It takes a certain effortlessness and edge to master the Aje aesthetic
Co-founder Edwina Robinson nails it when she calls the look a mix of "dishevelled elegance and tough femininity," - unsurprisingly, Lou Doillon is their pinup girl. It's a melding of opposites that allows the brand's signature hand-embellished skirts to be worn for day, worked back with one of their crumpled linen shirts and leather boots, say. "It's about striking a balance," says Robinson. "You don't want to go too far in one direction, but strike a nice contrast between glamour and pared back minimalism in how you do your hair or maybe tie something around your waist to tone it down a bit."
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If it sounds like stylists speak, that's because it is: Robinson worked as a stylist for RUSSH before making the leap into fashion design, with co-founder Adrian Norris, who hails from the art world, in tow. The pair met through mutual friends at a fashion party before deciding to start a label together in 2007 - largely fuelled by a desire to fill a gap in the market for beautiful yet casual pieces that you could actually take from beach to bar. "Adrian had opened a store in Noosa and you've got beautiful beaches there and really beautiful restaurants and people would need to go from one to the other," Robinsons says. "I guess we wanted to bridge that divide, which is where our love for natural linens and textures comes from."
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The only difficulty? Starting out small - a necessity for any emerging label - meant that the pair had little control over what pieces their original two tiny stockists in Noosa and Potts Point carried. And so the cult of the sequinned cut-out miniskirt was born. "Some of us would never like to see it again!" says Robinson. "We always wanted to do that rock chic thing and the combination of a sequinned piece pulled back with something a bit more organic and oversized, but when people are buying your clothes, they must just buy a piece and so you can't really control the entire image. We found we were being pigeonholed as this embellishment brand when we actually had a lot more to offer."
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A pertinent rethink of their business model made all the difference: Norris and Robinson pulled the brand out of boutiques and channelled their efforts (and funds) into standalone Aje stores instead. "You can have all the design talent in the world but if you don't have the business side, it's really detrimental," says Robinson. "For us it's always been a dream to tell the whole story." Eight years on and there are five stand-alone Aje boutiques in three states as well as just this year becoming a key part of Myer's stable of Australian designers - a long-held dream for the duo. "We've worked hard to get our internal processes in place to get to this point," admits Robinson. "Myer has been overwhelming supportive and they really like our aesthetic, they're not trying to make us something else and they've obviously got a very intelligent, experienced team."
Their debut collection for Myer has all the elements that make the Aje aesthetic so coveted: breezy linens, lustrous silk, beautifully embellished bustiers and of course, a fresh crop of miniskirts in leather, denim and their signature sequins. Inspired by Buddhist monasteries, the collection has a raw, earthier anchorage than previous seasons. "We wanted this collection to have a bit more a minimalistic feel with simple, refined fabrics and paring the embellishments back," says Robinson.
The designers tend to eschew trends, seeking inspiration instead from their travels, photography and history, as well as Norris' knowledge of fine arts. "A lot of our prints have come from Adrian's studies and we both like that painterly look," says Robinson. "If you're well-read and well-travelled you generally pick up on trends whether you mean to or not, but if you mean to do it you end up looking like everybody else." One look at their latest collection, which skilfully blends the innocence of monastic simplicity with high-impact embellishment, and we think there's very little chance of that.