In Conversation with Jordan Dalah
If you look at a portrait of Elizabeth the first, I mean to really sit there and dissect it, what immediately attracts your attention? Is it the intensely exaggerated concertinaed collar? The startlingly puffed sleeve? Or is it, perhaps, the oversized peplum that springs out in magical magnitude. It’s this kind of drama, theatrique and intrigue that Australian born designer, Jordan Dalah attempts to embody within his fashion design.
Dalah is a 2017 graduate from esteemed fashion design college Central Saint Martins in London. With a flair for the cloak-and-dagger, designing theatrically oversized pieces with dramatically vivid silhouettes, Dalah marks himself amongst some of the world’s most captivating designers, and, the elusive Dover Street Market becoming a primary stockist is a testament to the fact.
His uniquely enchanting work lies in its intent to be unexpected, focusing on, and exaggerating specific parts of the human figure to create startling shapes and lines. In his effort to question fashion’s traditional conventions, his work seems draw from the surprise and blood-and-thunder of collections from Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto in the 90s. He mixes traditional silhouettes with an exclusively modern feminine presentation of identity. Putting women and their divine inspiration at the foreground of his work. His reimagination of royalty, his dissection of it, seems to lay the groundwork for his matchless creative cunning. Capturing and captivating audiences into his peculiar world.
Dalah has since returned to Australia, bringing his enthralling designs back to his homeland. We talk to him during lockdown and get a glimpse into his universe.
Was there ever a kind of an‘aha!’ moment in terms of going into fashion? Did you always love clothing and design as a child?I have always loved fashion growing up. My mum has always been into clothing. Growing up I would always go shopping with her. We have very different styles, but she definitely introduced me to the world of fashion at a young age. When we rarely do converse over fashion it's almost like we are having two different conversations. She trusts my vision but ultimately has a completely different aesthetic, which works for her. To get back to your question though, yes, I have always loved fashion and
spend most of my childhood drawing clothing on bodies.
Australia isn’t widely known as one of the major fashion capitals. Walk me through deciding to move back here. Do you
believe Australian fashion design is crucial to the larger global fashion market? Is there unfinished business here?
True, Australia or Sydney, where I am based isn’t a major fashion capital. I moved back (6 months) after I finished my degree, on a temporary basis. The plan was to execute a collection as far as I could get it in done in Sydney and then finish and launch it in London where I also have a small-shared design studio. As it turns out Even though the industry in Sydney is very small, and
there are nearly no small scale manufactures, I have developed close relationships with the few factories that do exist. To answer the question about Australia being crucial to the global fashion market, I don’t think it’s about one country having a collective role. Design is a spectrum. There are interesting designers in Australia and ones that are not so inspired. If we are
talking about fashion, as a country, we offer more from a commercial standpoint and have far less creative people doing niche things. This doesn’t mean our role is any less crucial. The same can be said for any country. Even a country
known for fashion like Italy, has good designers and brands, but also boring and commercial ones. We all have something to offer, some countries have less and others more. Australia is a work in progress and hopefully in the near future there will be more of a space for designers and creative like myself rather than generic and boring trend based brands. I am hopeful.
I’m interested to know how you were affected creatively in isolation. Did you feel that you were able to work more productively during lockdown? Was there more time to think about the direction of the label in future?
Surprisingly I was able to work more effectively during lockdown. Partly because I already work in semi isolation, and don’t rely on a team of people. My work routine didn’t really change much. I would go from my flat to my studio as per usual. The uncertainty regarding the coming season was a little unnerving. People were predicting there would be no fashion week, little sales or the opposite, lots of sales and buyer interest. Depending on whom you speak to, everyone has different predictions about the future of fashion. I just take it one day at a time and am incredibly grateful that because my brand is still in the early phases of its journey, I won't be majorly impacted by the loss of business due to the pandemic. I can kind of navigate myself a little better then other businesses that have more skin in the game.
As the pandemic has halted a lot of fashion manufacturing, do you see the landscape of fashion changing permanently? What in particular would you like to see the industry change or refocus?
I can’t really speak to manufacturing abroad as I do all my stuff in the places I am based. I either get my stuff manufactured in London when I am there or in Sydney when I am in my studio here, and haven’t had huge problems with it as I use small scale
production companies that are not tied to, or reliant on huge production runs. One thing I would like to see is less focus around seasonal buying and allowing more space for designers to show their collections in staggered phases so that we can all breathe a little better. There are so many ‘off’ periods in the year for designers that I think collection launches can be staggered and perhaps buyers' selections can be staggered too. If we start to define seasons less maybe there will be less of a viscous and quick turnaround with creating and selling. I personally don’t think this pandemic will change the landscape of fashion
permanently. Unfortunately we are living in a time where a ‘problem’ lasts as long as it is trending on Instagram, which is an awful thing to say, but also the sad truth. Fashion will be back to normal when enough people are able to travel again.
Designers for the theatrical: Rei Kawakubo, Jeremy Scott, John Galliano. Are there any that you particularly resonate with?
I am definitely inspired by Fashion Designers and costume designers that think theatrically. Equally I am inspired by stylists that create costume inspired silhouettes’ and everyday people that unintentionally layer their everyday outfits in a way that feels unique and costume like.
Your colour palette seems very deliberate, focused and muted. What kind of story do you aim to tell with this? Is there a colour story?
This is totally correct. Focused and deliberate is a great word to describe my colour pallet. This stems from an underlying fear of colour. Colour has the ability to alter a silhouette dramatically. It can enhance or weaken a collection. Colour is a bit of journey for me. I decide I don’t like a colour then avoid it, then slowly subvert the ‘ugliness’ of that colour into something I might like. The same can be said with prints. One thing I do know for sure is that you’ll never see me using Magenta.
You seem to design exclusively for women with a heavy focus on traditional female costume. In honoring femininity, almost homage to matriarchal royalty, is there something in particular that pulls you towards feminine design?
I don’t design ‘exclusively’ for women in the sense that I embrace anyone that wants to wear my clothing. However, I studied womenswear and when I’m designing I think about things and how they would fit on a woman’s body. Stylists love to play around with my clothing on male models and it often looks great, but I maintain that I design for people that identify as women more than I do for men. Ultimately I do want my brand to feel accessible to anybody but I am conscious of it being a
brand with a womenswear led identity.
As a graduate from Central Saint Martins, do you find yourself pressured or more so inspired by the fashion legacy and reputation that the school maintains?
I find myself inspired by it. I don’t have that much to do with CSM now that I have graduated. I have more contact with the people I studied with more than the university itself. It is amazing how many graduates from CSM move on to have their own brands. It is cool though, because it feels like the journey I am on is one that I share with a lot of the people I studied with. It’s nice to also see older graduates who at one point were the scale that I am now at the helm of large successful fashion companies. Knowing people before they are ‘successful’ designers in the university environment makes you realize that it is totally possible and achievable for anyone with enough motivation, drive and most importantly a clear point of view to be successful within the fashion industry.