As a judge on Australia’s Next Top Model and mentor on Project Runway Australia, Alex Perry is as much a personality as he is a fashion designer. We caught up with the Sydney-native during his 24-hour trip to Auckland this week to promote his new Alex Perry for Specsavers line.
Why did you decide to get into fashion design?
I fluked it a little bit. When I was in Year 12, I was good at drawing, so I applied for a whole lot of things that had anything to do with that – industrial design, interior, and fashion – and I got into that. I didn’t have a burning desire, which doesn’t sound very glamorous, but it wasn’t like I always wanted to design clothes. I didn’t even really know what it was – I went to an all-boys school and I was good at drawing, and I could draw people and I could draw clothes and stuff. So when I went to college, I got into fashion design out of all those things and had to learn how to sew – and I had no idea about it, but I learnt.
Why did you focus on the high-end, formal side of fashion?
It was the most fun, it was the transformative aspect for me. Daywear never interested me, it wasn’t theatrical or dramatic enough, and there was something about making a woman look like that, for something very special, for red carpet or for evening. It’s the fun part. Even with Ready-to-Wear (RTW), I do separates and stuff that are little bit more day, but it’s still got a special angle about it.
How has the fashion industry changed during your 20 years in the business?
I think the more successful you become, it cuts you a little bit of slack. At the beginning, you have to work extra hard, and everybody is more successful than you and the brands are better known. Once you establish the brand, it opens doors for you. But there’s also an expectation to keep that going, and I’m continually challenging what it is that I’m doing, what the brand is and who it’s selling to. I’ve made the brand a lot younger in the last two years, I have a completely new Alex Perry girl, as well as an existing one that was already there.
Who is the Alex Perry girl?
She’s everybody. Anybody can be an Alex Perry girl, you just have to had a bit of confidence in yourself. Essentially it’s somebody who likes things that are glamorous to an extent. Not just a big red-carpet, glamazon type of person, but just things that are beautiful and glamorous. Confidence is the biggest thing though. No matter what package you come in, no matter how old you are, have confidence in yourself.
Considering Jean-Paul Gaultier’s decision to stop doing RTW, do you think high-end RTW still has a future?
Yea I do. I spoke to him about that, he was one of our guests on Project Runway, and it was the relentlessness of RTW that he didn’t like anymore. He had to do six ranges per year, and it was relentless for him and he didn’t like that. He much prefers his couture line and what he does there, and obviously he’s got incredibly successful perfumes, so it just didn’t work for him anymore.
But I think there’s still a real place for it, if you offer a good high-end designer brand, good quality, good design, people will prefer to buy one or two good dresses a season, rather than six average ones. And my business, touch wood, has gone from strength to strength based on that.
There’s been a huge influx of chain stores in Australia recently, has that had any effect on your brand?
Not for me, I just think people are more discerning with what they buy. Zara has always been an incredible retailer, even before it was in Australia. It’s great, and what’s it done is it’s made its contemporaries snap to it, because I think they were very complacent. There were certain big chain stores in Australia who were not offering great clothes, then all of a sudden, you can go into Zara and you can get great clothes at a certain price level, that look like fashion. It makes everybody snappy, and also focus on what it is that you’re doing. If my entry-level dress is $500, and they’ve got a dress in there that’s $220, then I’ve got to give that girl a reason to spend $500 with me, rather than $220 with them.
Australia has a huge fashion blogging culture, what do you think their role in the fashion industry is?
I’m not sold on it. I don’t quite believe them, I’ve got to say. I think some of them are good, but there are so many of them, and I don’t trust what the followers are, I don’t trust what the likes are. Maybe I’m sceptical, but I just don’t believe it. And I hear the catchcry from all of them, saying, ‘Oh, I posted this picture of a dress and it sold out’. I don’t believe them. I think that’s just what they say, because I haven’t seen it. We’ve worked with different ones, and it’s like, ‘Yea we didn’t sell out with that’. I haven’t seen the proof, and they can’t quantify themselves.
I did a guest spot on [reality television show Fashion Bloggers] and Kate Waterhouse, who I’ve known for a long time, she’s got a fashion pedigree, and I get it, but there are ones that have popped up, who all of a sudden have a million followers. Gigi Hadid, who’s one of the hottest up-and-coming models in the world has a million followers, I get that, but I don’t get how you, I hadn’t heard of you until six months ago, and you’ve got 930,000 followers. Jennifer Hawkins has 450,000 followers and she’s Australia’s golden girl, yet you, a girl from the suburbs, you’re telling me you have that many followers? I don’t believe it.
How do you translate high-fashion into eyewear?
The design process is similar – you start with fabrics, or with glasses it’s materials, shape, colour. I like them to be noticed. I’m looking at different inspirations so that when people wear them, the colour or the detail or the shape, people will think, ‘oh that’s really beautiful, where are they from?’. Before we started with Specsavers, we did a capsule range with (jewellery brand) Diva, and I was kind of testing how the brand would sell, and whether I was at that stage where the Alex Perry brand was strong enough to sell something else other than clothes. And it was incredible, it sold out in something like six days, and I thought that was a good indication. Not long after that, Specsavers approached me and I thought, ‘OK I can do this, I get what glasses are about, I’ve worn them as a kid, I love them anyway, and I think my aesthetic is good for them’.
What do you say to people who think wearing glasses is nerdy?
When I was a kid, you were a nerd if you wore glasses because glasses are nerdy, and there wasn’t a good selection. But in this day and age, women consider them as a fashion accessory. Yes, you wear them to see, but you want to look great in them, and they’re doing that. There are so many girls taking more risks with the type of glasses they were to the point where geeky glasses are chic.