Melbourne-based label MaterialByProduct was founded by RMIT graduates Susan Dimasi and Chantal McDonald. A conceptually driven design practice, MaterialByProduct’s aesthetic of luxury avant-garde is always partnered by academic explorations into the fundamental tenets of dressmaking. With each range Dimasi and McDonald investigate the various processes that cloth undergoes to become a garment, seeking a means to invent new ways for cutting, joining, marking, draping and tailoring. In doing so they attempt to reposition the way that we read and experience contemporary Australian fashion.
To date each MaterialByProduct collection has explored particular aspects of the process of making within a design methodology that is intended to minimise waste and to address the ethical issues of sustainability and thrift. Most recently, the pioneering Soft hard (spring–summer 2006) and Soft hard harder (autumn–winter 2007–08) collections have focused on the relationship between what the designers term ‘soft’ couture, handmade or artisanal modes of production, and ‘hard’ prêt-à-porter, machine-made modes of production.
Shown off-schedule at Paris Fashion Week in March 2007, Outfit comprising couture excesses has its genesis in the concept of the hand-worked, beaded sampler. Each of the separate elements in the outfit – dubbed ‘couture excesses’ for their ornamental rather than functional purpose – can be added or removed to create a variety of combinations. The half-bodice and skirt samplers, decorated with clusters of garish, plastic beads, have been created as hand-tacked pattern pieces that can be laid over the underlying base garment. Blurring the line between clothing item and jewellery, the samplers, sleeves and strands seem to suggest rather than define possibilities for dressing. By wittily referencing aspects of haute couture practice, this work pays homage to the specialist skills of master artisans such as the prestigious French beading and embroidery house, Lesage.
Underpinning the entire outfit is a little black dress, inscribed with a marking system that, while decorative, also serves as a guide for pattern-making. The crêpe dress ‘hard’ piece features vertical and horizontal lines of blotting that inform where the garment is to be cut, stitched or pleated. This is an extension of a language developed in the previous collection where fabric was marked through a mesh template in the manner of traditional lace-making methods. The designers’ intention is to make all processes of construction visible. Here they cleverly reveal and then assign value to each act of design and production. In the MaterialByProduct marking system, the fitting points and measures that determine size and shape are literally printed onto the dress in black and white.
Danielle Whitfield, Curator, Australian Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2008)