Fashion

The designer behind resortwear label Commas has attracted local awards and international interest for his relaxed beach aesthetic paired with high-end materials. By Lucianne Tonti.

Sydney fashion label Commas

The holiday feel and relaxed fit and fabric of Commas’ latest collection.
Credit: Simon Eeles

Richard Jarman starts each day with a swim in the ocean. Immersed in salty water, in the soft morning light, he finds the impetus for his menswear brand Commas.

“Sunrise is my inspiration time, every morning it’s a new day, there’s so much energy in the sunrise,” he says. “When your body’s there to experience that, it’s really powerful.”

At Australian Fashion Week in June, Jarman invited a crowd of buyers, editors and VIPs to Sydney’s Tamarama Beach at dawn. The show opened with a model in a handpainted silk shirt that was buttoned from the chest to the midriff. He was wearing black speedos, fisherman’s sandals, a small bag slung across his body and nothing else. The shirt was painted with the scene of a beach, its golden sand wrapped around a dark blue sea that stretched out beneath a dusty pink sky.

Jarman grew up by the water: “I would ride down to surf each day,” he recalls. The details of his childhood, spent swimming and surfing in the suburbs of Sydney, are embedded in the pieces of the collection. The second look was a slouchy jumper that had been thrown over bathers as though it would be worn with bare legs to the car. A manifest difference between memory and model is that the Commas jumper is made of deep cream Italian cotton, with a striped weave, dropped shoulders and a hood.

Jarman launched the brand five years ago and since its inception it has experienced critical and commercial success. Earlier this year, he won the National Designer Award, presented by Melbourne Fashion Festival and David Jones. The brand is already a favourite of international retailers such as Matches Fashion, My Theresa and Browns.

The silhouettes are uncomplicated. Short shorts and generous shirts, loose singlets and soft-waisted pants with flat fronts, wide legs and elasticised cuffs. Jarman works almost exclusively with natural fibres from Europe and Japan: “these fabrics make you feel so relaxed,” he says, making them a better fit for summer clothes because they are also more absorbent and temperature-regulating and they breathe.

This is one of the reasons Commas is bought to be worn on holiday. Jarman believes the fits and fabrics are so comfortable, so relaxing, that they can carry the feeling of being away forward into the wearer’s daily life.

This emphasis on relaxation, on presence, is captured by an Italo Calvino quote on the Commas website: “Take life lightly, for lightness is not superficial, but gliding above things, not having weights on your heart.”

The brand’s signature robes offer another opportunity to embrace the feeling of being on holiday. The mini-robe is cut in a cream linen blend with a soft vertical stripe. It has a narrow lapel, a wide sleeve and is tied with cord at the waist. It is paired with dark trousers and brown sandals.

The most structured look of the collection is a softly cut beige suit in a luxurious hemp blend. Like the robes, it has been cinched at the waist with cord. It is so minimal it only has one pocket, on the breast. Unlike the other pieces in the collection, the sleeves are tailored, the pants fall straight and measured to matching beige loafers. The colour is a perfect reflection of the cream sand the model walks on, which makes sense: Jarman cites the Australian coastline as his main source of inspiration.

He says this collection was also influenced by the American Modernist Milton Avery, who was celebrated for the use of soft, playful colours in his landscapes and still lifes. It’s in the silk pieces that his influence on Jarman is most obvious. The muted greens, sky blues and sunrise pinks in soft geometric lines are reminiscent of Avery’s work. Like Jarman, Avery drew inspiration from nature, describing it as the impetus from which he tried to paint mountains, trees and beaches that were alive and ever changing.

The wide green stripes on one Commas shirt run vertically, their edges waver, revealing the subtle strokes of a brush. Another shirt has been delicately painted with the soft motifs of native plants. Both are a floaty, silk-cotton blend. The shirts are beautiful, they speak to a gentle masculinity and self-assuredness that is in contrast with the bold colours of other menswear brands. Jarman believes this works for him because his customer is “very much their own person”, and doesn’t want to feel constrained.

The delicate tones and fabrics have built Commas a fan base of women, too. Jarman describes how his wife and business partner, Emma, has embraced the loose silhouettes and textures as a natural fit for her Australian lifestyle. In the Spring/Summer 2022 collection he has added two dresses, his first specifically female designs. Both fall to the ankle. One is cut from a sea-green silk with a long sleeve and a deep neckline; the other is a textured organic cotton beige singlet dress.

This textured cotton appears again and again throughout the collection. In simple singlets, styled with voluminous pants. In a relaxed crew-neck sweater with a drop-shoulder and a wide sleeve. The weave of the cotton is thick and irregular, its weight revealed in the jumper’s padded cuff, hem and collar. It is the exact right thing to put on after swimming in cold saltwater, when the sting of the sea lingers on your skin. It is perfect for the change in temperature when day turns to night. A jumper to curl up inside with your knees tucked beneath your chin while you watch the sun disappear over the horizon.

The energy of these moments in the day – sunrise, sunset, the first swim, the last ray of light – are what Jarman wants to share through his clothes. The power of the ocean at dawn, the show at Tamarama Beach in front of crashing waves, the feel of natural fibres on your body, the mirror of light at the water’s edge. The name itself, Commas, represents a purposeful pause, a moment to catch yourself, to recalibrate, to breathe.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 16, 2021 as "Beach commas".

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Lucianne Tonti is a writer based in Melbourne.