NIKOLINA ERGIC & DANIEL ROMANIN
It didn't take long for Nikolina and Daniel, both 29, to work out they brought balance to each other's designs. The result is the award-winning One Fell Swoop.DANIEL:
I'd always been interested in fashion but because I went to John XXIII College in Mt Claremont, the natural progression was to go to university, so I went and studied commerce. I wasn't enjoying my degree and by second year I'd had enough, so I decided to study fashion at Central TAFE.
From the first day it felt like me, and that is where I met Nina (Nikolina). Even though she was quite outspoken and I wasn't, we somehow eased into a friendship. We had other things in common, like our work ethic because we were always the first and last to leave and would be printing until late into the night.
Eventually, we started helping each other out and even though our criticisms came from different standpoints, they were incredibly helpful. When we looked at our two graduate collections, the amazing thing was you could put them together as one even though they came from totally different places and used different techniques.
It was when we photographed our collections and they looked so nice together that we started talking about starting something. We agreed to outlay some money and rent a studio and our parents helped us buy bulk fabric to get us started. We launched our label, One Fell Swoop, in February seven years ago and things have evolved so much since then.
In our first season, we made our entire collection too avant-garde, which meant it was not wearable for people on the street. So, we looked at where our ideas came from and we diffused them to make them wearable.
When people did start wearing our things on the street we realised it was more validating than to have a really beautiful collection in an amazing show that was talked about but never worn.
I drape a lot, and a lot of it can be 2m of uncut fabric that is twisted and manipulated in some way. It looks good on the mannequin but having to translate that into a wearable sizes 8-14 is a science that Nina is incredible at. Nina is amazing at fixing my unconventional patterns. She puts the structure and order into the ideas I have and sometimes we might spend weeks editing what is on our mannequins until it forms the perfect shape.
We make pieces that people can own by editing and changing them depending on how they want to look or feel on a particular day. For instance, we won't just create a shirt you can wear with jeans; you will be able to twist it or unwrap it and wear it as a multitude of different looks. Even now, we still drape on mannequins rather than just doing a trade sketch and getting a pattern-maker to make it - it means you have to feel around issues yourself and that way you come up with something a little more special.
Retail is quite tough now but we won the accolade of innovative designer of the year (at the 2012 WA Fashion Awards) and we will open the Perth Fashion Festival in September so to get that kind of validation from peers and the industry has meant a lot to us.
Daniel was one of only a few boys in our fashion class when we met in 2001 and he says he noticed me because I was the annoying one who would never shut up. So we didn't become friends straight away, but when we did, the close bond formed quickly.
It was our third year, when we worked on our final project together, that defined our friendship. When it came to design, we had similar interests and studying was all we did so we really connected over being so focussed on our work.
With textile manipulation, he had a heavy-handed application and it was similar to mine. We were also both really competitive but never with each other because we respected each other's work. Perhaps the difference between us was that Daniel didn't know when to stop when he was creating.
Since launching our own label, Daniel has learnt to pull away and know when enough is enough for one piece. Even though he has always had a really beautiful technique, in the early days, his creations were in no way commercially viable. That's because we weren't trained to think about the market - we were taught to produce, not sell, and that was the beauty of studying at an institution like we did. Even though it was the nicest thing to be able to purely design, we realised that if we don't sell pieces, we won't be around. So, a few years ago, we grew up and our styles became more defined.
Now we have a good balance in our business because I respect and admire Daniel's designs but know when to pull him in. I think it's partly because I'm more conscious about the body so when Daniel produces something, I'm aware of who's going to wear it, what it's going to sell for and those sorts of things.
While we both want to have that 20 per cent of our collection that is pure creative freedom, the other 80 per cent does need to be commercial. As beautiful as something is, if a person puts it on and it doesn't make them feel beautiful, they are not going to buy it. Sometimes I think it might be boring, but what we actually find is it works: a beautiful drape can become a detail instead of the whole body.
There have been times when I have thought I don't know whether I can do this anymore because of the stress that comes with what we do.
Sometimes I even hate Daniel's guts because he tells me how it is but I know we are fortunate because we are the only ones who will tell each other how it is.
Our industry is not the easiest and most glamorous to be in even though it appears that way. There is a lot of work that goes into designing and producing something and you have to dream big. Daniel is so optimistic and his passion is contagious. I will never doubt his ability to create and believe in us. He keeps us going and I don't think I could ever design with anyone else.One Fell Swoop is opening this year's Perth Fashion Festival on Wednesday, September 19.