Surface Too Deep Makes A Splash In Sydney

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Models backstage at Suface Too Deep's MBFWA show

This year’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week was a special one for New Zealand, with the triumphant return of Zambesi, Kate Sylvester’s knockout Marilyn Monroe inspired collection and the brilliant Australian debut of young swimwear label Surface Too Deep in the Group Swim show making the kiwi contingent proud.  Now it’s the latter that was the most exciting to me, because it’s not every day you get to witness first hand two young New Zealander’s present a collection that blows away the rest in their category to the utter delight of the crowd.
Cool, cohesive and charming, the Surface Too Deep girls presented a range that made the assembled media, buyers and VIPs take notice and I was thrilled to be able to catch up with them in Sydney the day after their stellar MBFWA debut.  During a gap between shows I made the quick trip to Erskineville to sit down with the excited but rather exhausted designers Esther Miro and Sarah-Jane Abraham to find out how their MBFWA debut came about, what it felt like to be in the spotlight in Sydney and their plans for their dynamic young label.
With just four collections under their belts, it’s pretty impressive that Surface Too Deep are already showing at MBFWA, you may remember I wrote about their stunning NZFW debut and gorgeous Summer 2013 collection in October last year.  But in a market like NZ where the selling season for swimwear is small and depends on us actually having a good summer, it made sense for the Surface Too Deep to focus on the stronger Australian swimwear market sooner rather than later.
So how did they make the big leap to showing in Australia?  “We were approached by The Wonderland (PR Agency) a few months ago, as they were interested in the brand, which we were really excited about,” says Sarah-Jane.  “We thought it was a great idea and it was always the plan for us, it just happened a bit sooner than we thought it would.  We’ve learnt a lot over this past year, if you’re a clothing label you can probably get by in NZ, but swimwear is an even smaller market, so we have to really put ourselves out there and take risks. We’re also taking them earlier than if we were doing clothing too.”
It was a chance conversation with Carla from The Wonderland which also led to their offer to show as part of MBFWA’s group show.  “We thought we’d ask what we had to do to show at fashion week and coincidentally Carla had just been talking to the group swim director and there was room in the show.  So it just lined up perfectly and within 5 hours we got an email inviting us to show at MBFWA.  It was absolutely insane, we weren’t even thinking about it seriously before then, but if we said no, it would be passing up an amazing opportunity and since it’s where we wanted to head anyway, so we thought ‘let’s just do it!”
“Australian Fashion Week is just perfectly timed for selling for us as well,” enthuses Esther. “NZ Fashion Week isn’t really the right time for us as its showing winter and summer is about to start.  As much as we enjoyed NZFW, we did quite quickly see the relevance of going to Australia, being a swimwear brand.”

Surface Too Deep's collection on the MBFWA runway
It’s clear from the delighted smiles and enthusiasm on their faces that Esther and Sarah-Jane are feeling the euphoria (coupled with mild exhaustion) of a job well done.  Seeing their runway photos published online and the glowing reviews already coming in is obviously an amazing and particularly rewarding feeling after months of hard work and a huge financial commitment to bring their brand to MBFWA.  Interestingly enough, the girls utilised new NZ fundraising website Pledge Me to aid in their efforts, managing to draw in a sizeable sum from their online supporters which enabled their fashion week dreams to become a reality.  “It’s really exciting to see the press coming in now and more people being exposed to our brand, which is of course the point,” adds Sarah-Jane.  “It’s the best part really.  There’s no point designing if no one gets to see it.” 
Putting on any fashion week show is a daunting task with a great amount of time spent on making that the 10-15 minutes on the runway is as perfect as it can be and represents the brand in just the right way.  With a group show, the designers have to hand over control of certain elements to the show director, often including model choices.  “It’s really hard with a group show as you don’t get much time for run throughs or to spend with the models,” says Sarah-Jane.  “You get them once, you put them in what you think will work on them and that’s it. There’s no time to change anything. You have to make the decision and just live with it.”
“It’s also hard for designers not getting to make all the decisions either, as that’s what they enjoy doing,” concurs Esther.  “Especially with styling; do you keep it clean and crisp and just focus on the swimsuit or do you accessorise?  This time we chose to strip it back, to the point of having nude shoes as well so you’re only looking at the swimsuit.  It’s so easy to go either way though and we always toss and turn over it.”
It was those pared-back styling choices that definitely aided in the x-factor present on the runway though and I had to ask where their stunning shoes came from too.  “The shoes were by Escapade Shoes, who are represented by The Wonderland as well,” shares Sarah-Jane.  “We were lucky enough to get a look at their lookbook and choose ones that were made up for us before they even went into production. So it was a good trade, they get exposure, we get great shoes.”

One of the things that stands out most about Surface Too Deep’s swimwear is the exclusive prints, which are limited edition and designed by Esther and Sarah-Jane each season. Their eye-catching patterns and beautiful colour palettes certainly add to the appeal of the striking yet really wearable vintage-inspired shapes. “I feel like we’re starting to get a really strong base of shapes that work now and are really selling well,” adds Esther. “So we don’t want to change that, we just take out the ones that aren’t selling well and add new ones. Now that we’ve been going for a while, we have a few base shapes that really have to stay in there because they fit so well.”

Sarah-Jane (left) and Esther (right) with their models backstage at MBFWA 

So how did they go about deciding which pieces to show at MBFWA and which pieces to leave out?  “We tried to show each style and colourway but some just work better in different colours,” says Sarah-Jane.  “We picked the strongest one in each colour and had to take two styles out. I don’t think all of them are going to go into production, just because there are so many options and some we like better than others. It’s impossible to pick what will actually sell.  Who would have known that that one black bikini (that was featured as a hero image by many press) would get so much attention and be the one every one would think was outstanding?  It’s had probably five times more coverage than any other pieces in the collection, and it’s black! We were so close to cutting the black out of the collection because we thought it’s not as exciting and we can put more colour pieces in if we take the black out.  Lucky we didn’t!”
It’s the reaction of the media and buyers to the collection which helps the designers shape their decisions as to which garments make it into the production stage.  It’s a hard choice to cut pieces that may be the girls favourites but for whatever reason weren’t as favoured by buyers.  “I think anyone that says it’s not a personal thing is lying, there is a bit of you in everything you create, so it is hard to cut stuff,” says Sarah-Jane.  “Ultimately you can be sentimental about it or you can be realistic. If I’m not practical about this I’m not going to be able to keep going and doing the things I love. There’s always compromise and sometimes it is just putting it into samples and no taking it any further and you’ve got to live with that.” 
Although Esther got to thoroughly product test the samples whilst on holiday in Central and South America a few months ago.  Taking a much needed break from a couple of years working solidly as a textiles designer on ‘The Hobbit’ film as well as working on Surface Too Deep, a summer of exploring and relaxation was the perfect antidote, especially to Wellington’s chilly weather.  Ironically due to that weather the girls admit they don’t actually get to wear their designs as swimwear that often at home. “I wear mine as bras though” laughs Esther. “I pretty much live in them every chance I get in summer.”
So what’s next for this talented duo after a particularly exciting year?  Well, they’re certainly keen to further their brand.  “I’d love to expand to do printed clothing,” enthuses Esther.  “I guess it has to be related to the beach for us.  We plan on building up slowly and once we’ve got all the resources then launch into doing clothing as well.  It’s just figuring out the right target market and making it versatile, especially in NZ.  It could be a cute little dress that goes over a swimsuit and matches it, or you could also throw it over jeans.  We were also hoping people would style our swimsuits with clothes, as we saw them styled with black pants etc. in a few editorial shoots so we thought that might spark people’s imaginations in styling them different ways.  Anything is possible with them really.”  And something tells me anything is also possible for Esther and Sarah-Jane, in the meantime I can’t wait until their latest collection is released in October.
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Images from: Rachela Nadella (backstage) and MBFWA (runway)
Just So Pretty x

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