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Weekly updates

Notorious for its fierce competition, the fashion industry has always been one of the hardest to crack. But as more and more designers enter and exit the fray, there are just as many labels making a name for themselves by quietly going about their business, strengthening their reputations simply by building their brand with passion and integrity. Sydney sisters, Hayley and Lauri Smith, are behind one such brand, Serpent & The Swan, whose simple silhouettes and hand-made trimmings are creating a buzz in shows and editorials around the globe. ACCLAIM spoke to the girls about their start in the business, their latest collection and what goes on behind the scenes at the burgeoning label.

Firstly can you tell us a little about how Serpent & The Swan got started?

The idea first came to us over a family dinner one night.  We decided to merge our creative abilities and backgrounds to create a label that is unique and expresses our joint visual aesthetic.

Our desire was to create interesting fashion that lasts beyond trends and create something truly unique.

How did the name come about?

We knew it had to be an animal-based name as we are both obsessed with animals.  We also wanted something that represents duality in nature.  So we settled on the serpent and the swan. Both animals have symbolically represented many different things for many different cultures. In some of mankind’s oldest rituals, the serpent represented the duality of good and evil. It also represents transition and change. By contrast, the swan represents beauty, grace and patience.

Being sisters, how do you find it managing both your business and family life?

It’s quite easy actually.  We are both really easy-going and the fact that we are in business together never affects our family life.

You both have quite different backgrounds, Hayley in costume and fashion design and Lauri in fine arts and special effects; did your backgrounds influence the creation and style of the label?

In many ways our shared childhood is our greatest asset because whilst we do different things, we are both on the same page aesthetically and in many ways we are working from the same source.  So Hayley’s designs always complement Lauri’s trimmings / sculptures and vice versa.  It’s never hard to figure out what goes where or what ideas will work together.  We rarely even need to discuss it.  It’s like we have an unspoken understanding.

What has been your biggest achievement to date with the label?

We’ve had a few, so it’s hard to say.  We were selected to go to NYC and show our collection to the fashion media. That was an amazing experience. Last year we worked on a collaborative event with the photographer Mclean Stephenson and musicians Jack Ladder, Laurenze Pike (PVT) and Daisy Tulley (Bridezilla).  That went really well.  Also, gaining international recognition and having our collection stocked in amazing international boutiques is an ongoing highlight.

What does a general day at work entail?

A lot.  Firstly, there is the ‘hands on’ work which includes designing, drawing, draping, patternmaking, sculpting, casting and moulding.

Then there is the business side of things, which includes managing our wonderful staff and interns, budgeting, planning, meeting with our business consultant, our PR agent, our sales agent, our manufacturers, our fabric agent and so on.

Things can get really manic!  We do what we can to stay calm and keep a sense of humour.

You work with both male and female clothing, has it always been that way or was it a new venture?

It has always been that way. Hayley was initially a menswear designer, but womenswear obviously comes naturally to her too – we also love the crossover of menswear as womenswear and womenswear as menswear.  We design with this concept in mind.

Do you find it easier to design for women?

Neither is easier or harder, but they are both very different. With women you can take more risks, with men its attention to cuts, lines and shapes.

Is there a system for creating a new collection, a process from start to finish?

Well, we start with a theme.  For example, some of our past themes were mourning wear, nocturnal animals, surrealist films, the night sea and the desert.  Once we’ve decided on a theme we source imagery from all over the place – old books, paintings, museums, galleries, and films.  Then we collate the imagery and fine tune the idea.  Next we start to design, sculpt, drape and book fabric appointments.  Once we have finished the designs we get our samples made or make them ourselves.  Then we organise and shoot the lookbook, the campaign and usually a video.  After that the range is ready to sell.

Your Spring/Summer Collection has been released can you tell us a little about it?

We were heavily inspired by the hauntingly beautiful and morbidly fascinating 1975 Australian film, Picnic at Hanging Rock. We titled the collection Awoke In A Dream to reflect the surreal, dream-like sequences throughout the film and unexplained hypnotic beckoning from the rock.  The film influenced the collection’s fluid silhouettes, subdued colour palette and textured fabrics. We wanted to capture the way the film manages to have a soft feel despite the harsh glare of the Australian sun.

Where else do you seek inspiration?

Everywhere!  Nature, galleries, museums, travelling, music, films, old books, new books, paintings, photographs, soundtracks, sculpture.  We are always looking.

The creative industries, particularly fashion, are fiercely competitive – how difficult is it to separate yourself from other brands? How do you differentiate Serpent & The Swan?

We distinguish ourselves by using interesting fabrics in relatively simple silhouettes and hand crafting all our own trimmings such as wolf toggles, skull, bone & animal buttons and horse head zipper pulls, which have become our signature.

We want to provoke the customer to feel a personal connection with the mixture of art and fashion in all our garments.  Each trimming is designed and hand sculpted to reflect or represent the meaning behind the label.

Does it help or hinder you to follow the trends of the fashion world? 

We don’t follow trends.  On the contrary, we try to ignore them.  We aim to create pieces that can be worn whatever trend is happening or not happening.

Your clothing is becoming increasingly popular among muso’s such as Karen O, Ella Hooper and Jack Colwell. Was this an exciting time for your label?

Yes it is.  We have also dressed other bands: PVT, Jonti and Seekae to name a few.

We’ve also used musicians as models in our lookbooks and campaign imagery. We used Alex Cameron from Seekae a few times because he is such a handsome devil. We also used Isabella Manfredi from The Preatures and James Domayko from Domayko Gonzales.

The fashion world is a pretty crazy, hectic place. What do you get up to in your downtime?

We do a lot of yoga, see friends, drink and sleep!

Can you give any words of advice for starting out in the fashion world?

We can some it up in one word – tenacity!

See more at Serpent & The Swan’s website or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.