Fashion

Combining prose, art and music with plush fabrics and exquisite detail, Amber Symond lends a layer of storytelling to her latest Common Hours collection. By Lucianne Tonti.

Mythos by Common Hours

When I meet Amber Symond she is sitting at the back of a long, high-ceilinged showroom with an enormous window behind her. On the table in front of her is a tiny, dead spider. Its delicate, brown-gold legs are bent at sharp, lifeless angles.

There is something about the household mundanity of a dead spider that feels apt for Symond’s brand, Common Hours. Especially a dead spider that is this beautiful. Most of the pieces in her latest collection, Mythos, feel like things we could have worn around the house all lockdown, if we had endured it in a glamorous parallel universe.

There is a floor-length smoking jacket that comes in pale lilac and a deep red. It is made from plush velvet with fluted sleeves and a soft collar that dives into a double-breasted front and closes with a single button. It is fitted through the waist and hips, which makes it feminine despite the obvious inspiration from menswear. These narrow lines are accentuated by stripes that run vertically through the velvet.

Symond describes herself as “some strange housewife from Australia” and says the inspiration behind this collection is the opposing forces that can exist within one person in a private space, like a room within a house. She says, “It’s about conformity but then also having your own private dissent.”

This feeling is embodied literally by hidden features on the inside of several pieces. The smoking jacket, for instance, has handwritten passages from Oscar Wilde’s letters on the lining. Others have embroidered details, and more than one is entirely reversible with different prints and colourways on either side.

That each piece has its secret adds another layer to the interior world Symond seems to find so fascinating. She tells me she is inspired by the Charles Bukowski quote, “Find what you love and let it kill you.”

“I love the idea of finding your passion and being true to it, even in the confines of your own room,” she says.

This feeling permeates the film that accompanies the collection. It was created by Ribal Hosn and Bruna Volpi, with a score by Umberto Clerici, and is incredibly beautiful.

It is the second film shot at the Common Hours house, an old hotel in Potts Point, and the fourth created by the brand. There has been one for each collection.

In the film, the models appear to be housebound, bored and destructive. Wearing Symond’s luxurious creations, they stare into space, write on the walls and pour drinks on the floor. One of them is trapped in a blue room with an enormous pillar of melting ice. They are slouched over chairs, with empty candlesticks, vases and other miscellaneous household objects strewn across the hardwood floor.

In one scene this floor is covered in eggshells to symbolise, not at all subtly, walking on them. Perhaps in a way that might require you to keep your secrets hidden within the lining of your clothes.

Hands are another theme. The buttons on the dress Symond is wearing have been cast in resin in the shape of a man’s fist. There is a floor-length dress with puffy sleeves embroidered with female hands; some are holding cigarettes, and white swirls represent cigarette smoke. The dress is made from a lightweight virgin wool from Italy and the embroidery was done by Chanakya artisans in India – the Common Hours pieces travel with no expense spared. The dress closes at the front with two parallel lines of evenly spaced, hand-pressed, glass shank buttons from the Czech Republic.

Another gown made from heavy satin has been printed with a commissioned photograph of hands. The shape of this dress is repeated across the collection. It has the form of a kimono. Like a robe, it wraps around the body and is cinched at the waist with a wide fabric tie. The sleeves have extended cutouts that allow the wearer to move freely and, when she holds her arms out, they hang towards the ground like wings.

Common Hours was founded in 2019, but due to the pandemic has released just four collections. Each one uses an amalgamation of prose, art and music to tell a story, the meaning of which is yours to interpret: “I’d rather people see it,” Symond says. Although you would be forgiven for getting lost in the many layers of the mostly familiar works she borrows.

Paul Colin’s iconic illustration from 1927: Josephine Baker and La Revue Nègre has been licensed for another double silk-satin robe. The robe’s silhouette is Symond’s signature; the front is dark, while the back is a warm cream that has been printed with Baker’s famous cropped bob, tanned skin and bright yellow skirt.

The dresses are complemented by generous woollen pieces. A marigold-yellow mohair poncho with the hint of a large grey check is particularly lush. The weight of the wool is evident as it expands across the shoulders and envelops the body. It has a deep hood and enormous pockets on the hip. At the back it falls to the ankle, but it is shorter at the front. The mohair is cruelty-free and sourced from the famous Italian mill Bonotto.

Symond only works with best-practice fabrics, makes limited editions of up to 50 garments and presents just two collections a year. But she insists she is not breaking new ground as a sustainable designer; instead, she describes her efforts as simply “part of a global responsibility”.

The Common Hours house – which, by Symond’s own admission, “we keep destroying” – was bought by her husband, John Symond, the founder of Aussie Home Loans, for $12.5 million at the end of 2020 and given to her as a gift. But despite the extreme wealth in Symond’s world – each piece costs thousands of dollars – she manages to impart a sense of boredom and restlessness that anyone who has ever lived a familial existence in the suburbs will recognise.

This includes a fascination with song lyrics that feels distinctly adolescent. In an earlier collection she licensed the lyrics of “Pictures of You” by The Cure and had them written all over a silk dress. In Mythos she has done something similar with “Just Like Honey”, most notably performed by The Jesus and Mary Chain. Sections of these lyrics have been hand-embroidered along the lapel of a champagne-coloured silk gown, with silver embroidered wings and text from Greek mythology.

The opening line of “Just Like Honey” goes, “Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world.” Undoubtedly it is a callout to some kind of feminism, though it’s not entirely clear to what end. Is the Common Hours girl empowered or oppressed? Perhaps the ambiguity is the point. Perhaps all of us are both.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 25, 2022 as "Myth making".

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Lucianne Tonti is The Saturday Paper's fashion editor. Her debut book, Sundressed, is out this month.

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