ROMANCE WAS BORN
NO. MAGAZINE, SUMMER 2010
Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett have a complicated relationship with being different. It’s not that they mind when people distinguish Romance Was Born from other labels, or compare them to international designers known for being elaborate. It’s more that unique predicament when the thing you become known for is used to characterize your every move.
“We’re not trying to be the Australian Galliano,” says Sales. “We would never think, ‘Let’s do this to try to be crazy’. It gets us down when someone writes a review of a Romance Was Born show and only talks about the production of the show itself, rather than the actual clothing. We could do a normal show, with a ready-to-wear collection, but that’s just not we’re on about”.
“And even then,” Plunkett interjects, “people would probably say we’re trying to be different!”
Season after season, Sales and Plunkett have sent trails of beautifully crafted, colourful and – this is important – genuinely wearable confections down heavily decorated runways. And, season after season, people respond similarly: a lot of talk about the fanfare of props and staging, rarely more than a few lines about the clothes.
“I don’t even think the word theatrical is anything to do with what we do,” Plunkett says. “A few years ago, we did a show that opened with our friend dancing – that’s just a bit of drama. This year, we had someone playing a harp – that’s just a bit of music. Bubbles – that’s just the environment. ‘Theatre’ sounds a bit dirty because it takes it out of fashion context”.
It’s an unsaid truth that local labels often rely on trend recognition to convince us about their clothes. A Balmain-inspired shoulder here, some Proenza surf throwbacks there, and almost everyone feels they have to follow suit. But the fact that their peers at this year’s Rosemount Australia Fashion Week seemed to be competing in some sort of beige blazer Olympics barely even registered on Romance’s radar.
“Sometimes I just want to go, ‘You know what? Fuck it. Who cares if someone has done it, I really love it and I want to do it that way’,” says Sales. “The way that we would do something for Romance would never look the same as how anyone else would do it, in the end. You can spend all day going, ‘That’s too this person, that’s too that person’”.
“We always think the consumer has an emotional response to our clothes, rather than just identifying with them as part of a look. They buy it because they love it, not because they want to look a particular way. It’s about having a personal connection to something.”
The negotiation between incorporating and steering clear typifies Plunkett and Sales’s design process. But they are quick to point out that there is actually less method to the madness than people may think. In the first instance, it’s not every day you hear designers refer to their life’s work as “our stuff”.
With Romance, it’s not so much about thinking through as bringing elements together and reaching a natural midpoint – which could well explain why no other designer in Australia, or anywhere else for that matter, has come up with a dress inspired by an Iced Vovo biscuit.
“That was because Anna’s nanna always had those biscuits,” Sales explains. “Our theme for last summer was ‘old ladies under the sea’, and those biscuits reminded her of old ladies. I suppose if we were doing the same thing and we grew up in Poland, the dress would be based on some type of spiced biscuit. It just comes up naturally”.
“Everything we have ever done together has just eventuated into something else,” says Plunkett. “It hasn’t stopped, really. I always think about the idea of Romance Was Born, and it makes me think of something really magical. I think that’s the way we work.”
Plunkett and Sales’s fluid relationship to concept and inspiration has allowed for plenty of overlap with art, music and film. Romance collaborators, including artist Del Kathryn Barton (prints), Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O (costumes) and filmmaker Kris Moyes (the short film City Limits, starring New Zealand model Tanja Gacic) are complementary to the point of synchronistic.
If Plunkett and Sales feel that the brand is sometimes misinterpreted by its own industry, they must have no doubt that it is totally understood by others. It seems inevitable that Plunkett and Sales’s unrelenting dedication to their vision for Romance will eventually surpass the “different” tag.
“I look back through my notes from college, and I was already starting to talk about Romance Was Born – what I thought about it and what it was – and I wrote that, in my life, I want to surround myself with really creative people doing amazing things and having fun,” Plunkett says.
“I don’t think we will ever change, even if people go on about the theatrics. If anything, I’d like to show the one-off pieces in a different light, instead of running them through the ready-to-wear shit. I don’t know how obvious you really have to make it.”
“We are almost creating a bit of a genre. In Australia, you’ve got your surf brands, you’ve got your low-end and high-end fashion, but I don’t see us there. I think, with Romance Was Born, there’s something else happening.”