Desert Designs might just be the most inter­est­ing design col­lab­o­ra­tion going around.

Words by

Fashion Journal

 We chat­ted to design­ers Jedda-Daisy Cul­ley and Car­o­line Sundt-Wells about the 2013 relaunch of the label that had its begin­nings in Fre­man­tle Prison in the 1970s. Yep, prison. Cer­tainly not the most ortho­dox of begin­nings. Titled Rain­bow Moun­tain, the SS13/14 col­lec­tion is vibrant, with wear­able sil­hou­ettes that embrace and incor­po­rate the con­tem­po­rary indige­nous designs of Jimmy Pike.

“Desert Designs was born out of the con­cern for the ques­tion­ably archival nature of texta pens” - Car­o­line Sundt-Wells 

Fash­ion Jour­nal (FJ): Tell us about the his­tory of the Desert Designs.
JEDDA: Desert Designs was the result of a rare encounter between Stephen Cul­ley (my father) and Jimmy Pike in Fre­man­tle Prison in 1976. Impressed with Jimmy’s art in prison art classes, the pair con­ceived the idea of set­ting up a busi­ness to mar­ket his work on fab­ric. For its time, Desert Designs was key in pop­u­lar­is­ing a cul­tural coming-together of indige­nous and non-indigenous Australians.

Some say Desert Designs is per­haps the most impor­tant brand Aus­tralia has pro­duced. It enabled Jimmy Pike to become one of the first self-sufficient indige­nous artists and told Jimmy’s sto­ries in a cul­tur­ally appro­pri­ate way. It engaged Aus­tralian Indige­nous artists in new eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties, and pro­vided Aus­tralians of every eth­nic back­ground with the oppor­tu­nity to embrace and wear indige­nous designs.

The unique collaboration’s inten­tion was to pro­mote Jimmy Pike as a fine artist — the for­ma­tive con­cept was never to build a brand of com­modi­ties. Desert Designs was born out of the con­cern for the ques­tion­ably archival nature of texta pens. To look at the con­tem­po­rary art mar­ket today such an anx­i­ety seems super­flu­ous, how­ever in ret­ro­spect it was serendipity. 

FJ: What was the inspi­ra­tion to relaunch the label?
CAROLINE: I think it was a nat­ural evo­lu­tion; we were all in the right place at the right time to bring it together again. Steve has ded­i­cated his life to Jimmy Pike’s legacy and it’s some­thing both Jedda and I believe in. For me per­son­ally it was an oppor­tu­nity to hone the skills and expe­ri­ence I have built over the years and focus it into a project that has spir­i­tu­al­ity at the core.

FJ: Who is now respon­si­ble for the run­ning of the label?
CAROLINE: Jedda and myself are cre­ative direc­tors, with a lit­tle col­lec­tive of con­trib­u­tors — cov­er­ing print repeat design/colour direc­tion and garment/range plan­ning. I man­age our graph­ics team and visual mar­ket­ing projects and Jedda looks after the pro­duc­tion of our collections.

FJ: What are the key objec­tives of the label today in 2013?
CAROLINE: Shar­ing the genius of Pike to a global mar­ket - while also expand­ing Desert Designs as a plat­form for more Aus­tralian tal­ent. Stay tuned for an excit­ing new cap­sule col­lab­o­ra­tion com­ing in 2014! 

FJ: How do you incor­po­rate Pike’s art into the design/creative process? What is your design process?
JEDDA: Jimmy’s art is the inspi­ra­tion behind all our design con­sid­er­a­tions. Each print is designed care­fully from Pike’s orig­i­nal art­work. In regards to select­ing images for com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion, this was Pike’s pre­serve to make sure that Desert Designs were not using secret and scared images. Today we work closely with Jimmy’s fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly his wife Pat Lowe.

FJ: What are key pieces in the SS13/14 col­lec­tion Rain­bow Moun­tain?
CAROLINE: Rain­bow Moun­tain is such a great sum­mery colour pal­let; the mini dress has already received a great response on our online shop. The square top maxi dress will be sure to fly out the door too. For a more dynamic vibe, witch­doc­tor print silk happy pants are so comfy and easy to style with anyone’s wardrobe, and also comes in a floppy silk short, my favorite!

FJ: Tell us about the Jimmy Pike Trust.
CAROLINE: Jimmy’s wife Pat Lowe founded ‘The Jimmy Pike Trust’ in 2008. The trust uses funds from his estate to help other abo­rig­i­nal artists.


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