Antipodium designers unveil the cheeky messages behind their clothes

Antipodium's designer shows how humour is haute, writes Tessa Chan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 10:27pm

Geoffrey Finch - the brains behind Antipodium, one of London's favourite contemporary labels - hails from the small, southeast Queensland town of Toowoomba.

"It's a bit like the Texas of Australia," he says during a visit to celebrate the brand's launch at Harvey Nichols. "I grew up at rodeos."

He has lived in the English capital for nine years now, but it took him some time to break into the city's fashion circuit.

"After I finished school, I went on an exchange to France, where I ended up studying the principles of haute couture. Then I went to London for a week and fell in love with the city. I went to Central Saint Martins for my interview, and they said: 'Yes, yes, yes! Please, come and join us. And the foreign fees are ... " Finch laughs. "So I thought, 'Right, time to take the back door to fashion.'"

After heading back to Australia for a few years to work in fashion wholesaling, he tried his hand in London again. This time, he met Ashe Peacock, who had founded Antipodium one year earlier. "Back then, it was a shop and wholesale and PR agency bringing Aussie brands to Britain. I arrived and started interning with her in 2004, then ended up running the operation," Finch says.

It was when they made a capsule collection of their own designs that they captured the attention of the British media and buyers. "We noticed a gap in the market - and on our racks - for design-led wardrobe staples, so we started making up a few bits. Liberty saw it in the corner of the showroom and sent down British Vogue. It was just a few bits and pieces, and they were both like: 'Please, can you expand it?' That's when we started to get serious about it."

Peacock and Finch, fellow Australians, hit it off. "I think there's a sort of pragmatism, a lack of pretension, that we share. It's that nonchalance to our clothes that's quite Australian, but combined with a London sensibility," says Finch. "And we've got a very similar sense of humour."

It's this sense of humour that helps define Antipodium's approach to style, with Finch picking often wacky themes and transforming them into surprisingly wearable collections. Does he think fashion takes itself too seriously? "Yes, totally. They're only clothes, at the end of the day. I mean, they're lovely, and we're all making a crust off them, but we're not really saving lives.

"Life's too short," he adds, referring to the Circus of Fashion, so aptly described by British journalist Suzy Menkes earlier this year in an article that laments how narcissistic the industry has become. "The women I find inspiring are, you know, funny. They're witty and like to have a good time."

Fortunately for Finch, the women who are drawn to Antipodium include style influencers such as Alexa Chung, Pixie Geldof and Susie Lau of Style Bubble.

"Yeah, I guess it's a big stamp of validation, isn't it?" he says, confessing that when television presenter and model Chung first dropped by their showroom, he had to Google her to see who she was.

For pre-fall, the theme is "Top Gear". This encompasses everything from industrial design to John Chamberlain's car crash sculpture to the aggressively sexy, karate-chopping Amazonian babes in Russ Meyer's 1965 cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

"It's all about stepping into this male-dominated domain, the garage, the pin-up poster, the sexy curves. It's about our woman being behind the wheel, that need for speed," says Finch.

"With Antipodium, it's a very knowing sense of humour. I think our girl dresses for herself so she isn't doing sexy per se, but if she is doing sexy, it's in quite a feminist sort of way."

Tongue-in-cheek dashboard prints feature colourful speedometers that form giant polka dots on silk crêpe de chine. Look closer and you'll spot hidden little erotic touches. "There's always a little hidden element to our prints," says Finch. "Sometimes they're too rude to tell anybody about, though."

The prints are by illustrators Craig Redman and Karl Maier, known as Craig & Karl, old friends of Finch who also worked on art direction for Antipodium's autumn-winter collection. "Yeah, we're a little pack. We were all friends in Brisbane. I've worked with both of them previously; they're amazingly talented. We work with different artists all the time, but this collection felt really right for them."

Finch casts a wide net when it comes to inspiration. "I get the mood of the collection together, and then I discuss it with our collaborators," he says. "We've worked with Jaime Perlman, creative director of British Vogue; Pernilla Ohrstedt, this incredible architect who did the Coca-Cola pavilion for the [London] Olympics; and Tim Goodacre, president of the British association of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgeons. It'll come to me, 'Right, that's what we're doing,' then I drive everyone nuts by living that."

Leopard print also gets an update on the Intersection Coat, featuring industrial designer Marc Newson-inspired panels. "It's a fascinating thing, leopard print. I've realised that it's genuinely a neutral, and it's a social leveller: from Alexa Chung to girls in Essex."

For autumn-winter, the theme evolves into what he calls "Sex, Lies and CCTV Surveillance". "I went from the garage to security cameras … and that's where it all was. It all sort of flows on and merchandises in together," says Finch.

It's surprising that Antipodium's clothes manage not to come across as overly conceptual. "It's about refining it down. I guess there are levels you can connect with the clothes on."

They paired up with Asos earlier this year for their debut shoe collection and, as of August 26, will release with the online retailer a new collection for autumn-winter, featuring velvet peep-toe ankle boots and winklepickers in snakeskin and velvet.

"We've had some pretty spectacular growth," says Finch. "It's exciting to be with Harvey Nichols here - we also have Edit and Liger - and in China, Galeries Lafayette have just come on board. It's amazing how sophisticated the consumer is here. We're processing what to do for next autumn-winter at the moment, and walking around the streets, it's like, 'Wow, that's going into next season.'"