“Everything is very considered, very thought through. Nothing is there out of convenience. Everything is there for a reason.”
Like many Melburnians, university friends Amy Forbes and Caitlin Mullaly started a creative project during the pandemic to help keep each other sane.
With their dreams of moving to Europe to work in fashion put on hold, what began as an idea for an art exhibition eventually evolved into their slow fashion brand, Veils of Cirrus.
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Inspired by poetry and the hands-on nature of their practice, the label prides itself on telling stories through its designs. Below, the duo shares their journey so far in the industry.
Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background?
Amy and Caitlin: We are Amy and Caitlin, and we did the fashion design honours degree at RMIT [University] together. We graduated in 2019. At the time we were studying and living together… Inherently within both of our work separately, we’ve always sort of tried to challenge what is fashion and what are garments. Where does art start and stop, and textiles begin and stop? It’s a very conceptual design course, with a lot of critical thinking encouraged, which really informs our design practice.
Both of us found that we were exploring darker kinds of themes throughout uni. Once we finished and were in the pandemic, the world was starting to feel quite gloomy. The bushfires just happened, climate change, everything was starting to feel quite dark and very bleak. A couple of goals for us were learning to disentangle the notion of creativity from stress, which is what we learnt in uni. Because what is creativity if not a positive, creative outlet that’s supposed to actually bring you happiness and joy?
How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges.
A and C: Both of us were stood down from our jobs because of COVID. We just needed to do a creative project to keep each other stimulated and practising and not lose our skills. We started off with the idea of wanting to do an exhibition. It was such an amazing project at the Marfa Gallery in Abbotsford. It was a lot of work, over a year’s worth of work and lots and lots of money but it was a really beautiful way of starting it all.
We were definitely being a jack of all trades. Trying to do curation, be artists, creatives [and do] sculpture… Then we got some very sound business advice from Amy’s brother who told us we need to just focus on one thing and cut out all the other stuff.
What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time?
A and C: We decided to choose a theme that would enable us to use creativity as an escape. A form of idealistic escapism, I suppose. We got stimulus from the poem Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats. We extrapolated the poem. From different lines within that we created characters, and from those characters is what we based every garment [on].
Mirth became one of our characters and Mirth is this figure who just loves to dance in the sun and drink wine and loves movement. So we were like, well, she has to be wearing a dress that allows her to dance. It’s about the emotion that the character brings us, it’s about the sound, the smell, like everything.
Which is what we then did for our exhibitions. We created those five key characters, five different looks, or collections of garments per character. Then we made an immersive exhibition, where each room was a proposed idea of what this character was inherently like.
We got interior architects to help us design the sets. We created a different scent for each room, different lighting and different soundscapes. These characters are so much more than just the garments, they’re whole worlds. It was really cool. On our website, you can actually hear one of the pieces.
How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?
A and C: We started shifting gears into a bit more of a business mindset of like, how do we distil this whole creative practice into garments that people want to wear. We kind of honed in on the clothes. Everything is very considered, very thought through. Nothing is there out of convenience. Everything is there for a reason.
There is a shorter way of doing something – we choose to do the longer one because it really does tell the story. Like our scarves, we hand draw and paint the silk ourselves. That’s something that you could get digitally printed, and it’d be much faster and quicker, but it takes out the level of personal touch.
How would you describe Veils of Cirrus to someone who’s never seen it before?
A and C: Wearable narratives I think captures what we’re trying to do. There’s always a story that goes into each piece. There’s a story about time, about place and about the process. Process is a keyword for us.
Where did the name come from?
A and C: A Nick Cave book [one of us was] reading at the time when we were creating the exhibition. It was a beautiful line. Cirrus is a cloud formation, and he was describing this beautiful valley and looking out over the mountains and looking at the sky. Within our work, we are very poetic as well and it just felt right.
What are you most proud of in your work on your label?
A and C: Working together has been pretty gratifying. To have gone through what we have in the last few years through COVID and then to still be working together happily is pretty nice.
Then we also curated 001 Pop Up at the Abbotsford Convent back in April. It was a big project where we had 40 stallholders… something that we take pride in is the way we interact with and treat our collaborators.
What do you wish you knew when you started?
A and C: Just being open to asking for help instead of trying to do everything ourselves and be this jack of all trades. Also, just being more business savvy. That’s something that we’ve had to learn the hard way and all the boring admin stuff.
Who/what do you think is most exciting in Australian fashion right now?
A and C: The plethora of different creatives coming out and a return to community values. It’s nice to be supported by a community that does actually see the importance of supporting local, slow designers. We wouldn’t be able to do this unless there were people that were willing to pay those extra amounts for what we do. It’s really lovely to be part of a city where there are a lot of people that see the importance of that.
What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?
A and C: We take a lot of inspiration from Victorian garments. In that period the relationship between textile and body was respected to a very different degree than it is today and we’re kind of sad about that.
The notion of what the worth of a garment is, the time that goes into something is just faster, easier, cheaper, and then the faster it goes into landfill. We kind of want to slow that all down. No matter how much harder that makes it as a business. Slow growth, slow fashion, artisanal techniques, and just having a level of hand[making] in every single thing we do is really, really important to us.
Dream Australian collaborators?
A and C: Actually Existing, their work is pretty phenomenal or Anna Fielder, she’s an amazing textile weaver. People who use their hands, and practice artisanal techniques, we really admire and respect those people bringing back the love for slow craftsmanship.
How can we buy one of your pieces?
A and C: Directly through our website or we have recently started stocking at Error 404 in Fitzroy North. We’re also very responsive on Instagram so if anyone wants to order custom pieces we are quick to reply on there.
Anything else to add?
A and C: We plan on releasing some new stock in the next couple of months and keep your eyes peeled for another pop-up later this year.
Stay up to date with Veils of Cirrus here.