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In conversation with macgraw and stylist Kelly Hume

Beth and Tessa Macgraw with stylist Kelly Hume. Photography by Jake Terrey. Photography by Jake Terrey

When the candy-coloured doors swung open on macgraw’s giant pink dollhouse during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia last year, even the most po-faced members of the front row couldn’t help but light up with beaming smiles. Smiling models with bouncing Charlie Girl hair skipped down the runway in super sweet lace dresses to a soundtrack that ranged from The Crystals’ 1963 hit “Then He Kissed Me” to Iggy Azalea’s ode to 21st-century sass, “Fancy”.

The inspiration for the resort collection may have been French royalty, but the gorgeously girly presentation was Marie- Antoinette-via-Sofia-Coppola cool – a highly contemporary collection for modern-day scene queens. As design sister act Beth and Tessa MacGraw took their bows to euphoric applause, a third de facto sister cheered backstage: their mentor and stylist Kelly Hume, then pregnant and mere days from her due date. But Kelly was adamant: the show must go on.

“Thankfully she didn’t go into labour during the show,” Beth laughs. “When we came backstage afterwards we all cried together because we realised we’d just done our best show ever. We’re so grateful to Kelly for giving us that.”

“I just felt so invested in their brand and I guess I didn’t want to let them down,” explains Kelly. “I convinced myself that my daughter wouldn’t come early because, selfishly, I didn’t want to hand [the job] over to anyone else.”

Backstage and on the runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Macgraw on the runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

Kelly’s fierce passion has helped make macgraw one of Australia’s most exciting new fashion brands, winning the $50,000 2016/17 International Woolmark Prize Australia and New Zealand regional final prize, the $100,000 2016 Tiffany & Co. National Designer Award and the 2016 BT Emerging Fashion Designer Award. Since starting the label in 2012, Beth and Tessa have garnered a fan base that includes Karlie Kloss, Lorde and Lou Doillon.

“Kelly has been on the journey with us since our first show at Fashion Week in 2014 and we trust her absolutely,” says Tessa. “It’s been so important for our evolution to have an outside perspective and a sounding board to bounce ideas off.

“She certainly does push us. Her influence runs through all aspects of our business, including the design process; sometimes if she sees a silhouette she thinks we’ve done before she’ll ask us where the evolution is and we’ll go back to the drawing board. We value her input in everything we do.”

“When I met the girls there was a real rapport,” Kelly says. “If I’m going to spend a lot of time working with people ... I need to be able to be honest, to crack a joke and ... be myself. I also saw so much potential [in] them.” Once the relationship was formed, the inaugural item on the agenda was refining exactly who the macgraw woman was.

Macgraw backstage at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Backstage at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

“She has a sense of humour and she is cool, but not too serious, and there is an irreverence to her, which I love,” Kelly says.

“[She’s] a little bit of a cool London girl, she’s a little bit French and feminine, but she has an Australian sense of humour. That’s what makes the brand so successful, because the fashion doesn’t feel particularly Australian, so it has universal appeal.

“What you send down that runway needs to be commercially viable, but it also needs to pack a punch and set your brand identity for the coming season so you get press off of it.”

From working as the fashion director of Stellar magazine and GQ Australia, to consulting on advertising campaigns, to dressing celebrities and styling for television commercials, Kelly has developed a 360-degree view of the industry that has proved invaluable to macgraw. And as the women continue to work together, they have bonded over everything from a shared love of French chanteuses to the joys of taking contemporary jazz dance classes.

Winning the regional International Woolmark Prize. Winning the regional International Woolmark Prize.

“We all love that Jane Birkin and Lou Doillon Frenchie cool-girlwith- a-messy-fringe thing,” Beth says. “We are all also really into music, which is incredibly important in our shows because all three of us used to dance jazz, and we share a love of the showmanship that comes from that as well.”

In terms of putting on a show, Kelly helps the sisters through the whole process – casting, music, set design and whatever else that needs to happen in order to make an impact. And as the business has grown, the focus has shifted overseas. The sisters show their collections in New York and London, and in September 2016 took part in the Australian Fashion Chamber’s Australian Designers Abroad showroom in Paris.

“The thing I most admire about the girls is they are taking every step of the business slowly,” says Kelly. “They weren’t those girls who came out of design school and said, ‘I’m starting a fashion label, I know everything.’ These girls do everything themselves and their work ethic is unbelievable. I’ve never met two people so determined to make a success of it – they inspire me to do better myself.”

Words by Georgina Safe

Photography by Jake Terrey