9 August 2014

Welcome to Trashtopia: Maison Briz Vegas on nostalgia

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae

It was 1964 and I was walking down Main Beach, down near the abandoned ship. There’s this kid eating a Cornetto. He tried to eat the bottom first now he’s got ice cream all over him. His mum – a creased woman in a neon pink one-piece – tells him to go swimming to wash it off. She watches him – with a kind of angry maternalism. The congealed sugar has his fingers all stuck together. There’s a couple – she’s Japanese and wears her hair in a knot – while the guy doesn’t have sunblock on just tribal streaks of zinc. Then there’s a woman walking her dog. The retriever is all covered in brine while she is in a daze, just following it kind of hypnotically. Really, they all look the same – squinting, lazy and melting into the orange haze. That’s how I remember 1964.

With Maison Briz Vegas you feel all nostalgic.  It makes you see Jean Shrimpton in her white shift, Robert Menzies’ eyebrows and faded pink Queenslanders.

But it’s also about Paris. The label was born from discarded t-shirts at Parisian flea markets.

But the label goes beyond just repurposing t-shirts. The design duo Carla van Lunn and Carla Binotto use bespoke techniques to transform the tops.

“We wash the textiles, we dye them, we print them by hand, normally block printing or stenciling or screen-printing and then we create new garments,” says van Lunn.

“We unpick and re-sow them and we use a lot more couture and craft technique than what you normally find in t-shirts – a lot of hand sowing and embellishments even with rubbish materials.

“For example buttons are often created from jar lids.”

Maison Briz Vegas began during the thick of the Global Financial Crisis when established labels were going bust.

“And I wanted to design a collection that kind of responded to that sense of precariousness in fashion and also I am interested in the environmental impact of the fashion industry,” says van Lunn.

Maison Briz Vegas’ latest opus Trashtopia looks like a 1960s tropical paradise. But in fact the sand is littered with rubbish and the Hawaiian prints are laced with more forbidding themes.

“For example, you see there’s a dress in the exhibition, which has tortoises on it, but if you look closely, it’s turtles with plastic milk bottle rings and some of the turtles actually have been trapped inside the milk bottle links,” says van Lunn.

The collection references modern society’s insatiable consumerism, mirroring the growth in affluence and cheap manufactured products in the post-war era. Similarly, we live in a prosperous world that is riddled with environmental degradation and overconsumption.

“We’re looking at that from a post-industrial in an era where climate change is a pressing issue,” says van Lunn.

“We looked at how plastics and consumer products are really now destroying our planet and so we tried to take that dark message, with the pollution of the ocean, and weave it back into the story of this utopian, sunny, cheerful 1950s-1960s vibe”

The collection is currently exhibited at Artisan.

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