Ask anyone in the industry, and they'll tell you that fashion is much, much more than just runway shows, models and beautiful dresses. In terms of creative process alone, it's a study in inspirations, endless ideas and commitment to craftsmanship. Luckily, if there's one person who understands this intrinsically, it's journalist, curator and Manuscript editor-in-chief/publisher Mitchell Oakley Smith. With stints writing for Australia's most prominent fashion and cultural magazines, and books such as Art/Fashion in the 21st Century under his belt, Oakley Smith was the perfect man for the task of chronicling the work of Toni Maticevski.
Certainly, Maticevski: The Elegant Rebel couldn't have come at a more perfect time - the Bendigo Art Gallery is presenting a retrospective of the Australian designer's work (Maticevski: Dark Wonderland, bendigoartgallery.com.au) this month. Here, we chat to Mitchell Oakley Smith about what to expect from this incredible visual archive of ideas/coffee table book.
What led you to create this book on Toni's work?
I have known Toni for many years, both as a friend and an industry colleague, having interviewed him for various articles over the years, so the conversation about creating some sort of book has been an ongoing one between us. My husband, Jolyon Mason, works as Toni's show and campaign stylist, and Toni's partner, [ballet dancer] Rohan Furnell, has appeared on the cover of my magazine, Manuscript, in the past. The book feels like an evolution of all of the creative ideas we collectively share, and there's an implicit trust, so I think Toni and I both knew from the outset what shape this book would take.
In terms of Toni's work more specifically, he is a master craftsman and creative visionary par none, and that much has been evident since he was still a student. A piece from Toni's autumn/winter 2006/2007 collection - his now-iconic "Doona dresses" - appeared on the cover of my first book, Fashion: Australian & New Zealand Designers, in 2010, and I knew then that there was a great story to tell. Toni is one of few mid-career fashion designers that warrants such critical approbation, which is further evidenced by the fact that this book coincides with a major solo survey exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery.
What do you most admire about Maticevski as a designer?
I can talk for hours about his technical expertise, and the artistic themes that underpin his design practice, but that's what the book is for. On a personal level, Toni is one of the warmest and most genuine people, both in the fashion industry and out of it, and that makes working with him incredibly rewarding. He definitely has a firm vision - indeed, he felt strongly about certain elements of design and photography for the book - but I think that only confirms his unbridled creativity.
How long did the research/curation process take?
So that the book coincided with the exhibition we had to work fairly quickly, but I knew Toni's work pretty intimately before we officially began the process, so the writing itself wasn't too time-consuming. What was, on the other hand, were the images. I remember arriving at my office in Sydney to find two enormous boxes filled with press clippings, with some newspaper articles dating back to his student work at RMIT in the mid-1990s. Sifting through this was quite a process, and it had to be done methodically, almost in a detective-like fashion, so that I could pin down the authors of articles and the photographers behind magazine shoots. It was certainly rewarding though, because it means that the book has more than 200 images, many of them previously unpublished or hidden for two decades, so the reader gets to go on something or a journey.
Is there anything surprising that readers will discover in the book?
I think this goes back to what I mentioned before; rather than just Toni's own campaign images, the book features illustrations, sketches, fabric swatches, shoots from magazines and newspapers, and personal art projects, and it makes for this rich tapestry of visuals that really tells Toni's story.
You've written other fashion books and are a prolific writer. How do you think the art of fashion journalism has been affected by the rise of digital media?
I wrote for both print and online publications, and I love the diversity it offers. Certainly as writers we're required to produce a lot more work than ever before, but the mix of the traditional and the ever-evolving digital landscape is exciting. It's so great to be able to incorporate video into a written article, for example. Of course, I love a beautifully published print publication, where luxuries are taken in the design and printing. There's something nice about having books around.
You obviously still believe in the power of print - why are books like The Elegant Rebel still important?
Fashion by its very nature is ephemeral. A new season is effectively designed to replace the last. But the work of a designer like Maticevski isn't about trends; Toni is an artist working with cloth as his medium, through which he explores complex architectural typologies and thematic concerns, and so to document those garments, and all of the accompanying materials - the striking images that help to tell the story - makes a book like this a collector's item. It can serve as inspiration, information and education, and it's testament to Toni's longevity and artistic worth as a designer.
Maticevski: The Elegant Rebel (Thames & Hudson), $80, is available now from selected bookstores, stores and tonimaticevski.com