If you've spotted more than a few local musicians donning a wicked suit on stage recently, it's most likely the work of Anna Cordell. The Melbourne musician and part-time designer happily makes custom suits for anyone who wants to feel like David Bowie, or indeed, Bianca Jagger. We had a little chinwag with Anna to talk about running a side business and the importance of keeping old objects.
How did you begin making suits? I actually worked in fashion years ago. A friend and I opened a vintage store, and I also had a little label called Joachim and Anna, which was all reworked vintage clothing. I ended up stocking it around Australia, including in Sportsgirl and General pants. But once I sold to those large corporations, I felt they were dictating everything and it seemed to take the soul out of what I was doing. I stopped for a few years, had four daughters and started working my way back into songwriting and music. Once my youngest went to school, I decided to try doing locally and ethically made clothing again, so I created a little range at the end of 2017.
How did you learn how to make a tailored suit? Now that is something I can't actually do. I love design and fabrics but I absolutely hate sewing. Back in the day, I was sewing just well enough to re-jig vintage things, but as soon as I started stocking in stores, I had to seek people out who had those tailoring skills. I made some good friends in those years, including my friend Dung, who is an incredible patternmaker and tailor. He was a tailor in Vietnam, has been a maths teacher and also taught karate at one point. He is so talented – it kills me that at one point, he became a bus driver because the local industry was falling apart. He now helps me out on weekends with sample development. I also work closely with Vanessa Gullone (a designer, patternmaker and seamstress) on a lot of the suits now.
What compelled you to design suits in particular? There were a few musicians who had been interested in this one suit and inquired to see if I was still making them six months [after I initially designed then]. I thought, why not? Within a few months, word got out and I just started falling in love with the idea of starting from this basic strong shape, tweaking it and personalising it.
What’s the process of making your custom suits? We’ve created a standardised pattern and shape, along with standard sizing. That’s the base cost – so if someone just wants a standard size 12 suit in cream linen, then we can do that and that’s pretty affordable for something made in Melbourne. After that, there are further options, like a little food menu. So you can get pants with an extra flare, straight leg, extra-wide lapel; you can get measured up etc. The best thing is when a customer puts their suit on and says “It fits like a glove!” or “I feel like myself in this!”
What materials do you usually use? I’m open to anything. Recently, I've been making a lot in linen, corduroy, and velvet. I’ve just collaborated on a leopard print, bell bottom pant with Leah from @unmaterialgirl and a sparkly floral number for contemporary violinist and songwriter Xani Colac.
What makes you passionate about vintage styles? I'm a nostalgic kind of person. It's the same with my music – it's all very ‘70s influenced. But it's not particularly unique, I think as times are getting more fast-paced and throwaway, we are all holding on to the objects of the past with deep nostalgia. The generation that lived through the wars and the Great Depression – in some ways we make fun of them and call them old fashioned, but deep down, we understand they had some things we may lack, and that these things will be gone soon. I find that terrifying in a way. I think the depth of emotion we can feel for these past objects is really something worth listening to.
What are your top three iconic suits through history? Can I pick four? Bianca Jagger’s wedding suit, all of Leonard Cohen’s suits, David Bowie on his Serious Moonlight tour, and all of Katharine Hepburn’s suits.
How does your music feed into your fashion projects and vice versa? I originally started the clothing to fund the music, because I'd had more luck making money with clothing in the past and found it easier to market an object outside of myself than something as personal as my music. So I made enough to get to NZ and record my album with my dream producer Ben Edwards. Right now, the clothing is taking the spotlight, but I managed to finish that record last year. It's sitting ready to go and I'm chipping away at it behind the scenes, writing and doing a few shows around Melbourne and regional Victoria. I should be releasing the first single in May which I'm very excited about!
Do you have words of wisdom for women who took some time off and are looking to get back into work? Gosh, that's a tricky question. It depends whether their work is their passion or not. We're getting a lot of messages right now that we are meant to find some meaning that just doesn't exist in a lot of paid work. Parenthood and any unpaid roles in society in general are a struggle. I like that some people are pushing back and taking a risk to step out of the paid workforce for a few years and be with their kids. People make big sacrifices for that. But sometimes that's actually the space where you discover your creative side.
With that said, there is a real issue now with thinking we have to monetise everything to give it value. I hope feminism will find a way of showing that good work, hard work and valuable creative work doesn’t have to be accounted for in dollars and exotic titles. So! Short answer is, try not to worry about “falling behind” your peers. I have started and re-started businesses a few times. And people do that all the time, whether they stop for their family or not.
How do we order a suit? DM me on @annacordellclothing, on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to cater to all ages, shapes and sizes, so don't feel afraid to just send an email to inquire.
Snaps by Abigail Hector-Taylor and Rick M Douglas.