SOMETHING mysterious happens when you arrive on holiday in Byron Bay. The over sized cotton tee you’re wearing suddenly feels dull and the skinny black jeans that felt so right in Sydney feel sticky and restricting. You untie your hair and let it fall around your shoulders. Off with those heels.
When people (in this case, women in particular) get away to Byron Bay, they often want get in touch with something within themselves. Call it the wild feminine, call it the creative within – however intangible it may seem, there is a new fashion scene evolving in Byron catering to this aesthetic desire.
Ali Mandalis, a local surfer, designer of swimwear label Tallow and and one of the first girls I befriended in Byron, told me about experiencing this yearning on one of her many holidays to Byron.
“I saw a girl riding a battered up vintage bike through town. She was barefoot, wore faded denim jean-shorts and a flowing white calico peasant top that sat low on her shoulders. She had long curly hair that blew out behind her. She looked so free. She was Byron. I wanted that feeling.” This is the yearning I’m talking about.
Ali moved here permanently not long after this encounter, (and for the record Ali is now dear friends with the afore-mentioned ‘biking beauty’ who turned out to be Buffalo Girl’s Terry Cronin, another local surfer/designer) – but one doesn’t need to live in Byron to experience this ‘feeling’.
Byron has always had it’s surf wear scene, which is thriving, and then there’s the ‘hippy scene’ where hemp and tie-dye reign supreme, but there’s a new emerging fashion scene which is something quite different.
This new breed of fashion is led by labels that started (literally) at a grass roots level, loyally erecting their market stalls every month at the Byron and Bangalow community markets.
The market stalls are mini-boutiques, decorated lovingly by the designers themselves. Some are adorned with feathers, vintage fabrics and animal skins, some with fresh frangipanis and tall silk umbrellas. Each designer creating their own take on this ‘wild feminine’ aesthetic that shoppers, who travel here from far and wide seem to be longing for.
Enchanting customers from all over Australia, the labels grew in strength and numbers. Iconic labels like Goddess of Babylon, Arnhem, Buffalo Girl and our own label Spell, (all available at gorgeous boutiques Australia wide) all started and still thrive at the markets here in Byron.
“The really exciting thing,” says Myee of Myee Carlyle who has collaborated with locally renowned silk artisan Anne Leon on her latest fashion range “is that you don’t find these breakthrough labels on the main street – they’re tucked away in fabulous little design studios, workshops and artist studios. So finding them can be an adventure”.
While there is wonderful shopping in Byron’s town centre, it’s the hidden treasures that you’ll stumble upon at the markets or in the A&I Park that will truly meet this yearning for a unique and awakening fashion experience.
Tucked between Byron’s town centre and Ewingsdale, the Arts and Industry Park is the epicentre of Byron’s creative and design community. It’s home to numerous artist studios and galleries, fashion boutiques and design workshops.
At Spell, we’ve created a boutique in the A&I Park that is literally our very own Bohemian wonderland – we call it The Gypsy Collective because we’ve sourced a delicious collection of local labels that aren’t that easy to find.
Our hand-made native American inspired jewellery and fashion is set to a backdrop of feathers, leather, turquoise and animal print. The space is our homage to that ‘wild feminine’ within – Goddess of Babylon have a show room nearby and they have their own uniquely luxe and exotic way of tapping into the intangible.
A curious shopper will discover a label like Buffalo Girl in our boutique and we’ll send them off in search of Terry’s workshop to browse her vast collection of leather craft. Then they’ll spot a vintage kimono hanging on her wall and she’ll send them off in search of Byron’s now famous, yet wonderfully elusive, Vintage Warehouse… It’s a treasure hunt!
Emily Edwards of Pooch and Samba elaborates “Small non-mass produced labels like ours could never afford the extravagant cost of commercial rents in town, but the blossoming of this unique shopping precinct means we can create a shopping experience closer to the ‘old Byron Bay’ people long to get in touch with”.
Paradoxically this authentic Byron Bay shopping experience is being driven by labels that are equally as embraced and active in the online world as on the front-line in Byron.
“People find out about us on the internet before they come to Byron and when they get here they go in search of all these iconic labels” says Arnhem Bickley of her label Arnhem, famous for it’s little floral dresses.
Many of the designers have worked long and hard to develop a strong online presence for their labels – surfing Facebook, diligently writing blogs and creating online-boutiques for their customers who can’t always make it to Byron in person. So the phenomenon spreads further… the treasure hunt continues.
The starting point for this treasure hunt is to step away from the main street. Explore the smaller side streets and arcades in town, and venture out to the Arts & Industry Park to discover it’s countless hidden gems.
(An abridged version of this article can be viewed in 2011 edition of the Rusty Miller Guide to Byron Bay.)
This month Coast & Country Living Magazine has unearthed & featured some of the talented designers I’ve mentioned above in a really gorgeous fashion spread.