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Where Are They Now: Whatever happened to Life With Bird?

IMAGE VIA LIFE WITH BIRD

Words by Tess Fisher

“Busting at the seams to get going again.”

When I began building my fashion identity 10 years ago, I turned to Australian designers for direction. At the top of that list was Life With Bird. It was the first designer piece I saved up to buy – a simple woven black jumper that (despite multiple elbow patches) I still treasure today.

In 2018, the iconic Australian brand closed its doors after 16 years of operation. It seemed to be another casualty in what (at the time) felt like an Australian retail pandemic, as iconic fashion brands across the country entered into voluntary administration or shut up shop for good. 


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But despite the passage of time, Life with Bird has stayed close to my heart as I’m sure it has for others. More than that, it still holds pride of place in my wardrobe. This week, I had the pleasure of speaking to one of my idols, the brand’s co-founder Bridget Messner about her journey through the fashion industry.

What did the early days look like?

Fashion runs in Bridget’s blood. Her mother was a fashion designer, and her sister is the iconic Alice McCall. “The two of us grew up on sewing machines, having a mum that was really creative with her aesthetic. She was always dressing to the nines and having fun with clothing,” recalls Bridget.

Her fashion roots led her to study fashion photography, before “falling into styling” overseas. “I spent some time in London and I really enjoyed being a freelance stylist. I was working with iD Magazine and The Face, and fantastic creatives.”

It was when she came back to Melbourne that she met her partner in work and in life, Life with Bird co-founder Nick Van Messner. “Nick and I saw a gap in the market for locally created, handmade, beautifully constructed leather handbags and goods. That’s why we started Life With Bird.”

The birth of Life with Bird

The path to success was a fast one. “Nick came from a fashion and technical background, and I knew how to style a campaign and did all the photography at the beginning… Very quickly, we got into a lot of the most reputable wholesale retail boutiques around Australia.”

The pair branched into both men’s and women’s fashion but honed in on womenswear after realising it made up about 80 per cent of the brand’s revenue. “Handbags and womenswear became our focus,” explains Bridget. “And then in 2008, we opened our first boutique in the Melbourne’s GPO.

“It was such an exciting time for us. Very quickly, we opened another few stores and by the end, we had eight retail spaces nationally, which was beautiful. We had that business for 16 years. It was a really huge chapter of our lives.” 

Life with Bird’s impact on local industry was notable. The label appeared in multiple Australian fashion weeks, and was celebrated by leading media including Vogue, Grazia, Marie Claire and Broadsheet, right through to the Australian Financial Review.

It was one of the first Australian labels to champion foundational dressing and introducing the ‘building blocks’ to your wardrobe. Personally, it was the label that introduced me to Australian designer fashion and informed my approach to dressing, even today.  

Why go into voluntary administration after so much success?

After years of being one of the biggest players on the Australian scene, Life With Bird closed its doors in 2018. “We organically wound it down. We just decided things weren’t going the way we wanted,” recalls Bridget. “The landscape was changing, things were evolving, what we wanted out of it had changed, we were having our second child, and we were ready to move onto different things.” 

Bridget used the time to sit back and soak up everything she had achieved so far. “I had some time to stop and reflect on everything I’d done, and really have a think about what I wanted to do next.” There are many people who have wound down their businesses over the last year, and I ask Bridget if she has any advice for people who are in this position. 

“I think you need to take a moment, take a deep breath, stop and reflect with where you’re at. Realise what you’ve learnt along the way and how you can best utilise that and make your next decisions. It’s a scary time for everybody, but if you can help people other than yourselves, it makes you the happiest you can be.” It was the idea of doing something for others that helped Bridget visualise her next venture.

“I knew I could take the knowledge and experience that I’d gained and put it to real use outside of the fashion industry perspective I’d been living and breathing. So I decided I wanted to work with real women, understanding what they want and listening to them, going into their homes and their lives and their wardrobes and helping them with how to be their best selves.” Eventually, Self Agency was born. 

The birth of Self Agency

After three years of soul searching, Bridget has returned to her styling roots. Self Agency is a fashion consultancy that offers tailored services for those wanting an image refresh. Bridget is currently doing a lot of ‘closet consultations’ – going through people’s wardrobes to see what is working, and what isn’t. “Maybe we’re stuck in the past, maybe it’s ill-fitting, or it’s just not flattering, or we’ve got emotional attachments to things,” says Bridget. “We break down pieces we need to let go of, and then we look at what’s missing. From there, we build a shopping list and begin to fill in the gaps.”

With people more eco-conscious than ever, and COVID putting a squeeze on bank balances, Bridget says sustainability is key. “I want to give old clothes new perspectives. Saying, ‘Hang on, you haven’t worn this shirt in years, but this is fantastic! We just need to do something different like this and refresh the silhouette.’ I’m all about tearing everything apart and giving it new life.”

Bridget’s reputation gives her credibility, but it’s her retail experience that really helps her connect with clients. “On the shop floor, I was a retail stylist, but also a semi-counsellor because you’re always dealing with people’s emotions and feelings.”

Often it’s not about what you wear, but how you wear it, and that’s what Bridget wants to tap into. “Sometimes there’s a person walking down the street and it’s like, why are they looking so incredible? It’s not their style necessarily, it’s because they’ve got inner confidence. I’m trying to help people let go of some of those things that are holding them back, to bring out their best selves.”

Now, Bridget and Nick are ready to take on the world of fashion once again, this time from people’s homes. “I’m really looking forward to the future,” says Bridget. “I’m excited for my new business venture and I feel it’s going to be bigger and better than the last.” I’m eager to try Self Agency. So long as I get to keep my beloved Life With Bird black jumper — the one with the patched elbows.  

For all our long-time Life With Bird fans, you can scope out Bridget’s new styling services here

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