Cashmere At The Beach? Just Ask Banjo & Matilda’s Belynda MacphersonPosted by Styloko
Knitwear on the beach (unless it’s British and winter time) sounds silly. Cashmere on the beach? It’s plain ridiculous. But not so if you happen to live, say, in Bondi Beach, as is the case for Banjo & Matilda designer Belynda Macpherson (yes, the name’s familiar; yes, she is related).
The Australian designer behind the fast-growing luxury cashmere label says back home on Bondi, everyone wears cashmere as a cover up in the sun. And it’s about time we took note.
“People wouldn’t necessarily put cashmere and the beach together, and I think people are interested in why we did that,” Belynda tells us. “But to me it feels natural – it’s a natural yarn, it’s really luxurious, and I don’t think it should be kept for special occasions.”
Of course, Banjo & Matilda isn’t just a beachwear brand, and it isn’t destined solely for the sand – but it is the epitome of Australian living. After seeing a gap in the market in 2008, it was on a holiday with sister-in-law Elle (yes, the supermodel) in the Bahamas when the idea finally came to Belynda to set up shop on her own. ”I would always buy my cashmere in the US or the UK, and at that time, four years ago, no one was really doing a playful version of it,” she says.
“We like to do really wearable cashmere styles that aren’t too traditional. Sometimes the perception of cashmere is still somewhat like the twinset with the pearls look, but I think it’s really quickly moving away from that – a lot of designers are doing really great knitwear ranges these days – so we try and keep it pretty contemporary and fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And, yes, everyone knows it’s a bit more expensive, but you’re really paying for the comfort, the luxury, and something that’ll last you a really long time – these sweaters will last 5 or 10 years.”
It only takes a quick glance (and perhaps an extended grope) at the beautifully lightweight, sumptuously soft staples to realise she’s right, of course – paying £250 for a knit doesn’t seem so sweat-inducing when it’ll last you a lifetime and still look great after wash 19. Plus, this cashmere is S.W.A.L.K (Sewed With A Loving Kiss). At Banjo & Matilda we have the classics – a slouchy cardi or a snug roll-neck sweater (a “cuddle in a cardigan”); the timeless-with-a-twists – a short sweat with an open back or the occasional elbow patch; the luxury loungers – loose-fit pants or easy-wear shorts; and then there’s the fun, novelty range, where sweaters and cardigans are pimped with playful prints – and which is just about to launch exclusively at Net-a-Porter.
“I think the buyers at Net-a-Porter are amazing, they’ve actually pulled out the best pieces in the collection, the things that are my favourite. I’ve been a fan of Net-a-Porter for years and there’s only a handful on Australian brands on Net-a-Porter, so it’s really exciting for us,” she says of the scoop. And what can she tell us about the collection?
“We try and capture the zeitgeist of the moment, what’s going on, not just fashion, but the world. For this collection in particular, everyone was a little bit tired of the seriousness of the financial crisis, so we did something very lighthearted and almost childlike. The novelty print sweater is what we’re being known for now, and it’s pulling a bit of momentum. It’s all about a mood: you put on the star sweater when you’re feeling like you want to have a light day, or maybe you put the love sweater on if you want to be cute – or if you need some love.”
But teaming up with Net-a-Porter isn’t her only collaboration. In fact, Belynda pairs up with a ‘celebrity’ – “we’re steering away from celebrity per se and looking more to artists and musicians” – each season to design a capsule collection for Banjo & Matilda, and for AW12, it’s renowned artist Tracey Emin.
“With Tracey, I really liked her artwork, and I was able to get hold of her and she really liked the concept. We went through all of her artworks to choose two original prints, and we literally took the art straight off her board and put it onto the cashmere sweater. These prints only exist in two other places - Elton John has one as part of his private collection, and the other one is hanging in the New South Wales gallery in Sydney – so they’re pieces that people don’t have access to. It’s almost like buying a little piece of Tracey Emin.”
Two of Emin’s prints, one reading ‘She Went Out Like a 40 Watt Bulb’ and another saying ‘Peace of Mind’ have been placed on the back of a limited edition cricket cardigan, available in black or white from late July (Kate Moss has just ordered the black 40 watt version, FYI). And was Emin involved in the design?
“Oh, very much so,” Belynda enthuses. “She had something similar that she loved in a different colour, and she said, ‘I love this but this needs to be a bit longer, and this sleeve needs to be a bit different’. She comes to Sydney every year and so we actually had quite a long design process together.”
Of course, we have to come back to one very obvious thing about Belynda Macpherson: she’s Elle’s sister-in-law.
“My ultimate fan is Elle, and it’s a big compliment because she’s always been a fan of French cashmere brands, but now all she wears is Banjo. I know she’s so particular about quality, so it’s a big compliment for her to wear my stuff. I mean, she really wouldn’t wear it just because I’m her sister -in-law if she didn’t really love it herself, so it’s a massive compliment and she’s so generous with her time.”
Does she ever get involved on a deeper level?
“When I bring out a collection I always show her my lookbook and she always tells me what styles she likes best, but I think it was a fine line that we had to walk. We’ve always been quite close, I’ve always really admired her business acumen and the success that she’s had, so in a way she’s a bit of a muse for Banjo & Matilda – unofficially. I think we’ve both been really careful to not be too involved in each other’s businesses – she was very careful to make sure that my business didn’t become about her, so for her to just wear it a lot and be supportive in that way, through a genuine interest and passion for the brand, has probably been the best way we could do it.”
Indeed. Needless to say, there’s a new Macpherson on our radar, and boy are we glad we found her.
EDIT 19/07/12: Banjo & Matilda is now live exclusively on Net-a-Porter! Shop the collection here.
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