The Future of Fashion Brand Lover

2018 collection from fashion brand Lover

The Australian label, with its feminine sensibility and Bondi Markets roots, had a cult-like following for almost two decades. Last year, it went into voluntary administration. What happened?

When Susien Chong and Nic Briand set out to create a new collection, they begin with their recently watched list. Wild Wild Country. Picnic at Hanging Rock. The Source Family.

“We’re big consumers of television,” says Chong.

Briand nods. “We watch a lot of TV; we’re couch potatoes.”

A joint obsession with Viceland’s fashion docuseries, States of Undress, and its charismatic host, Hailey Gates, served as inspiration and muse for the designers’ Spring/Summer range, though it might not be evident at first glance of their ghostly silk blouses, precise shirts and lace dresses.

“Hailey represents a thoroughly modern woman,” says Chong. “She has a very feminine sense of style and a real magpie aesthetic. But what I love about her more is her spirit – she’s a feminist and she presents her show in a way that has real humanity about it.”

The collection, called Rhapsody, has an eclectic energy that riffs on Gates’s oddball sense of style. “It comes through in the collection in oversized granny florals. But in the spirit of what she represents, we pair that back with modern shirting, separates, tailoring and pinstripes,” explains Chong.

Like every collection in Lover’s nearly two-decade history, Rhapsody involves a constellation of influences drawn from Briand and Chong’s personal passions. “There are a lot of common themes that we keep returning to,” says Briand. The idea of lost innocence and dark romance is one. Cults is another. As is the Altamont festival of 1969 – a perfect storm of countercultural music, Hells Angels and psychedelics.

2018 collection from fashion brand Lover

It comes through in the collection in oversized granny florals... we pair that back with modern shirting, separates, tailoring and pinstripes.

“For Susien and I, it’s always been a very symbiotic thing between the two of us,” he says. “There’s usually something a little bit deeper and darker that’s going on.” Not that you need to know any of this when you flip through the racks of delicately feminine dresses. “The deeper meaning of it sometimes isn’t seen,” shrugs Briand. “But we need that to create the garments.”

Sitting in their new head office in Sydney’s Alexandria, the duo seems relaxed. Peaceful, even. Late last year, they put Lover into voluntary administration, a decision that sent a tremor of disbelief through the fashion industry. How could Lover – a 17-year-old label with a cult-like following of self-described “Lover girls” – have stumbled?

“The idea behind voluntary administration,” clarifies Chong, “is that it’s there to help preserve the business and to allow the business time to restructure financially. It’s a process that’s designed to allow the business…”

“…its best chance of survival,” finishes Briand.

Two years ago, the couple had their first child. It was a change that meant they had to take a step back from their business. In Briand’s words, the label went quiet. “When you’re the core centre of the brand and business, and you both take a step out, that’s going to happen,” he
says. “The energy was just… off. Sorry to be so esoteric, but it kind of was.”

Rather than waiting until the last possible moment, the designers opted to start the administration process at a time that felt right for them. “When we had to make that decision, Susien said to me, ‘This isn’t the final chapter. There’s more to this’,” says Briand.

Briand and Chong of fashion label Lover

You join a cult because you want to feel good all the time, but the lesson is that life has all these ups and downs.

Chong was right. After a flurry of interest from potential buyers, the brand was swiftly acquired by fashion conglomerate Hotsprings, with both designers staying on in their roles as creative directors. So this Spring/Summer collection is a debut of sorts. “We’re excited to get Rhapsody instore, because it’s going to be the first thing that will come out since Lover was acquired by Hotsprings,” says Chong.

Although the voluntary administration process wasn’t easy – “It was very daunting,” admits Briand. “It’s the bogeyman of the fashion industry” – both designers are proud of the way they handled it. “We had a very deep responsibility to our suppliers, staff and family to do it with honesty, to be open about it and to do it in the right way,” he says. “That’s how we went into this and I think that’s how we came out of it successfully.”

If anything, the change has given them time to take a step back and reflect on all that they have built and all that they still want to achieve.

“Susien and I have worked incredibly hard to create the brand and, at the end of the day, that’s the most valuable thing,” says Briand, whose mind turns again to the idea of cults.

“You join a cult because you want to feel good all the time, but the lesson is that life has all these ups and downs. In a weird way, that’s what’s happened with Lover; there’s been this evolution and these twists and turns, but we came out lots clearer. It’s another really interesting chapter in the brand. It’s now part of our story.”

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