coast to speak at the Sunshine Coast Council’s event Fabric – Slow Fashion, Artful Living.
Are you happy with the way Artclub has been received since it launched? Yes, we are so happy with the response, I love that people have embraced this new model so well. I was unsure whether it would be understood immediately, yet our customers have really welcomed it and appreciate our product and ethos.
Could you explain what you mean by slow-fast fashion? Well, the rotation of product is smaller but more frequent. In the past, I would design with a six-month lead time, as it took that long to order fabric, collect sales, produce offshore and deliver worldwide. This new model feels much lighter and more free. It’s more fluid and is much more conducive to a higher level of creativity. I can design something and have it made locally with remnant fabric that’s available immediately. This means it can be available to buy via our site within two to three weeks from design. I love the freedom and spontaneity of this, not to mention how much gentler it is on both people and the earth.
How do you feel about the waste produced by the fashion industry? It’s not okay and we can’t feign ignorance, as there is so much information out there. There is no denying the scale of damage that the industry contributes to the earth’s current state. This was a large motivation behind why we designed the Artclub model the way we did.
Did you go through a period of sadness after letting go of Sass & Bide, or were you just happy to have more time and freedom to pursue new paths? I feel that I said goodbye to it emotionally in that last year of working in the business. The workload was so immense that I knew I couldn’t sustain another few years at that intensity. I’m proud that we left when it was in such good health. It was an incredible chapter of our lives.
How do the clothes available on Artclub differ from Sass & Bide? My design sensibilities are always evolving, so I feel that the clothes are different to what I designed back then. In saying that, there are definitely design hallmarks that remain, i.e. the dichotomy of masculine/feminine and the bold graphic silhouettes.
When you’re designing a new piece of clothing, do you picture it in your mind first, or do you see a particular fabric and imagine what it could become? Both! Sometimes the fabric dictates the design… other times I’ll sketch an idea then find a great fabric to fit it.
Who and what are your influences in art and fashion design? I love the Bauhaus art movement and also mid-century architecture and furniture. I have always admired the Italian designer Mollini for his interiors.
The range of garments on Artclub is currently small. Do you plan to keep it this size or will you offer a wider range in future? We will always have between 10–20 styles available on our website and will only make between 10–15 of each style.
You use a lot of green – is that a colour you’re feeling particularly drawn to at the moment? Is it linked to your sustainable fashion ethic? Yes, I have always loved greens, from khakis to a pop of forest. It might be subconsciously more pronounced at the moment with sustainability being at the front of all of our minds!
Metallic fabrics like lamé pop up in Artclub’s range, as they did with Sass & Bide. What do you love about metallic looks in clothing? I’ve always enjoyed metallic elements in fashion. There is no particular inspiration behind it. It’s just a personal love of reflective materials.
How has your time in Paris influenced your design aesthetic and the way you live your everyday life? I think it subtly influenced many layers of my design aesthetic. It can’t not have, there was endless inspiration every time I stepped outside. I’ll never tire of the magic and wonder of European life.
You always look incredible. Are you always well-dressed, even when you’re relaxing at home? No! You should see me today. (Although I have been known to wear ball gowns and trainers to the local IGA!).
What are your go-to pieces for everyday wear? Whatever fits the mood. I’m a big believer in sensory dressing. Go with what suits your mood.
Heidi Middleton will speak at Designer Talk on Thursday May 30, 6–8pm at Mooloolaba Surf Club. For tickets, visit events.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au.