It was the beginning of July and I had plans. For my birthday I wanted to wear heels and a black strapless dress. I wanted a long table at a restaurant with high ceilings and stone walls and soft lighting. Then I wanted to go out dancing somewhere dark and crowded. Instead, of course, I spent my birthday in lockdown eating pizza and watching The Bachelor.
We have been in this state of uncertainty for 18 months. Borders close at the stroke of midnight and we wake up to new rules, to ground that has shifted beneath our feet. We’re bored but we’re also tired. We’re restless and lonely and aching to feel something else, anything else.
Toni Maticevski was thinking about the strange place in which we find ourselves when he created his Pre-Fall 21 collection. He describes our mid-pandemic state as imbalanced. He sees a need for frenzied movement and a longing to get out that is in tension with a desire for comfort and contentment. So, he created a collection of strong statement pieces that express a desire to feel something more. More beautiful, more feminine, more considered. Pieces that can be thrown together with ease to allow for movement on short notice because, as he says, “everything is changing at every turn” and it helps to be able to communicate a “sense of effort, even if there isn’t any”.
The collection emphasises tone and cut. The colour palette moves from crisp white to buttery cream, to the soft indigo of worn denim, to black with glittering accents. Maticevski has long been a master of sculpture and form. His gowns are famously architectural and the accentuated hips and asymmetric lines from this season’s dresses are no different.
The simplicity of the colour palette highlights how expertly he also constructs a high-waisted double pleat front pant. Made from lightweight polyester twill, the pants have a deep rise and sit well above the hip bone. The wide waistband and exposed zip at the back speak to Maticevski’s ability to match function and form, comfort and clean lines. In the campaign shoot they are styled with outsized undone shirts, rectangular tops, harnesses, bustiers and tailored blazers. Proving his concept, the looks appear to be nonchalantly thrown together. The models, and he uses six, stand or sit with their legs apart, a hand in a pocket or resting on the inside of a thigh. The posture is neither masculine nor feminine, softly blurring the line between them.
Based in Melbourne, Maticevski has experienced the worst of Australia’s lockdowns. Given the global outlook of his business, the pressures of closed borders and restricted travel might have been acutely felt in his Yarraville studio. His eponymous label is stocked in more than 35 countries and he has staged two runway shows at Paris Fashion Week. Since he launched his label in 1999 his work has been compared to Cristóbal Balenciaga, John Galliano, Valentino and Alexander McQueen. He has designed costumes for The Australian Ballet, Nicki Minaj and Tina Arena, held a major exhibition of designs from his archive at the Bendigo Art Gallery, and inspired a book called Maticevski, the Elegant Rebel.
In this collection Maticevski gives the locked-down impulse to rebel a physical form, with sharply tailored jackets and dresses that hug the line of the waist. These pieces are slashed in places to expose parts of the body we don’t normally see. One black mini dress has a split so high it runs close to the hip bone and an opening in the shoulder that exposes the flesh beneath the collar, between the breast and the sleeve. It is breathtakingly short and, styled as it is in the campaign shoot with heavy black boots, it is deliciously tough. It’s the type of dress to wear when you want to disappear into the night.
In another look, a cropped, denim bustier is layered over the soft pleats of a chiffon blouse and paired with a leather pencil skirt. The contrast of textures plays to a feeling of femininity that should be difficult to capture when mixing denim and leather, but Maticevski has designed it to be this way: chaos so beautiful it feels considered but not overthought. The blouse is the softest, lightest garment in the collection, with a tie at the back to secure its fall across the shoulders. Its pleats run vertically from a high neck, fanning out across the right shoulder and wide through its one sleeve. The left arm is bare. Its ombré tones shift gradually from cream to indigo blue, like a winter sunrise over still water.
Maticevski describes the collection as messing with tradition and the expected. By bringing together unexpected shapes and materials, he can work outside conventional codes. He envisions the denim bustier and miniskirt being worn out in the evening, despite denim traditionally being for the day.
The denim in the collection is repurposed and preloved, which means no two pieces are the same. It was sourced from local suppliers, a nod to Maticevski’s commitment to the local industry. He still manufactures in Australia despite it being increasingly difficult to do so.
Maticevski has a reputation for being hands-on and cerebral: both are evident in the smallest details of his designs, from fabric choice to construction. He is wary of some natural fibres, “as they have a big environmental impact a lot of consumers aren’t aware of”.
He aims to create investment pieces that can be the building blocks of a wardrobe and says this is why he uses polyester, because “it is longer wearing and has a longer life” – which is to say, it lasts forever.
In this regard Maticevski is unlike his contemporaries. He understands something fundamental about clothes, in a time when trend cycles are unbelievably fast. He understands how to design with a sense of inherited memory. How to create something that might one day be a link between generations. He understands that clothes can blur the line between fantasy and reality, between who we are and who we’d like to be. Or in the case of the pandemic, where we’d like to be.
Toni Maticevski Pre-Fall 21 is an ode to the hope we all have for the day the pandemic ends, when we can return to easy dinner parties, plane travel and physical proximity. In the meantime, we can take comfort in these statement pieces and their easy styling, clothes that transcend the gap between our cancelled plans and the martinis, heels and strapless dresses of our futures.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 21, 2021 as "Cut and trust".
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