He's arguably the nicest guy in Australian fashion - just don't get him started on dressing celebrities, writes Anna McClelland
Toni Maticevski. Two words that conjure images of irresistibly diaphanous gowns woven from volumes of tulle and chiffon, spun like magic into sculptural silhouettes. In Australia, he's an anomaly - who else is creating such divinely frothy - yet controlled - couture, as well as managing a flourishing ready-to-wear line and now, Miss Maticevski - darling little replicas of his grown-up gowns? A rarity in person as much as he is in practice, Maticevski is a far cry from the flashy personalities the industry can attract. Quietly confident, he is down to earth, determined and humble to a fault. That Helpmann he once won for best costume design? "I had no idea what that meant, but my boyfriend said it was a really big deal." See what we mean?
In the 16 years since he founded his label in 1999, Maticevski has mastered the delicate balance between the creative and commercial sides of the fashion industry. He mixes ready-to-wear with bridal commissions and custom couture, with the odd bit of costume design for companies like the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance thrown in. "For me, it's always been that idea that fashion can be your escape and fantasy," he says of his need to take on creative commissions alongside his seasonal collections. "If I just had to focus on the commercial side I think I would go insane, and if I was just working on ready-to-wear I think I'd go insane."
Not that there's no hard work involved - Maticevski is famously hands-on. He sewed the entire Resort '16 collection hanging in the showroom on the day of our interview himself - in just two weeks - and works on all the couture pieces himself. Does he sleep? "My team will tell you, I work very fast. Once the idea is in my head I can make four or five pieces a day."
The designer uses fabrics as his guide for each collection, rather than hunting down specific sources of inspiration - ultimately, he's driven by his desire to create clothes that women will want to wear - and he knows that's the key to a brand's survival. "I've worked with private clients for the last 15 years so I've had the best education in understanding what women like and don't like and want to hide or want to show off and how certain proportions work better on some," he says. If you think he's only interested in creating ball gowns, think again - his must-have accessory this season is the sneaker, to be worked back with one of his striking sculptural skirts, say. "It's not about being prissy or atypically feminine," he explains. "Yes there's ruffles, it's romantic, but there's something a bit more masculine, even just with the fabrication - you could change the shoe and all of a sudden it's a different mode of dressing, it's about making casual feel sharp."
His recurring orchid motif - who can forget the time he sent models down the runway with their mouths stuffed with the exotic blooms? - taps into that dichotomous aesthetic. "It's not a romantic or pretty floral, it's almost aggressive, but delicate," he says. "I'm kind of obsessed with nature and that whole idea of perfect imperfection."
Business acumen aside, Maticevski is driven by notions just as romantic as his distinctive style. Take his eagerness to do bridal - an arena many designers wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. "I think it's nice, you're actually part of someone's day and it's one of those days that everyone remembers for the rest of their lives," he says. "To add value to that experience is such a nice thing - it's the intimacy of getting absorbed into someone's fantasy that they've held since they were a little girl." That said, there have been some shockers. "I'd say in the 400 or so brides that I've done there's maybe been like four shockers, so that's pretty good. They definitely stand out, but most of them just really love the experience."
Maticevski is available exclusively in Australia through Myer, but he's garnered an impressive following globally too - China is the brand's biggest growing market, with the Middle East, the UK and Russia all major players too. But fear not - the designer isn't going to flee the country anytime soon. "I love being in Australia," he says. "I love that my stockists all over the world can drop some pretty heavy names of designers going in and saying, 'who is this Maticevski?' because their customer is obsessed with it and sometimes we're outselling really well-established brands. They're like, is this for real, how can someone sustain that from Australia?" He shrugs. "I live in the suburbs and I still create beautiful things. It's not exclusive to what country you live in."
Perhaps one of the reasons Maticevski finds himself relatively unknown on the global stage - as hard as that is to believe - is his reluctance to pander to celebrities for the sake of it. He'd much rather dress someone who really loves his clothes. "Celebrity dressing can happen and it can happen really easily and sometimes effectively," he acknowledges. "But I prefer dressing people who feel connected to it or are inspired to wear it. You know, someone's who willing to fork out their hard-earned money - why would I give it to a celebrity for free when I'd rather see the girl from the 'burbs who is obsessed with it? I think that's more exciting."
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Ruffled beauty: see Ellery's Resort '16 collection