Melbourne designer E Nolan wants her customers to reflect critically on what they really need from their wardrobes



“When we think about streamlining our wardrobes, there’s no better place to start that than with a tailored suit.”

I first met Emily Nolan a few years ago when she burst through the doors of my workplace at the time. A magnetic presence in a perfect black suit, Em’s insatiable love for capital-f Fashion was matched only by her willingness to discuss the industry’s dark underbelly: how it can prey on our insecurities, encourage conformity and give a platform to a unique kind of egotistical delirium. 

Fast forward to 2021 and the Melbourne-born designer and tailor behind womenswear label E Nolan has turned this holistic view of the good, the bad and the ugly of the industry into a vehicle for exploring the meaning of our clothing; how it can carry us, protect us and give us the freedom to express who we really are. 

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From the E Nolan Dressing Room situated in a leafy garden in Melbourne’s east, Emily meets with dozens of women each month, fitting them in made-to-measure suits and hearing first hand about their relationship to their wardrobes, their bodies and themselves. It’s this direct line to the beating heart of her customers that led her to develop her first range of ready-to-wear shirts, tees and knitwear, which she released in early 2020, just as the concept of being locked down at home was slowly starting to dawn on us all. 

For a designer who, up until that moment, had built a successful business on the basis of one on one appointments, the ensuing months of Melbourne’s interminable lockdown provided Emily with a chance to dip further into the ready-to-wear pool. She turned her one-off, made-to-order ‘sleeping suits’ into a more official capsule range of sleepwear in collaboration with local bedding brand Scottie Store. A collaboration with Richmond sandwich maestros Hector’s Deli resulted in a tee embroidered with ‘I Love Lunch’ in juicy red letters. And this is to say nothing of E Nolan’s face masks, which sold 1000 units over a single weekend. 

Now, Emily is coming full circle. The beginning of March marked her first interstate trunk show of the year, opening up appointments to a new intake of Sydney-based clients for her made-to-measure suiting in over 600 British, Japanese and Italian cloth options, and the chance to take a look at E Nolan’s second-ever ready-to-wear collection, which premiered at the National Designer Award presentation last month, at which E Nolan was a finalist.

I spoke with Emily about the new collection, finding our fashion feet again after 2020 and what’s coming up in the E Nolan universe. 

Emily, hello! You’ve been busy lately: finalist in the National Designer Award, working on your latest collection of ready-to-wear, back on board with your made-to-measure service after the disruption of 2020. How are you? How are you finding your 2021 so far?

I am a restless soul so I’m happy to have my calendar looking full again. 2021 arrives and we’ve hit the ground running. Last year taught me so much about myself, about what I need and want from my personal and professional life and how I can marry the two. I’m so glad to put some of that into action with the new collection and getting back to my beautiful clients. Made-to-measure suiting is such a collaborative process and it’s so nice to get out of my own head. 

Your new collection is so solid, it reads like a best-of E Nolan to date. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired it and where you started with designing it?

The new collection is made up of what I see as elevated staples, pieces designed to complement the core offering of made-to-measure suiting for my clients. Injected into the mix is a new overshirt available in plaid cotton flannel, a 100 per cent recycled cotton staple white tee, a crisp white box shirt available in GOTS certified cotton poplin in four fabrics, a collarless shirt, ready-to-wear resort trousers and a re-release of my favourite sleeveless cotton Cricket Vests. 

When I started thinking about this new collection, I wanted to play fast and loose with the distinction between high and low culture and the various elements that form part of them. Ready-to-wear is my playground; I spend a lot of time working with my clients to listen to what is missing in their wardrobe and what they are looking to get out of their ‘uniforms’. I designed these pieces with the intention of expressing that both ‘high’ and ‘low’ taste can be equally refined, and both have an equally valid claim to form part of our personal style.

How has your relationship with clothes changed over the last year, and has this changed the way you approach designing?

I think last year taught us to reflect critically on what we really want and need from our wardrobes. We have too much stuff, and the stuff we have is often devoid of meaning and durability. Personally, I see a shift towards a closer relationship between garment and clothing. We’re craving emotional totems, and a simplified approach to dressing and purchasing. 

It seemed fitting after a year when so many of us were reassessing what our clothing meant to us, to ask myself the question: when we have nowhere to go, who are we dressing for? Obviously, it’s for you yourself as an individual but I’m so intrigued by that highly personal interrogation of our wardrobes, and how we can use clothing to protect us as well as express who we really are. 

How do you see this collection working alongside your made-to-measure suiting? Do you approach ready-to-wear with the same mindset as your suiting?

I strive to design pieces that embrace all moods and dress codes rather than accepting some supposed binary between them. Both the suiting and the ready-to-wear are designed around a modern, liberated proposition, for those of us who refuse to take ourselves too seriously. These are serious clothes, yes, but they are characterised by an understanding that excessive seriousness inevitably fails.

For example, the E Nolan customer can wear an assertive double-breasted suit but temper it with a flannel overshirt and tee. I want to reflect the woman who contradicts herself. A woman who is completely in touch with the fullness of her reality. My goal is always to ensure my clients are rewarded with a covetable, cohesive wardrobe devoid of time or trend, and that cuts across the ready-to-wear as well as the made-to-measure offering. 

Why do you think a suit is such an important element of a modern wardrobe, especially in 2021 when we’re trying to pry ourselves out of our baggy leisurewear?

One of the things I am trying to change is the mindset that a tailored suit is a restrictive and uncomfortable item of clothing. If it’s made for your body, it should be the exact opposite. I often say to my clients, “You’re waking up in the morning, perhaps you haven’t slept well, perhaps you have the world’s worst period pain, maybe you’re heartbroken and keeping on keeping on. What is it you want to wear? What is it you are reaching for that counteracts these vulnerable states?”.

There’s nothing more effortless, versatile and easy as a beautiful suit. I think it’s been co-opted by the political discourse as a kind of sartorial weapon for women: like somehow a suit is only good for situations that demand you to be your most powerful self. And of course, a suit offers that sense of control and power, but I look at it as more than that. I see suiting as the protagonist of your wardrobe; she’s the main character who the rest of your clothes are supporting. 

A suit is something you can always turn to, always rely on, always feel good about yourself in. When we think about streamlining our wardrobes, there’s no better place to start that than with a tailored suit. 

You’re in Sydney at the moment hosting a trunk show. What’s next for E Nolan? And when can we get our hands on the new collection?

It’s been so much fun to be in Sydney seeing clients old and new, and catching up with friends. I’m busy overseeing the production of the collection, which will be available to purchase directly from the E Nolan website on the first of April. I am in Sydney until March 24, offering my made-to-measure services and ready-to-wear viewings, and still have a few spots open for made-to-measure suiting appointments.

When I get home to Melbourne, I’ll be focused on my private clients as well as working on some new collaborations and one-off pieces. I’m happiest when I’m fully immersed in my work and absorbing new ideas. I think last year taught me to just jump in and do, despite the complexities or reasons not to. Why be concerned by the fly in the ointment?

You can book an appointment with Emily here.

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