E Nolan makes custom women’s suits out of a shipping container in Melbourne

Words by Lydia Crist

Why should men have all the fun?

“To begin with, I personally fell in love with the cuts of men’s ‘sartorial wear’. I suppose it’s a men’s uniform. Basically, I just love the way old men dress. You know when you see a man on the tram carrying a hat – who even carries a hat like that? – and you just feel your heart warming?”

That was Melbourne-based designer, lover of suits, and Whitehouse School of Design alum Emily Nolan. Speaking over the phone, she exuded a wild energy that spoke of a clear passion for her work. With professional roots in men’s tailoring from her time working with P Johnson, Emily is tackling sexism and exclusivity in the fashion industry with her made-to-measure women’s suit brand, E Nolan.

While there’s still a long way to go, the fashion industry is moving towards a more inclusive future. 2018 saw the emergence of the all-embracing Savage x Fenty fashion show from the queen of inclusivity herself, Rihanna. In news just as welcome, 2019 said goodbye to public displays of transphobia and body shaming with the cancellation of widely criticised Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

We’re seeing a welcome change in the minds of those in the fashion world. Brands are being criticised more openly than ever for a lack of inclusive sizing, poor shade ranges, and little diversity in model selection. Look no further than Instagram account Diet Prada for insights into public opinion of gender and race exclusive brands such as the recently condemned Dolce & Gabbana. 

In keeping with this compulsion for change within the fashion industry, and with a push from the wives of men she was tailoring at P Johnson, Emily’s made-to-measure women’s suiting brand E Nolan was born in June 2019.

“I have always worn trousers and a jacket, even when I was working in menswear,” she says. “I would make garments for myself from the menswear blocks. They weren’t a perfect fit, I just wanted them. I think they’re so elegant.”

Discussing her first round of appointments in the middle of last year, Emily speaks excitably and nostalgically about the magnitude of work she’s done in the short time since. “We launched in June, but it actually feels like four years ago,” she tells me. 

Holding appointments in a converted shipping container on her business partner’s Hawthorn property, she takes on clients via ‘trunk show’ fittings. Now, E Nolan is jetting off to Sydney in 2020 for its first travelling trunk show and a round of Sydney appointments.

“I think we’ve always shopped by thinking, ‘Right, I need to find something that I can fit my body into’. But it just shouldn’t be like that,” Emily declares. “Women look at their bodies completely differently to how we even think they look at their bodies. I don’t think there’s such thing as one-size-fits-all or cookie-cutter sort of business model to dress these women.”

She speaks to the frustrated woman in all of us as she recites the struggle of attempting to fit her own female curves to a men’s suit shape.

“There’s no one standard size, I’ve always had like really big boobs and no ass at all,” she says. “So I wore double-breasted jackets, or shoulder pads to disguise it”.

Inspired by her own struggles and those of other women, she has made it her mission to create designs that cater to the wide range of shapes and sizes women’s bodies come in. 

From its shipping container studio, E Nolan’s fittings allow clients to select every detail of their pant and jacket. From waist to the lapel, it’s all in the hands of the customer, but Emily relies heavily on a relationship with these women as their tailor. 

“We always sit and have cups of tea or champagne or something,” she explains of the intimate relationship, conjuring an image of old-world retail.

This personal experience is crucial as she fits clients from all walks of life, and each piece requires multiple fittings. With an admirable zealousness, she tells me of the delight she finds in meeting and working with the women buying her suits. This joy is essential for her in the often difficult task of operating a small business.

“You get a little win and then you get a bit of heartbreak,” she muses. “It’s a balance. The energy that I get from these women coming in and loving the product is what is keeping us going.”

Emily’s first round of appointments consisted mainly of corporate women. Her second trunk show included largely young mothers. But by her third, she was able to cater to a wider range of women and fit above a size 16 (so far, she has fitted up to size 24). The increased size offering saw an influx of appointments from women who wear these sizes, as the brands made-to-order model allowed them to purchase with ease.

Reflecting the brand’s positive reception by all types of women, E Nolan’s December trunk show was its most diverse, attracting what Emily describes as a “clusterfuck of everyone”. During the appointments, she fit a range of women staggering to even Emily herself. She explains her joyful surprise at fitting a scuba diving instructor, a Premier, a bride and the brand’s first transgender client.

“A lot of women were shocked,” Emily says. “They were coming to me because they couldn’t shop anywhere else. If I put all of our clients in a room, they’re all so different. The only thing they have in common is that they identify as being women.”

Initially, the brand began with Emily buying a bulk amount of black Italian wool before expanding to navy and white wool, as well as linen and cotton. Now, after a lot of careful and personal sourcing, E Nolan offers a range of 40 fabrics for its clients to choose from. While the woollen fabrics remain true to the brand’s beginning in colours such as navy and black, customers can also opt for a more vibrant suit in a colourful range of cotton, linens and cotton silks. 

In addition to these joyful fabrics offered, E Nolan can also create a skirt or shorts to go with its suit jackets, as opposed to a classic cut pant.

Now, after almost a year of operation, E Nolan will be showcased at VAMFF in March. Following in the footsteps of Fitzroy menswear brand, Christopher Kimber, E Nolan will be among the first made-to-measure brands to be displayed at the fashion festival. 

The runway will be an amalgamation of colour, texture, and careful craftsmanship as it showcases the label’s custom-made suits in the different cuts and fabrics available.

“It will be a nice way for people to experience what we can offer away from us shooting a look book and saying this is what we can do, pick and choose what you like”.

In addition to the showcase at VAMFF, March will also see the launch of E Nolan’s ready-to-wear collection. After her debut range of embroidered T-shirts – cheekily titled ‘blow me’ – were scooped up by retailer Le Louvre in 2017, it was clear Emily had a talent for more than just suits. Featuring knitwear, shirts, t-shirts and tops, clients will be able to shop the range on E Nolan’s website and through a range of local and overseas stockists. She says the made-to-wear range will work to perfectly compliment the suiting, allowing customers the option of pairing back their suits. 

Emily’s passionate, electric personality is reflected in her detailed and individualised suiting. Her positive approach to inclusivity for all shapes and sizes leaves us with the stress-free ability to dress like a boss. 

“You just want to put something on that’s foolproof, you know fits, and that you feel pretty fab in. I suppose that’s why we started.”

You can get tickets to E Nolan’s VAMFF show here.


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