Patience, someone older and presumably wiser tells us, is a virtue. Waiting for the right moment though, until you’re good and ready, is not a skill many have mastered. Magdalena Velevska is not one of those people.
We caught the Sydney-based designer fresh back from New York, her “first official” international business trip. She’d gone as one of five hand-picked designers – her cohorts Christopher Esber, Fernando Frisoni, Kym Ellery and Michael Lo Sordo – thanks to the Australians in New York Fashion Foundation and The Woolmark Company to meet with editors along with buyers from the likes of Saks and Barneys as well as online stores like Moda Operandi. For a label already six seasons strong, it was something of a late debut. “It takes time for a brand to evolve and have its own signature,” she tells us, “and I think we have that now.
“I was wearing a piece from not last summer but the summer before – and while I get comments on them all the time – it just didn’t have that ‘plus-plus-plus’ on it,” she says. The sharp, geometric silhouettes, she explains, were always there. She would have always done, say, that piece, and it would have been a great piece, but it didn’t have, say, the embellished fringed skirt.
Velevska’s AW 12 collection – Girl of my Dreams – has that plus-plus-plus and more: think sportswear mesh against sleek lines, and colour-blocks of what she calls “flash green”. Among the pieces are asymmetrical hems, ankle-length dresses and tapered leggings that move from sheer silk to jersey. Throughout the range, placement embroidered fringing drips like sleep, the tri-tone Velevska’s own Technicolor dream. “I was sitting in the car one day and thought, ‘Imagine coloured (fringing) layer upon layer upon layer…”. It’s intricate and intense, like a lucid Lynchian dream. The season is named for a Sleeping Beauty of sorts, but there’s a Machine Gun Fellatio song of the same title we just can’t shake whenever we see it: the line – “She’s got style, she’s got violent ways about her / She’s got me so that I can’t dream without her” is the collection all over.
“I’m really happy that the level of work is what I have always loved,” she says. “Even back from when I was a child even doing things like tapestries and crocheting and…”
Wait. Tapestry? As a child? Yes, she smiles. Velevska tells us she made her first shirt at nine-years-old. “Pretty good,” she laughs when questioned just how good a shirt a nine-year-old can make. “It was a green. I remember it vividly; it was a green, actually not too dissimilar to the emerald green that I have got now…” – she motions to the racks of dresses pushed against the wall – “… It was just a round neck with a facing, no collar with slits on the sides. I cut it myself and made it myself.”
Her mother, an architect and frequent seamstress for her daughter, had no qualms about letting the nine-year-old Velevska near her machine. “She would sew with me in her lap. It was inevitable.” (“Inevitable” for Velevska is another running theme: “brought up believing that you had to go to uni”, she refused to list another option other than “Fashion and Textiles” at Sydney’s University of Technology.)
You can see it, too, in her line: Velevska knows her way. She admits it’s always been like this. As a seven-ish-year old in Macedonia, it was a daily battle with her mother as to whether she would wear pants or a skirt. “And then it was a constant fight about whether I was wearing short sleeves or long sleeves.” The heavy Macedonian winters were no deterrent. “I used to pack a short sleeve T-shirt in my music sheets, take it to school and get changed there. She would pick me up from school and say ‘you weren’t wearing that this morning’ and I would say ‘Oh well’.”
In the same breath, she talks about her teenage attire – while the others in her year were rocking out Adidas tracksuits, she wore “nicer things”, a purple wool-rib skivvy, brown moccasins, or jeans with a “nicer looking T-shirt”. “I just couldn’t do it,” she says. “Kids were always like why are you so dressed up?”
But it wasn’t just in style that she went her own way: she realised there was “much more out there” than pages of Impulse, Dolly Doctor and a young Miranda Kerr, and instead bought international fashion mastheads featuring the likes of “Stephanie Seymour and all those incredible girls”.
“I still have all of those in a big stack at home,” she smiles. “No one told me about it, but straight away I was attracted to it.” There’s something undeniably special, about that thrill of taking a chance on something, blowing your $10 on a magazine and thinking, yes, this is it, this is speaking to me and only me. It’s rare, but it’s something that so fully validates a complete immersion in everything you love.
This is one thing that hasn’t really changed about Velevska. “There’s an old-school (feel) about what I do.” She doesn’t care – or rely on – popular culture for inspiration. Instead, it’s her style: classic and clean. “Then there’s a super futuristic twist to it with the embroideries and embellishments and really crafty elements to my clothes. I do watch what happens in fashion and designers now and not only that but interior design and music, and so on. But even at uni our lecturers would say ‘you need to know what’s going on’, but then you need to also think about what’s next. That’s what’s always in my mind.”
And it has worked, so far. Straight out of uni, she was offered representation and named – in broadsheet – by Lisa Ho as one to watch, but she didn’t feel ready. Instead, she did time at Akira Isogawa, Pablo Nevada, Nicola Finetti and Lisa Ho. Her role – especially that at Finetti – was far from narrow. “I just used to do so many things in there”. “I remember one show at Nicola one of the stylists said ‘I wish we had a top’ so I said ‘Yeah sure I’ll go’, so I was literally out the back cutting this top and he was like, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said ‘You asked me for a top’. Then they said ‘so what about the PR stuff?’ and I said ‘that’s all getting done too’. I pretty much learnt the whole circle of the industry there.”
“I really love being involved,” she says adding that this may be to her detriment when it comes to growing the label and its offering. “How do I get mini me’s, clones? I have many people that I work with – but it’s hard to come to the land the right people. The people that you work with are integral to what you do – you can’t do it without them.”
Now, she says, she has found that ground in the likes of her stylist Jolyon Mason (“I talk to him out loud and it kind of makes more sense”) and her embroiderer who is a little more Wizard Of Oz (“We never see each other…” he’s based overseas “… but when I talk to him about what I want done, the quality and execution of the work is of exactly the standard that I would expect it to be.”). Add to that her patternmakers, knitters, sewers, and you have the army of Magdalena Velevska.
This autumn/winter sees new things of her own imagining, including a fringed fur. “They managed to dismantle the machine and have a needle feed through the thread, kind of like a syringe … The needle spits it out long enough to form the loops and gets hand-cut into the fringing. And then, yes, it was possible. “It’s just going from one technique to the next and asking ‘Can you? Can you? Can you?’ I rarely like hearing people say no.”