When movies or books portray a duo as tight-knit as two peas in a pod that finish each other's sentences, it's often perceived as clichéd. Now wait till you meet Vanessa and Gabrielle Manning, the co-founders and designers of Manning Cartell, a label masterminded and produced in Australia since it's birth over 10 years ago. To say that the Manning sisters are in sync would be an understatement, but don't for a second think of them as a sole entity. It's a mutual understanding and recognition of disparate individual strengths that bouys the brand and its fun-loving pieces, keeping not just the Aussies — but also their ever-expanding overseas clientele — coming back for more.
Known for their audacious splashes of colour and covetable textures, it goes without saying that Manning Cartell was the crown jewel of Telstra Perth Fashion Festival's show calendar this past September. A day prior to their resort 2017 runway show, Buro sat down with two out of three of the Manning sisters and found out just why their synergistic relationship, steadfast values for ethical manufacturing and keen sense of adaptibility, will likely take them a long way — regardless of the breakneck speed that this industry is racing ahead.
How did you guys start designing?
Vanessa Manning (VM): We're three sisters and we started our business 11 years ago. We wanted to see what we could create if the three of us came together.
Gabrielle Manning (GM): It kind of organically evolved over the years.
What was your background prior to Manning Cartell. Did all three of you study fashion design?
GM: Yes, all three of us. Very unusual, I know...
VM: It wasn't planned.
Tell me about your individual roles. Do you take care of different aspects of the business or is it a collaborative effort every step of the way?
VM: It is a collaboration definitely, but we have certain areas which we are responsible for. Designing is probably a little more Cheryl and myself but Gabrielle looks after the design of the stores. Design in all concepts come together so we kind of feed off each other. When it comes to the business side, we probably look after that a little bit more, including the marketing of it.
GM: As the years have gone by and we've grown, now we have a team of about 55 staff including our retail. It does begin to...
VM: You stretch a bit more.
GM: Yes, you do, and you start to manage people and it becomes a little bit less about what you're doing every day and you have to oversee everything — it's not just the creative aspect of it.
And what's the best part about working with family?
GM: The support.
VM: And we do have similar tastes and the same work ethic and we...
GM: Have an innate understanding of each other. An unspoken word in a way where you know, you just kind of get it.
How about the worst part of working together, if any at all?
VM: We see each other all the time. We have social visits like family events, and we probably don't get away from Manning Cartell that much.
What would you say the brand stands for? What is the one key quality that holds through every single season.
GM: Integrity is very important to us.
VM: And quality. We produce in Australia and most of our productions are in Sydney. Every collection is full of interesting fabrics, textures, colour and prints, which is the driver for us.
What is good is for us to start thinking about is longevity — not disposable fashion, but pieces you'll actually keep for years.
In terms of style, how different do you think it is in Australia compared to the other major fashion cities?
GM: I think we love a lot of colour and even down to the colour palettes that work across these cities. Beige worked really well in Europe but not so much for us. We're definitely more drawn to more primary and brighter colours.
VM: I just think our lifestyle is very coastal and we dress differently for that.
Could you tell me more about how the brand's production meets the standards stipulated by Ethical Clothing Australia?
GM: Basically, the makers that we use in Sydney have been through a process of accreditation as well. Anything that we contract out, we know that the environment and work is being well looked after. It allows people to be successful in their own businesses as well. We work together and it's more of a partnership with the makers. Manufacturing is a dying art in Australia and we're working with new makers that learnt the trade from their parents. They're situated within a 10 kilometre radius from where we are and what's great is that they can come into our factory and show us samples if they're having any issues. It's very hands on and we work with them very closely. We were already doing this prior to the accreditation, but it became more of an interest to our customers, so being acknowledged by Ethical Clothing Australia was just the next step. It's just formalising it.
That's great. And what are you most excited about the new collection?
GM: The colour is something I get excited about. Spring/summer was more monochrome but this one is full of colour and texture and a lot of movement.
VM: I like the more masculine pieces that clash with the feminine ones.
As fashion and style constantly evolve, what do you think women are looking for in clothing right now?
VM: Layering. People like to make things their own and now for example, instead of just wearing a dress by itself they might put a T-shirt underneath.
GM: Sports luxe is a trend that we've seen going on for seasons now and it's not going away. It's hard isn't it, when everyone is used to walking around in trainers and you try to put a heel on again and it's like... how do I do this? (laughs). Glam's also coming back.
Sartorially, what makes you sit up and pay attention when a woman walks into the room?
GM: I think it comes down to her presence. You can feel that confidence. Something we love about what we do is being able to give a woman that confidence. They put an outfit on and you can just see that they feel amazing.
VM: It's also that nonchalence that they're comfortable with people looking at them but at the same time, they're not needing of that attention, if that makes sense.
What's the design community in Australia like? Do you share ideas and also, being in the industry for over 10 years, do you feel a responsibility to kind of mentor the younger ones?
GM: Yes, and with the Australian Fashion Chamber, I think we're feeling that more and more, being a part of that for the last year and a half. That's something coming to the forefront and we [the designers] do come together more.
VM: Or assist with manufacturing and just helping people to find those relationships that will work for them as well.
So in terms of young designers, who do you think is up and coming in Australia?GM: The McGraw sisters have been getting a lot of attention.
VM: It's incredible that in fashion, there is always someone new coming up with fantastic ideas and it doesn't stop.
GM: The talent in Australia is very evident, but it's a very diffcult and fast paced industry and we're finding that it's getting more and more so especially in the last year. The amount of content we're being served up is just constant. It's getting harder to decide what you actually want to read.
Everything is moving so qiuckly. Of course, there's the 'see now, buy now' model. Is this something you see Manning Cartell doing?
VM: For the shows this week, a lot of the designs will be available in stores in the next few weeks and it'll be interesting to see what kind of the traction we get from it and how customers respond to it. It's one of those situations where you have to keep trying something new. It may be the way forward but we'll see how it goes this week. What is good is for us to start thinking about is longevity — not disposable fashion, but pieces you'll actually keep for years.
GM: Everything goes through phases. Now it's like that but I think people will get to that point where they have to cut off from it. Your brain can only handle that much. It'll be interesting to see that shift in psyche and it's just a constant evolution of the pace. I don't think people can keep up mentally. Instead, they'll be searching out more quality content.
You've got a great point there. And what would you say is the most rewarding moment of your career so far?
VM: I would say the show we just had in Sydney for Mercedes Benz fashion week.
GM: We had it under the Harbour Bridge and it was just a magical moment where the weather was amazing — it was outdoors so we took a big risk in that sense. It could've been raining. The lighting came off the Sydney Harbour Bridge and you could see the industrial elements. It really worked with the collection. We found the space early so we were able to work elements of the location into the designs. Some of the prints kind of mimicked the architecture of the bridge. At the end it was like, wow, really?
VM: No models fell over (laughs). It was all good.
GM: It was a moment when we were really proud. It can be hard to be happy as you're hard on yourself and perceive what you do as never good enough. But this one, it was like... gossebumps (laughs).
On a personal level, what would you say are your most Australian attributes.
GM: We love the beach and the surf. I feel a relaxed calm at the ocean.
VM: I think our personalities are quite relaxed too. We're probably quite at ease.
GM: Yes, fashion can be highly strung.
VM: And totally pretentious as well. I think the above is really the Australian spirit in us. We're not going to take it all too seriously.
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