Discovering Aussie label LOVER for the first time is kind of like meeting a new friend that you know you’ll have for life. Perhaps that’s because it’s a label grounded much more in authenticity and feeling than passing trends. From its humble beginnings selling at Bondi Markets to last year’s 10 year-anniversary show at the Sydney Opera House, it has developed a cult following of girls who keep coming back for their brand of timeless, often romantic wardrobe staples.
The label was started by real-life lovers Nic Briand and Susien Chong, who have spent over a decade cultivating the brand and its strong identity. Their signature aesthetic features sharp tailoring alongside soft silks and intricate lace, always with a subtle air of nostalgia. We caught up with the designers to learn more about how they got started, what it took for them to grow their business and where they're going next. Oh, and why they're possibly the cutest creative couple ever.
Fashionista: Tell us about the birth of LOVER. Susien: I was working for another label as a designer and we started enlisting Nick to help with textile and print development, so that was our first experience working together. We were already a couple at the time, but it was really an organic evolution from that to starting the label together.
Were you apprehensive about becoming business partners when you were already a couple? Nic: No, weirdly enough that didn’t play into it. Maybe in hindsight it should have! S: It was very slow and organic. We weren’t working full time on the label at first. It really was a natural evolution rather than a full-on assault.
How and when did you two meet? N: We’ve been together for 15 years and we met on the street. I bumped into a mutual friend who was with Susien. It thought, she doesn’t seem too bad – I might ask her on a date. S: I didn’t seem too bad!? N: Not too bad at all. So I did get the courage to ask her out. And actually the spot where I met her on the street is where we now have the shop in Sydney, so things have sort of come full circle.
You started off selling at markets and now you have your own boutique and sell at retailers like Net-a-Porter.com, tell us about how you grew the business. What were some of your biggest obstacles? N: I think when we started the business it was more about a creative desire. And now we have a bigger staff and much more responsibility, so all of a sudden the desire becomes business focused. We both studied in creative areas, not business. So it was a lot about relying on instinct. S: The biggest hurdle has been learning to improve our management skills- the basics of business and then some. N: Now we have 13 people working for LOVER. It’s still small, but we keep it very tight. All of them are part of the story as well.
Is there a moment that stands out as ‘we’ve made it’ or just when you were really proud of the label and were it’s come? N: The 10 year anniversary show at the Sydney Opera House was a very proud achievement for everyone on the team. I think the look of the show and the clothes themselves all defined our brand. We were so proud of that moment. We wouldn’t change a thing. Australians have sworn by the label for years, but it is newer overseas. What has the reaction been internationally? N: I think it has been a slow burn. S: There was an editor we met with in New York recently and she was saying it felt like her little secret over the last few years, and she almost liked keeping it on the down low. At the end of the day, the way people discover it is very personal, whether they hear about it from a friend or a blog or discover it in a store. They are really engaging in a personal way and that tends to stay with people longer. N: It’s a quiet label. I think that has worked in our advantage.
There are certain signatures in your designs like intricate lace dresses, high-waisted shorts, high-collars- how do you stick to your DNA while moving forward? S: We’ve learned from the past that people didn’t really want us to stray too far so it becames a bit irresponsible to do so. People really love those staples and those elements are in every collection in some way. N: It also creates a creative challenge because we have a language we are using, but we also want to create something new. It’s not about creating something completely different every season; it’s more building. And I think that’s how we have developed such a cult following.
Do you follow the fashion world closely? Who inspires you within it? S: Very early YSL. The story of Yves Saint Laurant and Pierre Bergé and their partnership and how they complimented each other is so interesting. Pierre brought the business brains and Yves was the creative mind, and that relationship fascinates us. Also the way the brand became sort of a lifestyle and the way people relate to it on a much broader level than just the specific collections.
Is one of you the business and one the creative like with Yves and Pierre? N: No, it’s more the way we look at business. Susien is very finite and very pinpoint, and I’m very broad. I think that compliments each other. It’s not like one wants to paint canvases and one wants to crunch numbers. Maybe it would be nice if it was! S: That’s probably what fascinates us so much about Yves and Pierre, the merging of creativity and business.
It seems you have a real connection with music. How does it inspire you? N: I think there’s an energy that goes with music, and an image making. There’s a way it can change the direction of pop culture that really excites us. With music you can go discover an old Fleetwood Mac or Black Sabbath album and it can suddenly become your soundtrack for a month.
Where else do you draw inspiration? N: Music, art and film inspire us probably more so than current collections and designers. S: Definitely film--the story-telling aspect. At the end of the day, when you watch a film you are engaging so much in the narrative. When we produce a collection we feel we are telling a story and creating a character. I like to think of us as directors in that sense. Also, we have made a few short films for the brand and that has been really amazing but also really separate than creating the collection.
What’s on your mood board right now? N: We tend to tap into something for a season and get so involved, then in a weird way it dies for us. Our recent collection was inspired Robert Altman’s The Three Women. We watched that film back to front, listened to the soundtrack, read essays about the film, and now when I see references to that film I’m so over it!
Where is the best place you’ve traveled to recently? S: We really connected with London on a recent trip. I think it helps that it was sunny! We tapped into the energy of the city. When we travel we do lots of people watching, sitting in cafes and soaking in the energy of the city. N: And London has an amazing heritage, whether it is from the ‘60s or the 1860’s. You don’t get that in Australia. It’s like that in New York too, those cobbled streets that have so much history. Australia is much more new and eager to soak up culture and history.
If you could dress anyone living or dead who would it be? N: Stevie Knicks, Marianne Faithful, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton. I think to be able to go back in time and dress them or even dress them now would be amazing. S: We have such a long list of women that inspire us!
What’s next for LOVER--any exciting plans you can share? N: We do have a couple things coming up, but we like to keep an air of mystery. We don’t like jinxing things. S: We are very superstitious! There will be a teaser for our next collection online this week. One thing at a time.