IV: Assistant Fashion Director Zanerobe
This article was first published by Onya Magazine on 30th April 2013
As the dial tone rings in my ear, I have a sudden panic that what I have elected to wear is not cool enough to talk to Chris Rawson, assistant fashion director at hip Sydney label Zanerobe. I’m brought back down to earth as I hear Chris’s voice saying “hello” in my ear. Suddenly a loud buzzing noise starts and I can’t hear a word he is saying. “Some idiot with a leaf blower is following me,” yells Chris from the other end of the phone. He navigates to a quieter area where we can finally hear each other, and the interview begins.
He’s just come from a ‘fabric meeting’ to discuss the prints for the next collection. It’s just one of his roles as assistant fashion director at Zanerobe, a job he landed straight out of Billy Blue design school in Sydney, where he studied branded fashion design.
“I didn’t ever envision myself getting a full-time job straight out of university,” he says. “I was expecting to do a few more internships and struggle along – slum it for a while – but to get a full design role at a killer label like Zanerobe… I still can’t believe it.”
Laughing, he says ‘humbled’ is probably the best word to describe it.
Despite being only 21, Rawson has enjoyed early success, landing an internship at Australian label Ellery during his studies, which allowed him to work closely with Kim (Ellery) and at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Although, he points out, it wasn’t exactly in the conventional way.
“I didn’t actually intern in a design or sales role, I was doing their back-end business systems. We did a subject at university where we learnt all about those systems, specifically ‘niche’ which is what they were trying to implement. It turned out my teacher was the accountant at Ellery at the time and asked if I could help.”
Perhaps not the ideal situation for someone studying fashion design, but Rawson still describes the experience as “amazing”, going to fashion week with Kim, filming her behind the scenes look-book shoots and other “incredible” things that he couldn’t have done if he hadn’t been “the niche guru”, as they took to calling him.
“There are plenty of people that want to be designers and that’s all well and good – of course I am one of them – but it’s not always going to work out that you can cruise straight into being a designer. I snuck into Ellery in business so I think it comes down to the fact you need to be willing to just put your hand up and do different things.
Even in his design role at Zanerobe, Rawson still has a range of diverse responsibilities. Working mainly with creative director Nat Taubman designing the ranges, shooting the look books and other creative tasks, at the moment he’s also assisting in production.
However, work hard, play hard seems to be the mantra for the label, if Rawson’s examples of office activity are anything to go by.
“There’s also kind of weird stuff, like the other Friday we had an office DJ competition – it’s the second one we’ve had and they’ve been a great success so far. It’s full of surprises.”
But given the size of team – just nine – it’s no surprise that when things get busy, everyone mucks in to help each other out, no matter what role they are meant to play.
“We all have our fingers in each other’s pies,” he laughs. “As disgusting as that sounds! So even though we may have office DJ competitions, we still get things done.”
Being so involved in so many different aspects of the process, I’m curious as to which stage Rawson prefers.
“Seeing the finished design is always really cool – we’ve just had our sales figures come through and they’re looking really positive, so it’s good when designs that you thought were really rad have sold well and people are loving it – we all get hyped up about it. But, I’ll always like designs the best – that’s my favourite part for sure.”
And does he wear the clothes he designs? Absolutely!
“I’m wearing the scrambler jeans at the moment – they’re my favourite. I’ve been wearing them for about two months non stop!”
A black ribbed jean with biker inspired panels around the knee (and also available in a cement colour), the scrambler jean was inspired by the biker aesthetics demonstrated in international designers, such as Balmain’s last few collections.
“I haven’t really seen that style anywhere else here, it’s not really an Australian streetwear aesthetic yet, so they are really exciting for me.”
The label manages to incorporate these new urban aesthetic ideas into its Sydney roots. Based in Mosman, the clothes still maintain the surf element that has seen it gain a growing fan base in America, a success Rawson puts partly down to the “aspirational imagery” the brand evokes.
“Americans love the idea that we’re down at Bondi on a rooftop having beers – it’s that kind of Corona way of life. We’re not a surf brand but there’s definitely that lifestyle ingrained in the brand.”
Rawson takes inspiration from all around – designers, on the catwalk, street blogs, in books, magazines, art exhibitions or films. As a result, he believes it’s important to always be on the look out wherever you are to ensure you don’t miss anything.
Case in point – on a recent trip to New York, he spent a lot of time in the “trendy” neighbourhoods of Brooklyn and Williamsburg and the thrift shops, where you can pick up things you just don’t see elsewhere.
“Ultimately the kind of stuff you see the trendy kids wearing around those really cultured areas will eventually get picked up in the fashion world.”
“I think the street is where everything originates from. Obviously I follow all the designer shows, but I definitely see the most interesting stuff when I’m wandering around those kind of areas.”
“It’s really important to stay on top of the street blogs, just to kind of stay ahead of everything – often the runway collections don’t always translate well into everyday wear anyway.”
Of course there are still many designers who Rawson greatly admires, both locally and internationally. He reels off a diverse list – Ellery, Romance is Born, Dion Lee are all “amazing”, as are the late great Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Riccardo Tisci, while Alber Elbaz is “astounding”.
“They’ve all done something completely different. I’ve seen what they’ve done and it’s captured me, I’ve become such a loyal fan. I just like seeing stuff different to the norm.”
Closer to home, how would he describe Australian style?
“In five words I’d say relaxed, probably more daring in the way we’re trying to get noticed, exciting, influential – I’m seeing a lot of stuff that Australian designers are doing being palmed off overseas – and understated.”
Despite the focus on the traditional fashion capital cities of London, Paris, New York and Milan, Rawson believes Australia is definitely making more of a name for itself overseas, with amazing young designers such as Emma Mulholland and Christopher Esbar coming up through the ranks. Add to that of course labels like Ksubi and Sass and Bide who have already made such an impression internationally and Melbourne and Sydney are definitely becoming contenders in the scene.
His message to anyone who disagrees?
“I think anyone who is writing otherwise about Melbourne or Sydney at the moment… I don’t think they’re educated. We’re definitely something to look out for.”
With cold weather just around the corner, Rawson and the Zanerobe team have just finished designing the winter collection – the inspiration ironically coming from within the office walls.
“The boys who own the label have kind of taken a step back and trusted more in us younger boys to drive the brand, so we’ve developed a story in our last few ranges about us and what we do in our crew, our ‘wolfpack’ and so the winter range is very much about mischief and chaos…it’s a bit wacky!”
Finally, whilst it may be the most clichéd interview question, with Rawson I’m genuinely curious – where does he see himself in five years time?
“Right now, I’m still in absolute awe [at Zanerobe] so I’m so happy to just ride this wave out for as long as they’ll have me. There’s so much room to progress in my role – I’d love to see more of my designs sold in store and on the street.”
“As uninspiring as that sounds to not have gone anywhere in five years, I imagine myself being here.”
I’m surprised by his answer, but given his clear loyalty, talent and success I have no doubt that it’s going to be one hell of a ride, wherever the wave takes him.