Undone fashion comes together

Rachel Webb and Elise Barnes, designers of Dunedin label Undone, in their studio in Salisbury...
Rachel Webb and Elise Barnes, designers of Dunedin label Undone, in their studio in Salisbury Boutique on Bond St. Photos by Emily Cannan.
Biker Junkie pants, Nico top and Hendrix jacket.
Biker Junkie pants, Nico top and Hendrix jacket.
Pussy Bow Meow vest and Dylan pants
Pussy Bow Meow vest and Dylan pants
Peace dress
Peace dress
Materials used in designs.
Materials used in designs.
Close-up of detail.
Close-up of detail.
Another close-up of detailing.
Another close-up of detailing.
A Leather Tails jacket.
A Leather Tails jacket.

One-off pieces from a couple of Dunedin designers are coming together, Emily Cannan reports.

Biker cool but feminine too, the Bespoke range of Dunedin designers Rachel Webb (21) and Elise Barnes (22) is a labour of love.

The pair run the Undone label, of which Undone Bespoke is a part, from their Bond St workshop, juggling the business with "day jobs".

There is something of an "armour" mentality about the Bespoke pieces, constructed as they are from leather, heavy wool, fur, silk and suede - a second skin against the urban environment.

All are one-offs, hand-worked by the designers, as the label suggests.

Studded collars and metal detailing mix with reworked Guns N' Roses and AC/DC T-shirts and recycled leather jackets.

Bespoke's biker jackets are made from an ever-changing range of secondhand leather jackets in a wide variety of finishes; acid wash, denim look, zebra pattern, and a multitude of textures and colours. There is even a crocodile suede-leather finish.

Working with such a mix of materials lends the process an organic edge, but the designers always know where they are headed, ensuring the final product conforms to their vision.

"We start pulling apart the seams and creating the new shape, adding the zips and the merino sleeves and skirts," explains Webb.

"The '80s produced some crazy leathers, they went so over the top, and with all these great features like the patterns, pleating and big bold collar shapes ... most of them are bat-wing, which gives us a really versatile shape to start with, and so much fabric."

When the design pair are finished, the '80s are banished, leaving a Bespoke piece in its place.

"They're pieces people will have for years and they appeal to certain people - they start a love affair, they become must-haves," says Barnes, who is originally from Invercargill.

Their "Leather Tails" jacket is a standout. With its knitted leather back, it is boldly textural in a classic shape. There is about 10-12 hours work in each one, as there are "a lot of processes to get to a completed jacket".

"First the top part of the jacket is cut and made from the new leather hides, and with the scraps we make the 'leather yarn', which is thin strips sewn together, wound up into a ball ... it looks like knitting but with this bizarre twist.

"Using the oversized needles, the process of 'casting on' and to create the loops, and then producing the actual tails to completion - it's a massively involved but satisfying garment in our label. It's great to create our own textile that's a really unexpected finish for leather."

The "Junkie" pants haven't reached stores yet but have already attracted the most attention online.

"We created the Junkie pants, which has a quilted panel and a patchwork panel, with kind of old-school techniques like appliqué, but in a bad-ass biker-style pants," says Webb, who grew up in Tapanui.

Webb laughs when asked about how long they take to create.

"It all takes ages! They take around four hours, compared to a normal pair of pants, which is about one hour.

"Most of that time goes into the patchwork where we use a lot of our off-cuts of leather and the pony fur."

"Bespoke is where we can experiment and put a lot of time and love into each piece. It will be a range that is ever-changing and evolving ... Why all the leather?

"We both just love it. You can put it on and be bad-ass, but it can still be worn with the 'pretty things'."

Both women studied fashion at Otago Polytechnic and graduated with bachelor of design fashion degrees in 2010.

"We decided in our final year of study that we wanted to start a label together. I guess we both recognised that we had the same drive and desire to succeed, yet we both brought different skills and strengths to the table," Barnes says.

They started their company last year and rented a small workspace at Salisbury Boutique.

The designs for the commercial Undone collection are softer. There is less leather and more silk and linen, but touches of the tougher Bespoke style remain. There is the occasional motorcycle patch.

"In the Undone ranges we've used a variety of fabrics. Rach is usually drawn to the heavier structural fabrics and I'm more drawn to softer fabrics that may drape ... or a great print or pattern," explains Barnes.

The new spring/summer 2013 collection, Electric Guitars In Cotton Fields, mixes military detailing, appliqué patchwork, and a variety of imported and handmade patches. They've mixed linens and leathers, florals and stripes, but together, the collection is still cohesive, bound by a Jimi Hendrix, biker, daydream theme.

The designers have a production team and specialist machinist to keep up with their expanding orders and say they are determined to remain New Zealand made.

The next step for Webb and Barnes is launching an online store. That's coming soon.

"To work really hard on something and see it grow and to see others enjoying it too ...

"We love it. It is really what we want to do and we couldn't imagine being in other jobs."

- Emily Cannan.



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