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How a Melbourne designer cracked the women’s tailored suiting market wide open

PHOTOGRAPHER – SAM WONG
PRODUCT STYLIST – NAT TURNBULL
WORDS BY MAGGIE ZHOU

It makes me feel like I can deal with everything else that’s happening outside of my body.”

Hype DC has been the premium destination for exclusive footwear in Australia for over two decades now. Together with Dr. Martens, it’s celebrating the classic 1461 unisex shoe; the uniform of choice for those who march to the beat of their own drum. This week on FJ, two Melbourne designers show us how they’re rallying against the fashion industry’s status quo through their own creative practice. Here, Emily Nolan shoots with photographer Sam Wong on Zoom. She shares what drove her to bring tailored suits to women, an innovation that has since cracked the industry wide open.

When I call Emily Nolan for our interview, I think she’s mistaken me for the wrong person. Within seconds, she’s launched into a tirade about how addictive TikTok is when you’re on the loo and how she finds herself in the black hole of eBay in the middle of the night.

As the co-founder and designer of Melbourne eponymous label E Nolan, Emily oozes an addictive energy, charisma and charm. “I usually have a Duracell battery up my arse”, she neatly summarises.

Timeless, beautifully crafted, made-to-order suiting is the business she is in. Since its launch in June 2019, E Nolan has evolved into a highly respected womenswear label with ready-to-wear collections and COVID-safe goods also in its arsenal.

Across the brand’s socials, as its website’s cursor and stamped as a logo across E Nolan’s apparel, is an image of a fly. I have to know what the buzz (forgive me) is about. Emily tells me she draws inspiration for her colour palettes from the dual tones of flies, and that she’s also a big fan of puns, chuckling as she brings up the innuendos of ‘blowfly’.

But more than that, Emily considers the fly as indicator of her gut and intuition. She tells me that while going through a past heartbreak, she was asked by a teacher to show a photo of her ex-boyfriend.

“[I] showed him at the beach, in the middle of winter, and there were flies all stuck to his back. My teacher was like, ‘Emily, you should have listened to the flies.’

“[The fly] became a sort of animal totem of truth for me.”

In a simple form too, flies represent her love of high and low culture in fashion.

“No one gets up, has caviar, champagne, wears X Y Z. I love the honest aspect of someone getting up, maybe they’re having Cheezels for breakfast because they feel like it [and] putting on a really expensive pair of shoes or something, but they’ve got their boyfriend’s T-shirt on,” she illustrates.

This duality feels present in almost all interactions with Emily.

Holding private appointments in a converted shipping container christened the ‘Dressing Room’, Emily is known for her personalised, one-on-one fittings and made-to-order suits. The process feels luxurious but bursting with personality – while Emily discusses the origins of her premium Italian cloth, glance to the right and a framed photo of pubic hair mid-shave will interrupt your eye line.

The whole experience is transportive, it’s easy to forget you’re in a shipping container planted in a suburban garden.

It’s an undeniably premium and exclusive process, but one that also encourages self-expression and rebellion against the rigidity of the fashion industry. It’s these values that make her a perfect candidate for this series, as both are mirrored by Hype DC and Dr. Martens.

While fashion labels speed ahead with new technology and innovative machinery, Emily steps back in time and slows things down. The aim is to give her clients a better quality experience and ultimately, a better quality product.

Her business serves women who prioritise shopping locally, who are looking for a more traditional tailoring experience, who desire customisation and the freedom of choice or who might not fit in standard sizing offerings.

“My favourite customers are ones that come in and they’re maybe a little bit nervous. And the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, ‘I hate this part of my body’ or ‘I can’t fit into this’. It’s crazy the number of women that feel like they have to apologise to me before we’ve even sat down. Those are my favourite clients because I think it’s the most rewarding at the end,” Emily explains.

“You [get to help] retrain the way they think about clothing; it is not about taking your body and trying to put it into something, it’s about making something to put on your back.”

With a process that relies on honesty and openness, I point out how Emily has to be a sort of fly on the wall; in tune with her environment and her clients. “You have to be sensitive to their energy, and not like a mind-reader, but you have to be a fly on the wall to what they want,” she confirms.

Launching in early November is E Nolan’s new ready-to-wear pieces – think cricket vests, summer knitwear and new tees. Emily points to wholesome Instagram page @gramparents as inspiration for her chic, ageless style.

She is also collaborating with bed linen brand, Scottie Store. Together, they’ve created unisex boxer shorts and a long-sleeve and short-sleeve sleeping suit.

“Gemma from Scottie Store is a girlfriend of mine and she bought a sleeping suit and found herself living in it for the whole of COVID. And I have always slept in her linen bedsheets, so she said, ‘Great, let’s use this French flax linen and get Em to design a sleeping suit collection.’”

“They are basically all I’m going to live in this summer. I sort of feel like Katharine Hepburn on a Sunday. You know when you’re hungover and you’re like, ‘I just need to wear my favourite clothes in the whole world’? I’m hoping that that will be this,” she enthuses.

When I ask why she loves suits so much, Emily’s answer is simple.

The art of getting dressed and that routine and ritual for me, it’s like second skin… I don’t think it’s about me in a suit, but me in something that I just feel shit hot in. It makes me feel like I can deal with everything else that’s happening outside of my body,” she says.

“It’s kind of like a seatbelt. That’s a suit for me, but that could be people’s lucky socks or their holy knickers, whatever it is, it’s about finding your seatbelt. If I can give that to women who work in a corporate environment, or to young mums… it makes you feel like you can do a little bit more. [Suits are] something to move in, something to live in.”

She pauses and articulately puts it, “I fucking love my job, basically.”

Shop Dr. Martens from Hype DC, available in-store and online now.

hypedc.com/au/dr-martens

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