Design & Style
30 November 2019
Design & Style
30 November 2019
Co-founders of fashion label Aje Edwina Forest and Adrian Norris continue to break new ground and innovate, recently revealing their first jewellery collection, Aje Adorn, at an exclusive Mercedes me Store Melbourne event.
Surrounded by loyal Aje fans, Forest said the line allows the design duo to express their vision in a new way.
“When we travel, we always go into vintage stores looking for art deco jewellery, and it felt unnatural to us not to have that as part of our collection,” Forest explained. “Our pieces are designed to work with our clothing, rather than overwhelm it. The idea is that they look like they were created by an artisan, that they almost look imperfect.”
She added that the new line allows Aje’s loyal following of fans to interact with the brand in a different way. “We wanted to create something our customers would want to buy for themselves, not jewellery that is sentimental or that someone would buy you as a gift.”
This shift to jewellery design is a natural extension of the duo’s journey so far – which has taken them from Noosa in Queensland to the worldwide stage, before culminating with Aje being named the Mercedes-Benz Presents recipient for 2019.
The co-founders describe their introduction in 2005 as a chance meeting of minds.
“At first I thought he was a Norwegian tourist,” Forest joked. “He came into the boutique I was working in asking for directions, wearing skinny jeans and cowboy boots. He didn’t dress like he was from Queensland!”
After finding themselves at the same party later that evening, Norris revealed he had recently opened his own clothing store in Noosa and needed someone with retail experience to whip things into shape. Forest agreed to help. Fourteen years later, the pair are at the helm of one of Australia’s most celebrated fashion labels.
It was clear Forest and Norris have shared this origin story many times before when they appeared in-conversation at Mercedes me Store Melbourne. They were perfectly in sync as they spoke about the rise of their fashion house and their relationship with Mercedes-Benz.
It was three years after that initial meeting before the designers started their own fashion line, though the idea had been percolating for a while. They explained they had both recognised a gap in the market in Noosa. “We felt there was something missing between what people were being sold when they were on holiday and what they were wearing back in the city,” Forest said. This led them to develop clothing that adheres to three principles – raw beauty, tough femininity and effortless cool – pillars that still anchor the brand today.
Though seemingly simple, those concepts have pushed Forest and Norris to pursue inventive projects that often bridge the gap between mediums. They spoke of Aje’s collaborations with two artistic legacies, Utopian artist Minnie Pwerle (who is known as one of Australia’s most beloved Aboriginal artists) and two-time Archibald winner Brett Whiteley.
“Both are still pinch-me moments,” Forest said of the projects. Norris, who attended art school in Italy and hand-paints all of Aje’s prints, added that he was excited to work on these collaborations because of the “beautiful synergy between art and design”.
Aje’s Awelye 2017-2018 resort collection came about after Norris reached out to the Minnie Pwerle gallery on Instagram, which was established by Pwerle’s great-granddaughter Jade Torres. The fashion house printed Pwerle’s bold contemporary paintings onto their garments and was widely praised for its sensitive collaboration with Pwerle’s family.
This opened the door for a collaboration with the Brett Whiteley Studio, which is under the custodianship of his former wife, Wendy Whiteley. She has never previously allowed a fashion house to incorporate the Australian painter’s work, but was swayed by Norris and Forest’s passion for the project, which resulted in their 2018-2019 resort collection, titled Woman.
“Wendy was adamant that none of the artwork would change,” Norris recalled. “She wanted it replicated exactly on the runway, which was a big challenge. But in the end, she really embraced what we did and we’re proud of what we accomplished. It made Edwina and I design differently, while also staying true to what we do.”
It’s this innovative spirit that resulted in Aje being named Mercedes-Benz Presents recipient and opening Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in 2019 with their resort 2020 collection, Bloomscape. This was inspired by the Australian landscape, as well as nostalgia from Norris and Forest’s childhoods, though the designers were clear from the outset that they would approach this traditional theme from a creative angle. “We wanted to celebrate Australia in a really authentic way that resonated with us, and not go the kitsch route, which seems to be common when brands focus on Australia,” Norris said.
“To be associated with a brand like Mercedes, known as the forerunner of luxury, design and innovation, it’s such a huge compliment. We really wanted to do Mercedes-Benz proud,” Edwina added.
By Emily Tatti