June 2024

Unknown Pleasures

Words: Laila Sakini Images: Max Doyle

In the world of fashion design establishing a difference whilst retaining accessibility is a coup that is often attempted, yet rarely achieved. So when the creative minds behind the cult label PAM manage to strike gold for a second time with their new womenswear line, you know that something magical is going on. The label Pop! Eyes, beget by Misha Hollenbach and Shauna Toohey, is now running in its second season strong. Inspired by the exotic leisure time pursuits of its creators, and by way of shiny fabrics and sharply tailored finishes, it re-contextualises the PAM fan to a new (fancier) place. To uncover some of the secrets of their success Laila Sakini asked Shauna Toohey to shed some light on the creative process(es) they’ve employed to deliver the goods, twice.

Laila Sakini: One would think that directing PAM, one of the most celebrated fashion/art/book/toy companies in Australia (and beyond), would be both personally fulfilling and time consuming. Why go on excursion from P.A.M with Pop! Eyes?

Shauna Toohey: We have been doing PAM for 10 years. I love designing PAM, it’s always fun but of course there is an aesthetic and feeling which is always definitely ‘PAM’. Pop! Eyes is an avenue to experiment and make more dressy clothes. I absolutely hate to say it because it’s so cliché but I did want to make clothing I wanted to wear. I wanted dress up clothes that had credibility (in the same way PAM does) and that touched on cultural references, interesting documentaries and artistic endeavours.

LS: The Pop! Eyes prints are routinely rich in colour and mood as standalone pieces, (they could be sold as flat garments and would still be cool) at what stage does garment construction/pattern making step in? Are the prints designed for the pieces or vice versa?

ST: It all happens together. But I was definitely trying to make new shapes and a new aesthetic for ‘dressy’ items. I wanted to offer something completely fresh – not a derivative of a current trend. I hope that the pieces will therefore be a bit timeless, and also relevant, and not a rehash of the past. The prints heavily reference tribal cultures, but present them in a modern way, we love the idea of cross referencing cultures, of mixing them, and coming up with something new.

LS: The shapes that Pop! Eyes presents appear as bold statements that play with volume and simultaneously reject and emphasise traditional notions of femininity and the female form. Who is the Pop! Eyes woman/girl?

ST: It’s for women/girls who like to look good but are interested in more than fashion: film, art, music, bikes, pets… They have aesthetic interests: not just for clothing but also for the things they surround themselves with.

LS: Technically there’s a lot of unique detail and cool features in everything you produce. What are your imperatives when designing patterns for Pop! Eyes?

ST: F.R.E.S.H. I want to offer something unique (in the good sense of the word) but still timeless and effortless.

LS: Could you highlight some design achievements from the current season?

ST: No – it feels strange to big note… Sorry – but I am really pleased with how it [all] turned out.

LS: Some might not realise that you are also a writer, an artist, a mum, and one hell of a cook. Being that you have many creative talents at what point did you decide to focus on fashion design and why?

ST: It appealed to me because you could get results quickly (not waiting years to have a building built) and it has a practical application. I couldn’t justify making stuff for my own pleasure so although I was attracted to art, being an artist didn’t suit me. I’ve softened a bit and now I can totally understand the value in making stuff for your own pleasure so I have been dabbling a little in some picture making. I suppose being creative is key, clothing is something I could explore, and also have a practical purpose.

LS: Both PAM and Pop! Eyes are noticeably independent from the rest of the fashion community in Australia, no fashion runway shows etc, which is probably why so many are intrigued by the labels… What are your reasons for remaining detached from ‘the scene’?

ST: It’s not intentional. It’s just that we try to do things for the right reasons and that feel right. We don’t start with a business plan we start with a desire to make stuff and a feeling that the people who will want to see it will find it. Runway shows have never felt right as a way to show what we do. We have done lots of exhibitions and I think we are part of a scene but it’s not a strictly fashion scene and it’s not only Australians or humans for that matter! Plus we aren’t detached, we have our own scene!

LS: Where are you going on the next excursion? What’s the next adventure for the PAM/Pop! Eyes team?

ST: Your guess is as good as mine. It’s an organic process so I think Pop! Eyes will lead us…

I’m taking a break from Pop! Eyes for a season. I still want to continue to make Pop! Eyes but not every season just when all the planets are aligned and the vibe is right. Fashion can be very quick and the schedule is rigid but Pop! Eyes has to dance to it’s own beat. So look out for more offerings in the future. PAM of course can’t stop!, it has a life of its own: more collections, books, music, prints etc!

Pop! Eyes is available at Some Day in Melbourne.

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