Talk to anyone who knows Isabella Pennefeather well and they’ll tell you she has an unusual penchant for watching old movies on repeat. “Spelly is such a re-watcher,” says Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Abegg of her sister, who is the design head and namesake of the Byron Bay-based fashion company they co-own.
The three of us have gathered to talk in the cream-hued rumpus room of Bangalow destination house Bisque, a brief interlude away from the champagne-fuelled lunch in the sunshine they’ve arranged for select editors and fashion influencers outside. (Technically, there are four of us ladies present if you include Abegg’s adorable baby daughter Leila, who lies on the sofa between us captivated by the sound of her mother’s voice.)
“I think a big part of Spelly’s design inspiration – and it happens again and again – is the old films we used to watch when we were kids,” Abegg tells me. “She just watches them over and over. That’s why some of our customers who are maybe a little older, like in their thirties, relate because they’re like… it’s Xanadu!
“In fact, the inspiration for this whole summer collection was Crocodile Dundee. This dress I’m wearing [a khaki-toned cotton shirt dress] is called the Linda Kowalski. That look [Abegg points to my off-white crop top and skirt set embellished with lace detailing] came from Picnic at Hanging Rock.”
They might have been inspired by two very different classic Australian films, but our outfits share one very of-the-moment thing in common: both are from the Spell & the Gypsy Collective Summer 2018 collection which drops mid-October. Both, if past performance is an indicator, will be sell-out hits.
While all of the brand’s new drops garner interest bordering hysteria from their loyal global fans – including well-documented devotees like Margot Robbie, Chrissy Teigen, Candice Swanepoel, Alessandra Ambrosio, Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, and Byron Shire’s most famous local mum, Elsa Pataky – the summer collections are by default the ones Australian consumers hold their breath for. These are the prints and silhouettes that will shape our luxury beachside holidays at home.
Unlike previous ranges, this one – called Oasis – is noticeably void of bright colour; rather, creams, black, pale greens and soft gold form the base palette. But those breezy maxi skirts, swirling sundresses, signature light kimono robes and intricately prints are Spell to a tee.
There are more of the bikini and one-piece swimsuits fans go gaga for too, and even gold lame hotpants – deemed shorties by the designer – that might not fall into everyone’s comfort zone, but are an Instagram model’s hot ticket.
As a whole, Oasis is the kind of universally appealing collection that would suit any skin tone, hair colour or age bracket – not to mention the on-trend, all-white and blonde wood furnishings that are dominating interiors (and influencer snap backgrounds) right now.
Indeed, the range’s official campaign images – captured by photographer Brydie Mack, starring muse Olivia Aarnio and revealed for the first time throughout this GRAZIA article – was set in the dusty, light-drenched visual paradise of Palm Springs, the perfect backdrop for a set of pieces in this flaxen palette. The 90-second campaign video, shot by Jon Lile and edited by Johnny Abegg, Elizabeth’s filmmaker husband, is equally dreamy.
I spoke to Pennefeather and Abegg (who focus mostly on the design and business angles of Spell respectively) about this collection’s new direction and – more fascinating still – their take on what magic has set their boho-luxe brand lightyears ahead of the rest.
Grazia: Your new summer collection Oasis features colours that are earthier than usual for Spell. The signature prints are there but the colours more subdued. Why the departure?
Elizabeth: “People were really starting to want to wear the neutrals, but then what always sells with our customer base, what people always want, are the prints. So we thought, why not try and make some neutral prints that you can wear without blowing people away.”
Isabella: “We wanted to make something that had a slight classiness using a cream base and black base. This is something you can wear with denim jeans.”
Elizabeth: “Even the turquoise print, which was our little pop of colour, is almost like just a wash of turquoise. The posy print, which is the tiny little floral accents of floral on a cream base, is for people who would normally wear neutrals.”
Isabella: “It’s a pared back collection, but all the flowy silhouettes still give it this really feminine feel which we know our customers love.”
Grazia: Layered prints and maximalism are now big trends in the high fashion world. Your brand has always incorporated both of these. How much does what’s happening on the overseas runways influence your design process, if at all?
Elizabeth: “I think if anything, Spell designs what she wants to wear. That might be based on a trend that we’re loving and living ourselves to the point we use it in our designs, but it’s not like we look to fashion forecasting that tells us ‘blue is in’, so we use it.”
Isabella: “That means sometimes we miss out, like there will be a colour that everyone’s wearing and we’re like, well, we kind of missed that… but we don’t just look at the runways and say ‘okay, we’ll do that print’. I look at my print archives, which doesn’t actually come from the fashion world, it’s all from the art world. For example, I’ve just finished our new jewellery collection and afterward I went, ‘sh*t, I didn’t look at any other jewellery labels for inspiration at all’. I just worked out what I liked, chose some motifs and themes that we liked, and was in my own world.”
GRAZIA: There aren’t many Australian brands we can say have legitimate cult status but your following, your highly-engaged audience and your sell-out collections all prove that Spell & the Gypsy Collective is. So many other brands have tried to do what you have, without success. Where do you think the Spell magic has come from?
Elizabeth: “I think it’s because we were doing what we’re doing now [cultivating an Instagram and blog community] at the at the very beginning of social media. We were engaging.”
Isabella: “We were early adopters [of blogging and social media] and the community that started with us in those early phases were very passionate. They were also very good users and people that shared and pulled community in close. I think they created their own Spell community – we had nothing to do with that. We were living it as well and doing it authentically, which they felt.”
Elizabeth: “I have friends who run their own businesses but hate Instagram, and I feel so sorry for them. They don’t want to do it and it’s killing them, but they do it because they have to, whereas we are immersed in that world.”
Isabella: “Yeah, we’re very visual people.”
Elizabeth: “It was all quite unique because we were blogging and we were creating content but we weren’t influencers or bloggers, we were a brand. Usually brands would engage people to create content for them, or would advertise on other blogs, but we were doing our own, so it was this funny unique place that we sat. We would meet up in the studio on a Saturday and dress up in our silly vintage clothes and take photos of each other and put it on the blog and put it on Pinterest just because we loved it.
“And that’s how [US-based retail giant] Free People found us – on Pinterest.”
Isabella: “We just went in there and did it really well, we weren’t thinking of consequences or our future. I started off making all these leather necklaces any my dad was like, ‘is this what you do, just put charms on a chain and making jewellery?’. I just burst out crying and I was like, ‘I’m going to show you what a bit of jewellery can do! This is what I’m loving and this is what I’m going to do’.”
Elizabeth: “Even when we were very young, like age six, we had visual diaries. We created these life books every year. I still have my life book. I have a Twin Peaks section and I have a Little Mermaid section and a Simpsons section, then a boys and sex section, and Bruce Samazan – oh my god [faux swooning] – and we’d have these books with picture after picture that created this flow. Then when we were in our twenties and travelling, we had visual travel diaries.”
Isabella: “When Lizzie came on board [Ed’s note: Spell started the brand as a jewellery label in her home of Melbourne, but the pair evolved it into clothing after a move to Byron Bay] she was so good at documenting the content was like a Spell travel diary. She went into the blogging world like that, just being able to document.”
Elizabeth: “And wanting to and enjoying it and having a real passion for that side as well.”
Grazia: Do you think that the idyllic lifestyle your brand and clothes lend themselves to – feminine, free-spirited, romantic, festival cool – has contributed to your success too?
Elizabeth: “When we started the brand, we hadn’t had children yet and it was all road trips and festivals and all those things that gave you that sense of freedom. Now we’ve had kids, those things have shifted a little and we might get our sense of freedom from picnic lights in the trees above us. It’s almost this euphoric feeling of freedom or being on holiday amid a relatively mundane life, which we [know] because we grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne. We work really hard here – everyone in our team does – but it’s about bringing a little bit of gold, a little bit of beauty, into the mundane.”
Isabella: “I still get all these private messages from mums living in the suburbs and they’re like, ‘Oh you give me hope. I’m here in the city but I just love seeing what you’re doing, it’s inspiring’. They don’t care that they’re not part of it, they just want to see it. People are just happy to see beautiful things.”
GRAZIA: That’s the thing about aspirational clothes. You put them on and you instantly feel sexier, or more feminine, or more comfortable, or free…
Elizabeth: “It’s a costume almost.”
Isabella: “It’s playing dress-up, putting on what you want to feel.”
GRAZIA: It’s the power of fashion.
And with that, all three of us laugh, though Leila just looks up smiling. This Little Gypsy certainly has plenty of golden fashion and family moments ahead of her.
The Oasis collection will be live on www.spelldesigns.com at 10 am AEST on Thursday 4 October 2018.