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ISSUE 04 2009
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ISSUE 04 JULY – SEPTEMBER 2009
GOING GREEN IN SINGAPORE LAURENS TAN’S BEIJING LATEST DESIGN OBJECTS FURNISHING THE LIVING ROOM ART AND ARCHITECTURE IN THAILAND SCOPING AUSTRALIA’S JOHN WARDLE RE-DISCOVERING MIES
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partnership sixhands — NSW, australia
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The Power of Three In just over two years the flamboyant and highly expressive work of Sydney textile design studio, Sixhands, has attracted some of Australia’s leading fashion designers, turned heads at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week, and moved into eclectic interiors and lifestyle collections. Kath Dolan talks to the talented trio of Alecia Jensen, Brianna Pike and Anna Harves about the dynamics of a creative partnership of three. Ask Alecia Jensen, Brianna Pike and Anna Harves what first attracted them to each other when they met studying fashion and textile design at the University of Technology Sydney in 2001 and they’re unanimous: distinctive styles, strong personalities, and a quiet determination to succeed commercially with their artistic freedom intact. They’re qualities that have since attracted a string of high profile admirers to the Surry Hills studio they set up in late 2006 to create exclusive, custom made and bespoke prints for fashion labels looking for something bold and fresh. Clients range from highly commercial enterprises like Bonds and Sportsgirl to industry stalwarts Wayne Cooper, Alannah Hill, Lisa Ho and Peter Alexander, as well as a diverse mix of boutique labels including the foxy couture of
Daniel Avakian, the glamourous swimwear of Flamingo Sands and the stylish street chic of One Teaspoon. Not bad for a bunch of uni mates still pushing 30. The broad appeal of Sixhands’ playful prints, which are produced using ecologically sustainable printing processes and soya-based inks, was part of the trio’s vision right from the start. After graduating in 2004 the girls spent two years working for others in the fashion and graphic design industries figuring out exactly what sort of business they did – and didn’t – want to run. Avoiding ‘fashion bitch’ clichés by taking their work rather than themselves seriously was one essential. Finding a commercially viable niche they could have fun filling was another. “Obviously we thought about starting our own fashion label but... we felt that the lo-
cal market was quite saturated with new labels and that would make it a lot harder for us to start something successful,” says Alecia. They watched as many of their university friends headed overseas in search of the opportunity to create the kind of wildly imaginative, world class couture they’d been trained to produce. Realising this kind of design opportunity is thin on the ground in Australia, it became apparent that textile design offered more scope for the kind of unconventional work they aspired to. “If you go to Europe a small number of people appreciating your quirky label might be a couple of million whereas in Australia that’s going to be more like a couple of thousand,” says Alecia. “So people have to be really careful here about the decisions they make design-wise because ultimately it’s a financial risk each time they design
Text Kath Dolan
Styling Andrea Millar
Photography Richard Birch
partnership sixhands â€” NSW, australia
partnership sixhands — NSW, australia
The creative trio of SixHands in their studio.
Blown Away by Ruby Smallbone.
Mecca for Tim O’Connor.
Daydream for Mad Cortes. 03
Home Sweet Home for fabric manufacturer. 04
The Flamingo Kid for Bond-eye Swim.
Eventide for Ginger + Smart. 08
Mountains + Molehills for Bianca Spender.
something. We really wanted to have some creative freedom and that was partly what drew us to textile design.” It was a smart move. Printing digitally allows Sixhands to design with literally millions of colors for the same price as the one or twocolour jobs of the past, and to create one-offs and small runs to order on virtually any surface imaginable, from upholstery fabric to glassware, ceramics, carpet or metallic finishes. Hence Sixhands’ catalogue range and custom work has evolved organically from fashion fabrics and swimwear to include a SIXROOMS interiors range spanning wallpaper, canvasses and soft furnishings. In December 2008 Sixhands launched a riotously colourful surfboard range (designed by keen surfer Anna) in collaboration with Sydney board maker, Misfit Shapes. Sixhands’ eclectic style and joyous use of colour are now winning fans well beyond the tight-knit community of boutique Sydney designers who first embraced them. At last year’s Rosemount Australian Fashion Festival, their work for Mad Cortes, Ruby Smallbone and One Teaspoon among others won rave reviews. Ragtrader credited Sixhands with producing some of the most colourful prints of the festival and described their effect on the influential audience of fashion buyers and media thus: “By day four of the spring/summer 2008 collections, many buyers were left scratching their heads as a solemn darkness descended on the runways. Where had all the colour gone? Anna Harves, Alecia Jensen and Brianna Pike couldn’t have asked for a better plug.”
The girls’ foray into interiors is bumping things up another notch. The innovative wallpaper range released recently features Sixhands’ trademark expressive colour with a simple but clever twist: each roll is double the usual width. Images of the girls’ large scale designs used to dramatic effect in a range of commercial and residential applications have featured prominently in glossy interiors magazines over the past few months. In June 2009 a high profile collaboration with leading rug manufacturer, The Rug Collection, is set to make another splash. Anna says Sixhands was initially tempted to tone down its flamboyant style for the interiors market but soon saw the importance of playing to its strengths. “Interiors is much more conservative than fashion and the trends move slower. People don’t tend to be as expressive as they are with clothing... in our first range we probably had a couple of more subtle, conservative pieces,” she says. “We realised from people’s reception to the collection that what they actually wanted from us was something flamboyant and quirky and fun because we’re more renowned for that. There were a lot of conservative, comfortable styles pre-exisiting in the industry so people came to us when they wanted something different. They saw us as an interior label that reflects our fashion roots.” Anna admits they’re a “compulsively creative” bunch but says each range is the result of meticulous planning. “We can’t afford to make mistakes so we research and research and research until we have the best suppliers and the best printers and we try and do things as much as
partnership sixhands — NSW, australia
A creative corner in Alecia’s home. 10
Alecia at home in her Sydney apartment. On the floor is a Sixhands rug for The Rug Collection.
we can environmentally and locally,” says Anna. “So when we have a product like our wallpapers we know that what we’re offering is top of the market and special and unique.” The trio has also maintained control over their intellectual property by offering clients exclusive rights over one-off designs for a period of three years, after which time they’re free to rework its motifs for new purposes. It’s an unusual stance that could have ruffled feathers among established labels used to textile designers relinquishing copyright. The fact that it hasn’t says a lot about the warm and effusive trio’s underlying self confidence (and their determination to work with other progressive outfits who value their work as art). Bri describes the early days of the partnership as discovery of each others’ hidden talents. Outspoken Alecia emerged as the natural spokeswoman for the group and her background in graphic design made her the obvious choice for managing branding, visual identity, the Sixhands website and media liaison. Anna’s the consummate ‘people person’ whose extensive networks in design circles made her a shoo-in for sales. Bri’s the highly organised quiet achiever who takes the lead in matters of finance and administration. When it comes to design, however, it’s a case of one in, all in. Bri says each person initiates about a third of each collection and critiques the ideas, scale and colour of everyone else’s designs so extensively the end result is inevitably a Sixhands creation. “Often even between us we can’t necessarily tell who has designed one of the pieces,” says Alecia. Ideas spring from a huge range of sources – the natural world, a shared love of painting, old magazines, and the quirky collections of retro, found and handmade objects that feature prominently in their shared studio and highly individual homes. Anna’s father is a potter and sculptor and her mother sews, weaves and paints; her home reflects her love of craft and art that’s made for use.
“Often even between us we can’t necessarily tell who has designed one of the pieces.” – ALECIA
partnership sixhands — NSW, australia 11
A collection of Anna’s favourite objects at home. 12
Anna creates quirky combinations with colour and shape at home. On the floor is a one of their designs for The Rug Collection.
“We don’t think what we do is necessarily better than anyone else... but we do think it’s different.” – ANNA
partnership sixhands — NSW, australia 13
Bri at home in her Sydney apartment. 14
Bri’s home office hints at her eclectic tastes.
Bri describes the early days of the partnership as discovery of each others’ hidden talents –
Alecia’s home reflects her rediscovered passion for painting in a way that’s bold, vivid and highly stylised. Bri’s modernist pad is more minimalist than the others’ and reflects her more understated manner. But her amusing collections of newspaper clippings to fridge magnets reveals a sly sense of humour that’s also in evidence in Sixhands’ work. In the studio, raw inspiration is followed by extensive research and story boarding “to identify key concepts and directions for the ranges,” according to Bri. “You can have a great idea but it needs to be commercial and be able to be produced so that’s where we come in and critique and problem-solve,” she says. Experience has taught them the value of setting aside blocks of time to design collectively. They’ve also learned the importance of taking a break from 12 hour days in the studio to revitalise and pursue individual passions, from surfing to photography, that help keep their creative juices flowing. With 2009 shaping up as a big year and their collection expanding constantly, maintaining their freshness has never been more important. “We don’t think what we do is better than anyone else necessarily,” says Anna matter-of-factly. “But we do think it’s different.” Sixhands, sixhands.com.au
Hearth 2 - 26 July 2009
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