Melbourne label Phoebe Pendergast is making fashion fit for heartbreak



“A lot of my work aims to provide women with an armour for heartbreak; something that makes you want to stomp down the street even if you’re swallowing back tears.” 

After experiencing the sharp stings of heartbreak, many of us would bury ourselves under the covers with a tub of ice cream. Melbourne-based designer Phoebe Pendergast Jones, on the other hand, uses these emotions to fuel her creativity. We have heartache to thank for the iconic warped vest seen on New Zealand singer Benee, which quickly became a cult favourite.

Channelling her innermost self into her label, aptly called Phoebe Pendergast, she wants her customers to form lifelong emotional bonds with her pieces. This storytelling approach to design ties in with her ethical production processes – it’s all about creating fashion you can actually feel good about.

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She’s about to take her brand to the next level in London while studying at the world-renowned arts and design college Central Saint Martins, so watch this space. I chatted to Phoebe about her commitment to sustainability, the feelings her designs evoke and her upcoming fundraising efforts.

Hi Phoebe! Talk to me about your journey into the fashion sphere.

The main focus of my fashion journey is to become the creative director behind my own womenswear brand. Chasing after this dream has always given me the greatest sense of meaning in life and is a passion that burns deep within my heart. From a young age, I’ve been lucky enough to have a clear sense of direction in terms of what kind of career I wanted to pursue. I remember dragging my parents along to open day when I was 14 years old because I already had my heart set on studying fashion design at RMIT.

The four years I spent there formed a very special chapter in my life, as I was able to experiment and take risks with design whilst also beginning to carve out my signature style as a young designer. The years following graduation have given me the space and clarity to understand what core values will drive my output in this industry as I grasp the real-world context of my work and how it fits into the lives of those who wear it.

How would you describe your designs to someone who’s never seen them before?

My design aesthetic stems from a deep place of sentimentality. A fondness for the delicate moments, that for most, can go unseen. To get through the challenges and hardships of life, I found my escape in the stillness and subtle beauty of a kiss, a gentle breeze, or a distant melody trailing through the air. I embraced the tenderness of my femininity. This nostalgic perspective only further inspires my need to immortalise and tell my stories through design. Each garment carries with it a part of my sense of wonder, my coming of age and my history.

How do you want your customers to feel when wearing one of your pieces?

I want the experience of dressing to induce a dreamlike state within the wearer. Stepping into a garment should be like stepping into an alternate universe, or letting the warm embrace of a hazy memory surround you. I want to pour my innermost emotions into my designs and share these sentiments with my audience. After all, the process of dressing is innately tactile and intimate. You can now feel these emotions against your skin and as you carry the garment through life, you collect and store your own experiences upon the surface of the fabric too. I think there’s something so poetic and meaningful about that.

Some of my favourite designs came out of a time when I was deeply heartbroken and I was searching for a catharsis or escape within my own little world of design. Therefore, a lot of my work aims to provide women with an armour for heartbreak; something that makes you want to stomp down the street even if you’re swallowing back tears. It’s this disposition of power, sadness, beauty, pain and euphoria all at once.

Some huge names have worn your pieces! Tell me about Benee wearing your designs on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

It was such a pleasure to dress Benee for the performance of her viral hit ‘Supalonely’. Benee wore a prairie-like silk shirt from my graduate collection and my green warped vest that became a bit of a sensation ever since her appearance on the Seth Meyers’ show. Benee’s performance was a pivotal moment for me, as it really kick-started the momentum of my career. She probably doesn’t realise it but a lot of magical things came from her wearing it, so I’m forever grateful! The whole experience felt particularly symbolic to me because the song expresses this exact feeling of heartache that I was experiencing at the time of designing the vest itself.

Can you tell me how sustainability is important to Phoebe Pendergast?

I believe it’s my duty as a designer to lead a considerate and responsible practice, ethically, culturally and environmentally. At the sourcing phase of each project, I look at what materials are already around me and I create my entire body of work from upcycled, repurposed fabrics. My most recent collection features a lot of patchwork and was actually constructed from an assortment of pillowcases, nightgowns, bedsheets and thrifted garments.

When I need to outsource the skills required to produce my knitwear, I make sure to support and uphold local production and community practice. I have been working closely with a small, family-owned knitting mill in Ballarat where the staff and technicians work amongst a positive and safe environment with fair wages and a focus on using natural, Australian resources.

My brand hopes to promote a model of slow fashion, where consumers can reconfigure their value systems surrounding clothing, encouraging a consumption pattern that is based on sustaining an emotional bond with your clothing rather than adopting a fast fashion mentality. I think that if I can stir a more visceral response within the wearer and enhance the storytelling aspects of design, customers are more likely to form a lasting connection with the clothing they invest in and then it becomes something you cherish for a lifetime.

You’ve been accepted to do your masters at Central Saint Martins in London (congratulations!). Tell me about the current barriers you’re facing and what still needs to happen to get you there this November.

Thanks so much, I’m over the moon about it! Studying at Central Saint Martins has been a lifelong dream of mine and being accepted onto the MA course is my greatest achievement to date. I’ve invested so much hard work into reaching this point, but now the biggest challenge is funding my education. As an international student, I face astronomical tuition fees. The MA comes at a cost of $62,000 for one and a half years of study. I have been reaching out to an endless list of potential sponsors but if I am unable to receive support, this could be the end of the road for me.

As a fundraising effort, I am launching a raffle competition where you can win outfits from my recent collection. The grand prize is three complete looks from my Honeymoon Phase collection and smaller prizes include my knitwear pieces and accessories. I have an incredibly supportive community behind me and if I can make it to London, I will do everything in my power to lead positive change within the industry, to create works that challenge the status quo and leave my mark with bravery and courage.

What will studying at Central Saint Martins mean for your brand?

Central Saint Martins is renowned for producing the greats of our industry. Studying there will allow me to benchmark my practise against the likes of iconic Central Saint Martins alumni such as Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Phoebe Philo and, more recently, Charlotte Knowles, Molly Goddard and Simone Rocha. Just stepping into an arena such as this one is a huge honour and I can’t wait to see where this journey will take me. I consider this a once in a lifetime opportunity and the gateway to my future as a womenswear designer, taking the Phoebe Pendergast brand global [and] sharing my dreams with the world.

How can we buy one of your pieces?

If you would like to support my journey to Central Saint Martins, you can purchase a raffle ticket or buy one of my pieces from my online shop

To see more looks and keep up with Phoebe’s journey to London, head here

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