A sad sayonara from Saint Augustine Academy

A sad sayonara from Saint Augustine Academy

It is hard for independent designers at the best of times, and right now, in a turbulent economy, with out of control rental costs in major metropolitan areas, and a strong Australian dollar making exporting more difficult than ever, it is an incredibly rough slog.

Proof of this is in the sad news - after weeks of whispers - that independent rock and roll rooted Australian mens and womenswear label Saint Augustine Academy is being put on indefinite hiatus.

Saint Augustine Academy were a brand with everything going for it, their sharp suited aesthetic attracted an extremely loyal following, and designer Alvin Manalo's close ties to the music industry, and passion for subcultural inspiration, saw the label's clothes on vast numbers of rock and roll heros.  I once sat down with Alvin a few years ago for an interview and together we tried to work out the number of bands he had dressed, after filling three columns on an A4 page, we gave up, opting instead to just call it 'lots'. Stocked in Opening Ceremony and Patricia Fields' New York boutique, the brand also offered its fashion at a pricepoint that was not inaccessible for the youthful vein its aesthetic tapped into.

These successes, along with an impressively accessible Australian Fashion Week showing, make the following statement from Alvin all the more upsetting. In a letter titled 'The End Has No End' (Manalo is a Strokes fan to the core), the designer writes:

It’s been nearly 9 years. 15 collections.  10 countries.

I’ve met and dressed countless of our heroes. The Drums, The Horrors, Interpol, Black Lips and Nick Cave for God’s sake!

What they don’t tell you and what you can’t prepare yourself for is how hard this game really is. When you’re small, independent and don’t have all the resources in the world; it feels like a million full time jobs rolled into one.  Production Manager, Fabric and Accessories Sourcer, Store Manager, Merchandise Planner, Store Buyer, Wholesale Account Executive, Graphic Designer, Photo Retoucher, Event Manager, Interior Decorator, Stylist, Shoot Co-ordinator, Dispatcher, and Money Chaser. Designing takes up maybe 10% of what actually happens in the scheme of things.

Burn out was imminent. It’s time to take a break.  

The lease on our Bourke St store has ended and it’s been hard getting the right space and location right for the next phase of SAA retail, which of course we bank on for production numbers.  We are taking this junction as an opportunity to take a hiatus to re-evaluate our internal organisation and make it more robust and efficient.  In the mean time I am also taking time to take advantage of different creative opportunities and projects that I have not had time for whilst running SAA full time.  I am travelling to explore new artisans and manufacturers in the U.S., Peru and Argentina. I am strengthening contacts and networks in New York, London and Stockholm.  I am learning yoga.  I am going to life drawing classes.  And finally, I am picking up that dusty old guitar.

Thank you immensely for your support all these years, and please know that the next phase of the project is just around the corner.

This is an extremely sad day for the Australian industry, and an indication that now, more than ever, local, independent designers need support from both consumers, and from the Australian government. Sure, there are grants and courses offered, but when you compare local initiatives to the work of say, the BFC, how paltry these offerings are is clearly apparent. There's so much talk of Australia being a 'creative economy', a country that relies on the talent and ingenuity of its populace to truly flourish, but from the  way our state treats emerging creative talents across all fields, you'd never know that.

That Manalo - like dozens of other industry talents - is now going to depart our shores (at least for a time) in pursuit of the rich career he deserves, is yet another indicator of this. While I can not wait to see what Manalo does next (I know it is going to be amazing), the fact that there needs to be a 'next' at all is heartbreaking.
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1 comments so far..

  • jonnoseidler's avatar
    Date and time
    Wednesday 02 Nov 2011 - 4:14 PM
    Not happy, Jan.
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