When Christopher Esber presented his Resort 2017 collection in Sydney this past May, editors could barely move through the packed hot yoga studio that served as his presentation space. The Vogue Australia crew — including Kim Kardashian style mastermind Christine Centenera — slipped quietly to the front of the long queue for the lift, which stretched outside the building where street style photographers snapped away at the VIPs exiting their cars. Backstage, it was a madhouse, filled with people waiting to chat with Esber. It was, in short, a Fashion Scene.
The scene when Esber brought his collection to New York a few weeks later was decidedly more quiet — just a few racks of clothing in a sun-drenched loft in Soho. Esber's design ethos is rooted in his background in tailoring, which translates into clean lines and unexpected detailing. "My line is looking at the classics and then reinterpreting them in a new way. The construction on the insides of the garments are very structured — even things that look like a simple slip dress have little tricks," Esber says. "It makes them sit in an interesting way. It's very subtle in its design, and very considered."
Esber has been interested in design ever since he was a child, when his playtime consisted of sketching and playing with his mother's sewing machine. In his teen years, he began cutting up pieces of vintage clothing and putting them back together. He attended Australia's Fashion Design Studio for three years before spending another year and a half working for a menswear tailor (hence that expert detailing). Then, in 2010, he felt the time was right to launch his own label. "I thought, well, it's work for someone or start your own thing, and I just feel like, you're going to work hard, you might as well do it for yourself, let's just get started," he explains.
Since then, he's been steadily building buzz in Australia — hence the packed house back in Sydney. Esber constantly finds inspiration in his fabrics, looking for new technologies to play with or transforming the mundane into the unexpected. For resort 2017, that meant adding nude Lycra ruffles to structured dresses, or using natural fabrics with a waxy coating to imitate the feel of desert sands. He also reconsiders the cut of garments, leaving seams undone on a pair of trousers, for instance, to effectively turn them into a full skirt.
The Aussie fashion community is small and tight-knit; Esber himself was once classmates with one of Australia's biggest fashion stars, Dion Lee, and traveled to New York with designers Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales of Australian label Romance Was Born. "We're all friends and we're all willing to help each other out," Esber says.
While Esber has managed to build a solid roster of international stockists including Shopbop, Luisaviaroma and Forward by Elyse Walker, being based in Australia has worked both for and against the designer. Like many other Aussie designers, Esber is proud of his roots and of his industry, but the distance — Sydney is a solid 20-plus hour flight from any major fashion capital — makes building an international business difficult. "I think being far away and on a different time zone, you're kind of secluded," he says. "It's good in a way because you're away from everything and you can focus on the brand and the direction, and really build on that without distraction, but it is hard."
He made a name for himself on a global stage when he became the Australian finalist for the 2014 International Woolmark Prize (he lost out to India/Middle East finalist Rahul Mishra). "It was a really good experience working with such a big company and having that platform internationally, and even just being amongst other amazing designers," Esber says. "I felt that really kind of pushed me into showing overseas, and it was definitely my first step into the whole international fashion schedule."
Now, Esber feels like the time is right to start branching out beyond Australia; after bringing his resort collection to New York, there are tentative plans to show here during fashion week in September. "It's a dream to be on the schedule and to be seen as an international brand," he says. "I feel like each collection is kind of like a rebirth of the brand — obviously we do what we do, but it's really exciting because it's building on new ideas and new narratives, so showing internationally would be the next step."