In a world of fast fashion, where most of us scour sale racks for the cheapest bargain pieces of clothing we can find, we can forget about the value of a classic and timeless piece; those pieces that sit in our wardrobe season after season and never go out of style and never stop looking fabulous.
We’re surrounded by white shirts that show every detail of the bra you’re wearing and jumpers that are too thin to even keep you warm. While fast fashion certainly has its place, nothing can beat a good quality piece that you know will be worth every penny you invested into it. It’s even better when the brand you buy it from is local and sources all their materials from within Australia.
I was lucky enough to get to sit down someone who owns a brand fitting that exact description; Renee Verdon, fashion designer and owner of local fashion label VOUS.
For those who might not know, how would you explain what VOUS is in your own words?
I developed the clothing brand about four years ago. The pieces in the brand are made for women who are looking for something that’s a little bit different. It’s not mass produced in any way, it’s original in its design, and it’s something that is going to be able to mix through their wardrobe through the seasons. They’re more of a statement piece or a piece that you keep and that you’re able to change the look of it each season. So when I design things I guess that’s the woman that I’ve got in mind.
How did you come up with the name?
The name is French for the word ‘you’. I wanted the label to be about the customer and what they like. It’s ‘contemporary clothing for modern women’; the modern woman being someone who can see a piece and know how to wear it in her wardrobe.
What inspired you to create the brand in the first place?
Growing up, I always loved designing things and sewing and that’s sort of a bit of a tradition in my family. I left school and did a psychology degree, worked as a clinical psychologist for about 12 years and then sort of decided ‘I don’t want to do just this for the rest of my life’. So then I went back and studied fashion design in Sydney at the Sydney Institute Fashion Design Studio, which is where a lot of designers like Akira Isogawa, Collette Dinnigan, and more recently Dion Lee, studied. So I was really lucky and got in there and then decided to give it a try in a retail space and that’s what’s brought me here today.
What are the main fabrics you prefer to work with?
I always love natural fibres, so linen, cotton, often blends of those two, and wool as well. I’ve been experimenting with some rayons and viscose. I try to keep it predominantly natural fibres because I think they wear better and they feel better on your body.
Tell us more about your latest winter collection?
The latest collection is called Nomode and I got the name from a combination of words meaning Norwegian fashion. All of the collection is based on the Scandinavian landscape and the countries in that area. The colour palette reflects that and the design reflects that also. When I design I take aspects of my inspiration and bring it into each design. An example would be some of the tops I’ve got at the moment, such as those with the cowl necklines, I got that idea from the fjord’s, which is a deep gully in the landscape.
What is the general process from when you have an idea for a piece to it physically being in store?
It’s quite a long process and a lot of people don’t realise what’s involved. So I start out with my inspiration and pull out structures and shapes from that imagery I’ve collected. After that you come up with designs. So I’ll try and come up with as many as I can and then I pair it down to about five or six looks for the season. Once I have my final designs I then go into pattern making. Once you’ve made your patterns you have to sample them on people, so you check for fit and how it’s actually working on the body. You then go back to your patterns and you make adjustments. When you’ve got your final pattern you have to grade it into all sizes. Once it’s graded and you’ve got your sizes then you have to cut each piece that you want and then it goes into production for being made. That process would generally take anywhere between four to six months. So I’m constantly working a season ahead, bigger designers would be working about a year ahead, so currently working on next winter’s collection.
Who is your biggest fashion inspiration/favourite style icon?
I love Ellery as a label, I think they do really interesting stuff, very structural which I like. There’s a couple of smaller Melbourne brands, like Búl and Kuwaii, they’re independent fashion labels that do really interesting stuff as well.
What is your proudest moment/biggest achievement since starting VOUS?
I think I’m proud of this space I’ve got here in the Emporium, you know getting to this point and actually having stock is really good. Outside of that I’ve done a couple of interesting red carpets, for example I just did a dress for the Logies.
What has been the toughest part of running VOUS so far?
Managing the work load is really tough because I still do psychology as well as this. But then I guess when the pieces are in store it’s getting people to understand how this is different to fast fashion. I think as consumers we’re very use to pieces that you can buy at a lower price point, but that are in and out of your wardrobe. So it’s that education I’ve found is quite tricky, and getting people to know that I’m a brand as well.
What are your future plans/aspirations for VOUS?
I’d love to be able to graduate from Renew Newcastle and have a brand that is stocked in other shops. Also have a shop space, for example like High Tea With Mrs Woo, which is an established business in Newcastle. That would be the ultimate I think.
If you’re ever wandering around Hunter Street Mall and find yourself walking past The Emporium, be sure to pop in and check out Renee’s beautiful pieces.
The Emporium, 185 Hunter Street Newcastle, 2300