July 2024

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

Words:Adriana Giuffrida Images: Stephanie Downey & Saskia Wilson

I like clothes, and I mean I really like clothes, but nothing gets me more excited than seeing Dress Up by Stephanie Downey each season. It does make me sad that when collections come out and are shared with the public, you don’t often get to see the thought process behind what inspired the designer and it’s all left to interpretation. Stephanie’s latest collection is based on the concept of old horror films, the colour palette is strong to reflect upon this inspiration, she uses silver leather inserts to insinuate the gentle sheen of a knife on the garment, these ideas are what fascinate me about Stephanie’s thought process. Her clothes are so rich in concept and make you feel so special, that I felt it was necessary to ask her how she creates such beautiful garments. That and just how she manages to take you to another time and place and help you to remember what it truly is to dress up after all.

Adriana Giuffrida: Were you one of those kids that was always making things? Do you remember what the first thing you designed was? Was it a piece of clothing or something else?

Stephanie Downey: Yes, I was very creative from a young age – my parents really encouraged arts and crafts. I think most children are naturally imaginative and creative if given the means. I was always drawing and painting as a child, and I thought I would grow up to be an artist, actually I wanted to illustrate children’s books. I was very obsessive about my drawings. My mum sewed her own clothes and ours – I would sit beside her sewing table and help choose the fabrics and pictures on the patterns. Then I started borrowing her sewing machine to make my own clothes when I was a teenager.

AG: You’ve said that you’re interested in the human emotion, and that you like to create garments that are personal and unique. Do you feel connections with people that respond to your garments? If you see someone wearing something you created, do you feel connected to them, like they understand what you’re trying to express?

SD: Definitely. That’s the most rewarding and exciting thing – as I am so interested in the the way people dress to communicate their own personal image. I love seeing my clothing incorporated into somebody’s life. I feel a real connection to the wearer; after putting so much thought and love into a design and to see it being enjoyed and re-interpreted is wonderful. For me it becomes further inspiration and adds another layer to the story.

AG: I went to the Opera House recently, and I was so excited to have an excuse to dress up, and I mean really dressed up. I got there, and everyone was dressed in jeans and jackets. Why don’t people dress up anymore?

SD: I actually really like thinking about all those complex and private insecurities that are self consciousness – exactly like when you find yourself inappropriately dressed at an event – it’s funny how strongly our self perception or self image impacts on our mood and confidence. I’m always in admiration when I see somebody has put a lot of consideration and time into their outfit – even if it’s not to my taste, it makes me happy to notice that they feel beautiful. I remember being a teenager and freaking out because I felt overdressed and mum saying ‘don’t worry, you just look nicer than everybody else’… I always remember that!

AG: Your concepts are very strong, I remember you telling me that your last collection was based on the notion of friendship after you found an old photo of you and an old school friend? Is conception the hardest part of putting a collection together, or is it the easiest?

SD: I think that a concept usually just comes naturally – something I have been thinking about a lot or watching or reading or imagining. I do a lot of daydreaming! Once I have an idea it all seems to unfold naturally, the ideas mature and elaborate and become sculptural as I build a collection. My collections are small, and I guess in my mind I’m just creating a wardrobe for the girl in the story that I’m imagining.

AG: Your campaign shots are always so beautiful and moody, and seem to really reinforce your ideas for each range. Do you think as a designer, when you are in control of the garment and the execution, that it gets difficult to enlist the help of other people to help you fully express what you want to communicate through the photographs?

SD: It’s something that is very important to me and a process that feels extremely difficult to achieve as it is usually so rushed. I always have imagery in my mind at the beginning of the design process and set high hopes of capturing this with photography. Sometimes it takes a few tries! Usually the best results happen when everyone involved is relaxed, and the environment is comfortable, and then it’s fun and exciting. But I am not a very confident director, the shoot is usually the first time I’ve seen the collection in context, with the outfits styled accordingly, so that is very rewarding.

AG: What is the idea behind your latest collection? How do you manage to incorporate what you are inspired by into the garments themselves? Is the concept just a starting point for you, or something that you constantly refer back to?

SD: My latest collection was inspired by Italian director Dario Argento’s horror films of the 70s and 80s such as Tenebrae, Suspiria and Inferno with their elaborate cinematography, dynamic lighting and progressive musical scores. I was trying to reinterpret the beauty of Argento’s heroine – an ambiguous synthesis of vulnerability and power. I used quite a dramatic colour palette – I love the way he uses blood so dramatically and the vermillion red that I used was in reference to this. The clothing also needed to have a softness, and an innocence which I tried to impart through subtle drapery. Most of all I wanted to achieve elegance and composure yet at the same time a subversive feeling of suspense. I took photographs of the television to capture scenes from the films that I could refer back to – and these images became a template for the collection in a way.

AG: I always say I hate horror films, but when I watch them, I feel this weird sense of adrenaline and love it which I guess is the point. Have you always loved horror films, or do you have a love/hate relationship with them like I do?

SD: That’s funny – I think that is what I love about them too, without the hate part. I think I love horror because it is a safe way to experience an emotion or feeling that is in real life horrible and dangerous – to be scared. I have always just liked to scare myself – and I don’t get nightmares or anything. To be honest most of the horror films I love are older ones that are quite obvious and cinematic so I don’t really find them so scary.

AG: Which have been most influential to you do you think?

SD: Argento’s films – I can watch them over and over. Phenomena, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae… I also love numerous others, from cheesy to classy. The Shining is a favourite. I recently saw Let The Right One In at the cinema, which I thought was incredible.

AG: Argento’s films are so rich in colour and visually beautiful to watch, despite the fact that they are so morbid and twisted. What do you find inspires you the most about these horror films? Is it the visual or is it more about the mood and feeling?

SD: It’s both. Argento’s films are stylistically intoxicating – so beautifully composed. All the elements really work together to create such suspense – Goblin’s music, the rich colour, the dynamic lighting and cinematography. But I also think terror, being such a powerful emotion brings the visual and aural components to life even more.

AG: Are you thinking about your next collection at the moment? Is it hard to distance yourself from the previous collection?

SD: Sometimes it’s hard – as there are always ideas that I don’t have time to explore. But I feel a need to move onto something new and refreshing each season, I think it makes a collection stronger and more concise in the end. I have some inklings of new ideas but nothing solid yet – time for some research!

View Stephanie Downey’s latest collection at Dress Up

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