The Grey Attic
Dean is a fashion and fine art photographer recognised for his love of natural light and appreciation of the female form. Annika is a creative director, producer and writer known for her innate ability to conceptualise and produce in-depth artistic narratives. Together they run The Grey Attic and biannual fashion and fine art publication, jane.
Intent is interested in the psychology of fashion and people’s relationships with clothing. How would you describe your own relationships with clothing?
Annika: When I was nine, my family moved from Perth to Karratha, which at the time was a small mining town. There were red dirt roads as far as you could see. I wandered off the airplane, completely oblivious to my new surroundings, in a navy capped sleeve dress and my Spice Girls platforms. They were my most prized possession—a light denim sneaker with white laces and silver eyelets, sitting on top of a cream 10-ish centimetre platform. They cost me 50 of my hard earned allowance dollars and, in the lead up to my purchase, I would plead with my mum at the shopping centre to make a detour so that I could check in on my shoes. Naturally, when the day finally came to make them mine, I wore the shoes out of the store with that tell-all ‘big girl’ satisfaction. It was the first purchase I had total ownership over, and most likely the first thing I’d independently bought that was so specifically driven by trend. I had formed a relationship with those shoes before I even owned them—a relationship that started from the minute I’d seen them and decided that they would be mine.
The shopping dynamic and experience has changed so drastically since then. There’s no longer any element of a relationship; the love affair has given way to immediacy and urgency. Consumers are now driven by media and marketing messages that promote disposable fashion. If you see something you love, there’s no longer time to build a relationship with that item—to flirt with and court each other before jumping into commitment. We’ve embraced this ‘buy now or miss out’ mentality, buying out of fear rather than love. The relationship has been weakened and the romance has gone.
Like my Spice Girls shoe anecdote, most of my memories are guided by—or at least make strong reference to—what I was wearing at the time. Even at a young age I seemed to understand and experiment with this relationship and the way in which we can used clothes to connect and symbolise our identity. Consciously or subconsciously I’ve always made reference to fashion’s ability to transform and communicate. The way certain pieces can make you feel part of an exclusive club, or the difference in someone’s body language and aura when they’re wearing something they’re not comfortable in. It’s this individual dynamic we have with clothing that I find fascinating, the ability for certain pieces to completely alter a person’s confidence.
I used to dress my little sister up in these elaborate outfits when I was about eight or nine, and each outfit came with its own personality, directive and accompanying set design. We’d create and experiment with these fashion stories and photograph the characters in the narratives, which were ultimately led by their clothing choices. At the time we were just having fun, but even then we had strong ideas about which pieces helped to communicate specific identities.
Has your attitude towards fashion, and the way you ‘consume’ in general, changed as you’ve aged?
Annika: Yes, I think it’s gone through two major shifts. Earlier I mentioned that courting process, developing relationships with clothes prior to even purchasing them. This is how I first learned to consume—with a level of understanding that made the transaction a commitment. There was an expectation of its quality and longevity, and from what I remember there was never this idea of it being disposable, at least not in the immediate sense.
Then of course came the rise of fast fashion, online stores, social media and bloggers. Suddenly we went from four to six collections a year, to upwards of 24, and then to new arrivals every week online. It was all very new, all very exciting and, without giving it much thought, I too got caught up in the movement—mindlessly consuming without understanding the effects. But as soon as you stop and realise what you’re participating in, you realise how exhausting it is: the marketing messages, the must-have-now obsession, the endless choice.
So about four years ago, loaded with information and a value system I was proud of, I slowly started making changes to how I consumed. I cultivated my style as I learned more about the industry and at first it was probably initiated by vanity and aesthetic—wanting to look a certain way—but I have since found my voice through certain styles and particular pieces. Clothes that I feel myself in. I have also learned the importance of investing in quality pieces and advocating for slow fashion; these principals have ultimately guided my recent purchases. I think owning less and investing in particular pieces that you build a relationship with, pieces you love, makes for a far more adaptable and timeless wardrobe. You get to truly know your clothes and allow them to be an authentic representation of yourself, rather than one that’s potentially swayed or guided by impulse or panicked purchases.
My relationship with clothing has evolved significantly over the last four years. Prior to this, I had racks and suitcases full of archived pieces. They stayed with me throughout my early twenties and each piece had a purpose or memory that prevented me from even considering donating or disposing of it. And then a few years ago I slowly began getting rid of more and more of those pieces, relentlessly editing and culling my collection to the skeleton it is today. Sometimes I think I went a little overboard, and I miss certain pieces, but I find the idea of wardrobe editing fascinating. Particularly, how certain pieces can get through the ‘keep gate’ over and over again—despite remaining unworn—until suddenly one day the connection vanishes and you no longer need to hang on anymore.
The Grey Attic
“We’ve embraced this ‘buy now or miss out’ mentality, buying out of fear rather than love.”
How have your personal values shaped your work?
Annika: The more considered and refined my approach to personal style became, the more these values were referenced in my work. I think they transitioned simultaneously and I now try to implement elements of timelessness into all of my creative concepts. Experimentation is an integral part of the creative process and I think a lot of my previous choices, be they personal, career or style-related, reflect this investigative component. You kind of try on all these different hats—figuratively and literally—trying to establish what sits well and integrates with both your personal values and personal style.
Fashion can be a difficult industry to defend. A business that once pledged fantasy and escapism is now littered with questions and indictments of ethics and sustainability. The magic has been tarnished and the reality of what lies behind the smokescreen has been exposed. The system has been seriously damaged, and once the acknowledgment of that truth sets in the purity of the fantasy and the enticement of the escape becomes tainted. Your duty to and your love for the industry becomes conflicted.
How do you willingly love and support something that you know is causing destruction? How do you maintain your personal beliefs and values? Those were questions which reflected my own conflicting emotions towards an industry I had defended from all angles for years, yet was proving to be carelessly damaging and morally disappointing. So I made a choice to become more informed, more educated, more accountable for my contribution to the industry both as a consumer and a creative. I decided to make choices, backed by thought and awareness, that were kinder and more respectful to the earth, the animals and humanity. Our publication jane. is a direct response and dedication to this acknowledgement and the need to slow things down within an industry that’s set to super speed.
“We wanted to slow things down and make something that people would keep. Our aim was to create a publication that brought life and appreciation back into slower processes.” For your latest project, jane., you have chosen to shoot entirely on film and print on paper. Does this appreciation for process and longevity extend to what you wear? If so, how?
Both: Yes it does, and it also extends to most areas of our lives. We’re both what you’d describe as uniform dressers, wearing varying versions of the same thing in neutral colours and excellent cuts every day.
Understanding the importance of process and longevity is what helps to differentiate between refined and just plain boring. It’s a sensory appreciation of simplicity. This appreciation can only come with education, or re-education, and the understanding that while slower fashion means better quality pieces instilled with strong ethics and values, it also means more time—hence a higher cost. We need to start making the connection between price and quality, both of the garment and the life of the person who made the garment. As Marion Hume said in an interview for issue one of jane. ‘So again, fashion is complicated and high prices are not necessarily an indicator of stupid minds.’
Is there a garment that has had a special place in your life or is linked to a treasured moment?
Annika: My grandmother’s cream glomesh purse—I use it everyday. My mum’s high waisted denim shorts, bought secondhand in her twenties. I dug them out of her drawer after watching Dirty Dancing for the first time. I immediately felt like Baby and began dressing accordingly for about three weeks. The shorts have been mine ever since. And lastly, my denim Spice Girls platforms, of course.
Has there been any progress over the past few years (throughout the garment industry or society as a whole) that has been heartening to you on both a business and personal level?
Both: We think documentaries like The True Cost are instrumental in contributing to positive progress in the industry. They help to bring the core issues out of the industry and into consumer light, providing information that can spark changes in purchasing habits. This type of mass media attention puts the pressure back onto the industry to instigate, or at least start talking about change.
The Grey Attic
"It was all very new, all very exciting and, without giving it much thought, I too got caught up in the movement—mindlessly consuming without understanding the effects. But as soon as you stop and realise what you’re participating in, you realise how exhausting it is: the marketing messages, the must-have-now obsession, the endless choice."
What have been the greatest lessons you have learned during your time working in the fashion industry?
Both: Once you’ve worked on and developed your voice, your values and your aesthetic, do everything in your power to maintain their integrity without compromise. In other words, protect and advocate for your vision. And secondly, information is vital—there’s always something new to be learned.
When looking to the future of this ever changing industry, what systemic change would you like to see take place?
Annika: I would like to see increased awareness, acknowledgement and accountability around the issue of waste reduction. I believe that this starts with education and access to information. We need to change habits and break consumption patterns through transparency and the power of knowledge, at every point in the supply and demand chain.
While corporations and companies have a duty of care and a responsibility to their consumers, surely when we look at the current state of the fashion system we could argue that it’s just not good enough for us as consumers to stand idly by? Our consumption patterns, and where and how we decide to purchase, have influence. Let’s use this power to change the balance of demand. Let’s use education to change what we deem acceptable, to question why something that should be 50 dollars can be bought for five, to put faces behind our purchases, and to change the perception that fashion is disposable.
What excites you about the future of the fashion industry?
Both: The possibility of change. We have so much access to information and technology, and the idea that by using these tools we may be on the cusp of a complete system overhaul or leading the initial stages of a universal slow fashion movement is exciting and motivating. It may sound naïve, but we believe the more we start to think globally while acting locally, the closer we come to making this dream a reality.
Photography Annika Hein & Dean Bell
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