Fashion / Fashion Feature

ESSE Studios’ Charlotte Hicks wants to redefine what fashion week means

“It's really about a celebration for the brand, and a moment for the brand just to stop and kind of showcase some of the values that it's about both aesthetically, and everything else.” During a time when sustainability is very much in fashion, it can be hard to figure out how planetary wellbeing fits into the production of a runway show. Elements have certainly been explored, and as brands begin to make net-zero pledges for faraway targets, our attention turns to fashion week.

Across the globe, the five days in each city are some of the biggest for local designers, but with countless shows comes mass waste, and holding a show, for the brands who are going the distance, must look slightly different if they are to uphold their core values. For ESSE founder and designer Charlotte Hicks, whose debut runway show for AAFW was held at Bennelong Restaurant, the show wouldn’t have happened without the sentiment of sustainability carried through.

“I'm not saying it's a resort show,” Hicks says from a FaceTime at her studio a week out from her first ever show at the helm of her own brand. “It's the ESSE editions. So it's a mix of the past and the present and the future. It's really all about the ethos of the pieces that you've already invested in, how the new stuff works back with that.”

This idea, that one might hold a runway show with core pieces that have always existed within the brand, is one of the ways Hicks is marching to the beat of her own drum. In a landscape where newness is flocked to like birds travelling with the seasons, Hicks is making a very deliberate point to practice restraint in this regard.

Instead, pieces that we have always known and loved as part of the ESSE DNA were seen worked back with newness that was excitedly gulped down like a refreshing drink. Because that’s what it was, refreshing. Throughout a season where basics have been championed as runway pieces, the ESSE editions struck a perfect balance between tapping into the things you want to wear every day, and creating an atmosphere that makes you feel excited about wearing it.

As the rain pattered down onto the partially-glass ceiling of Bennelong, models floated onto the runway. No uncomfortable heels holding them back, the ease and grace of the ESSE woman was captured from the first exit, a classic beige trench that can be completely unbuttoned down the back and patch worked back together with its black counterpart seen further along the runway.

Silks were introduced in the form of printed scarves that later turned into classic button downs, some with open shoulders and expert draping. The fabric was rendered in long, tasseled sashes that were bound around waistlines and left long to move with bodies. A favourite look saw this technique paired with a sheer organza button down shirt and matching silk pants.

It was the kind of show that leaves you feeling restored. From styling points that didn’t miss a beat, to the sheer level of technique Hicks offered in presenting considered, polished silhouettes. But for Hicks, the show is about more than just beautiful clothes.

“I'm obviously super passionate about my own waste,” Hicks explains. It is clear, through our conversations, that she wants no part in the greenwashing of what she’s creating. “The business is going through somewhat of a transformation over the next 12 months, in the land of all things sustainable, even though we all really like that word. But I'm vigorously trying to ground the business operationally, and then outwardly, into some really great processes and practices like becoming B Corp certified, for example.”

For a brand that is only two years old and was birthed during global lockdowns, Hicks has conquered feats that decades-old brands continue to struggle with. This is not to say it’s easy, but to present a debut collection that is so technically perfect, while continuing to push forward an idea of a more sustainable way to consume, is certainly something to be celebrated.

For Hicks, this is exactly the point. “It's a celebration for all the people in my value chain that I work with. The unsung heroes, if you will, of everything that we do. I don't think the incredible family run fabric mill that I work with in Melbourne gets enough air time for the craft. It's my job to bring that fabric to life and get it out there. I work with this amazing mill in Italy and they've developed this form of dyeing the fabric where they kind of rope the yards of fabric to get the most saturation in the cotton, and all these really interesting practices that they have been honing to get that depth of colour,” Hicks says.

“Just having these kind of stories sort of come out, I really want to help customers understand the people behind the brand, because I'm just the messenger. Because I came from that world, and I'm often like, ‘they're not talked about enough’. So it's a celebration for them as well.”

See all of the ESSE editions looks, below.

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