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Naarm-based label Sabatucci’s innovative designs are prioritising playfulness

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEXI LAPHOR, MISHA DUTKOVA, CHLOE VICTORIA NOUR AND REBECCA-MARIAN IRENE

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

“Sabatucci creates its own universe that disregards such pieties as gender and pushes beyond the boundaries of conventional beauty.”

Sabatucci’s creations are instantly recognisable for the way they play with proportion and colour. Think silky frilled baby doll dresses in vibrant teals and an oversized periwinkle blue satin bow as a headpiece and you’ll be getting a feel for the label’s infectious approach to fashion.

Its designs are all ethically made-to-order in Naarm/Melbourne, and are quickly becoming a favourite among performers – her designs have been worn by the likes of Australian actress Angourie Rice and a host of other local creatives.


Keep up to date with ethical designers over at our Fashion section. 


Founded by RMIT graduate Sofia Stafford in 2019, Sofia says her label “creates its own universe that disregards such pieties as gender and pushes beyond the boundaries of conventional beauty”. One look at Sabatucci’s Instagram confirms that she’s very much made good on this goal. Aside from its range of custom clothing and accessories, the label is also fast making a name for itself with its frilly love heart cushions, which are currently stocked at online boutique Jolie Laide.

When she’s not working on Sabatucci, Sofia is the technical designer for the popular Australian label Bye Bambi, so it’s fair to say her plate is very full. I stole a moment of her limited free time to find out how she got her start and get a glimpse into the fantastical Sabatucci universe.

 

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Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background?

Thanks for having me. I trained in ballet for most of my life and would say that definitely influenced me into a career in fashion. I was always enthralled by the beautiful costumes and the legacy of them; the way they can be passed down through generations of dancers and the technical skill that goes into making and maintaining them. I have always appreciated garments that have a history and a story to tell – I think that’s what makes fashion so intriguing to me.

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed exploring my creativity. My grandmother taught me how to sew from a fairly young age and she inspired me to learn the craft. While I was still in school I worked small jobs for other local brands as a studio assistant and machinist which helped me learn the ropes. I then went on to study a Bachelor of Fashion Design and Technology at RMIT. I started Sabatucci in my graduate year in 2019 and it has grown from there. I am currently working for Bye Bambi as their technical designer so I spend most of my time pattern making and sampling their new designs.

How did Sabatucci get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges.

I started Sabatucci in my final year of uni which allowed me to explore my aesthetic without the boundaries of commercial fashion, meaning I didn’t have to think about whether it would sell or if it was overly practical. I envisioned my designs on performers on stage or in extravagant shoots rather than walking down the street, however, I love that people have begun to wear them in their everyday life or to special events. I had a strong colour story from the start which really directed the whole collection and in turn, the brand.

I found it really enjoyable translating my personal story into fashion. I always start the process with exploring a concept and use the clothes to tell that story. An unfortunate year of COVID became an important time of reflection for me. At first, I didn’t think I wanted to pursue my own brand or at least not until later on, but I really began to fall in love with Sabatucci and the freedom of expression that came with it. It allowed me to have freedom in a time where that was hard to find.

 

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What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

At first, I was mainly trying to tell my own story and uncover a part of myself that I don’t show enough. Day to day I don’t wear much colour, if at all, so I always find it funny how shocked people are when they see my designs. I have always wanted to create a sense of escapism through Sabatucci but I feel like now, more than ever, it is important for everyone to have an escape from the mundanity of every day.

Being based in Naarm, I can see and feel the impact of the repeated lockdowns and it’s lovely to be able to bring people a little bit of joy through imagery and fashion. I feel like the brand has a great sense of community and collaboration. Probably my favourite thing about having my brand has been the connections it has allowed me to make with other creatives. It’s nice to feel a part of such a beautiful community.

How would you describe Sabatucci to someone who’s never seen it before?

I would describe Sabatucci as distinctly playful, enchanting, and fearless. The designs have attitude and anyone who wears them isn’t afraid of being the centre of attention. Sabatucci creates its own universe that disregards such pieties as gender and pushes beyond the boundaries of conventional beauty. I like to think that Sabatucci captures the evolution of fashion and culture, particularly within the cyberscape.

What are you most proud of in your work on the brand?

I think I’m most proud of how authentic I have been able to keep my work. It’s really easy to be influenced by others, especially when everything is so accessible. I feel that I have always stayed true to my vision, no matter how outrageous it feels at times. I think it’s a really powerful thing to be able to believe in what you are making and stick to it.

 

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What do you wish you knew when you started?

I wish I had known just how long the process of starting a brand can be, especially in a pandemic. It took me a while to realise that it’s okay to do it at my own pace. I don’t like to force my creativity which means there will always be times where I feel the need to take a step back. I find pausing helps me to recalibrate and become inspired again. When I take a moment for myself, I begin to feel excited about designing again and can delve back in, giving it my all.

Who do you think is the most exciting designer in Australian fashion right now?

I am really excited by other emerging designers, there is so much talent in Naarm at the moment it’s too hard to just pick one! But if I had to, I would say I’m really inspired by Wackie Ju. I think they have such a strong vision and I can’t wait to see where the brand takes us. I still vividly remember seeing their work for the first time at their graduate show and [I] was absolutely lost for words and I have been obsessed ever since!

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

I think there definitely needs to be more support for emerging designers and the garment manufacturing industry. I think it’s a tragedy how much of the industry has moved overseas when there is so much talent on our own doorstep. I would love to see more opportunities for young designers and makers to find employment or have the support they need to start their own businesses. In the current climate, I’m hopeful that there will be a push to increase on-shore production and a return to slow fashion.

 

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Dream Australian collaborators?

I would love to collaborate with artists in lots of different disciplines as I’m always wanting to branch out and learn about other crafts. While I was creating my first collection, I always had performers in mind so I would love to team up with Australian singers, dancers and performers. I recently had the pleasure of working with a very talented performer Blue Jay who is a part of the vogue house, House of Silky. It would be an absolute dream of mine to work with them all to create looks, they are all so inspiring to me.

Go-to dinner party playlist?

I usually prefer to put on a set than worry about a guilty pleasure starting to play unexpectedly [laughs]. My go-to mix at the moment is from Butter Sessions by DJ So.

Who is in your wardrobe right now?

I mainly buy vintage pieces so it’s a bit of a jumble. I love collecting vintage men’s designer shirts and my black Karla Laidlaw Spider Pants are definitely my go-to!

How can we buy one of your pieces?

I am currently selling some of my pieces at an incredible boutique called Jolie Laide and I take custom orders directly via email or DM.

To learn more about Sabatucci head here.

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