A Melbourne-Based Tailor Is Cutting a New Standard With Gender Neutral Suiting
I recently went and visited boutique tailor Emily Nolan, at her loft-style showroom hidden amongst the leafy streets of Fitzroy, Melbourne’s coolest suburb.
At first, it was just a regular Tuesday. I’d forgotten to eat lunch, only had one coffee and felt a little anxious to be meeting someone new and cool. I left with an oversized shirt made out of ’50s mafia-inspired fabrication that reminded me of my Nonno feeling emotional, elated and brimming with creativity.
While most retail experiences with tailors exist within a seemingly strict set of rules, abiding to the stuffy and often limiting realm of things “being done a certain way”, Nolan’s warmth and openness was refreshing.
“I’ve got to get in people’s heads, I’ve got to understand them and their life, so I can imagine the life that the suit is going to take on,” Nolan tells me, as we sit on an enormous white couch, sipping on sparkling water in her hybrid work/living space.
“It’s almost an interrogation. Where’s the suit going? It’s all about choosing the right materials for their lifestyle, their work, the furniture they sit on. There’s so much you just wouldn’t think of, without really knowing the person inside the suit.”
As she’s talking, waving her hands about in an expressive and beautifully passionate way, I feel my inner fashion romantic emerge. I’m reminded that fashion is art and art is life and life is people. To be inspired and guided by the customer is the kind of fashion that makes us feel things, because it’s created with purpose. And love.
Originally trained as a menswear tailor, Nolan is determined to cut through the restrictive set of rules that many mainstream brands still abide by. “I like to take the menswear rules, and then just break them,” she says.
Some tailors have restricted sizing, use patterns that they don’t own and therefore, don’t properly understand and quite frankly, often make you feel as though you need to fit to them. Nolan, on the other hand, is all about creating a second skin.
“As women I think we’re taught to edit ourselves. A lot of women say that wearing a suit is empowering, but I think it comes from this idea of what power actually looks like. Traditionally, men in power have worn suits. So it’s almost like if we replicate the man’s uniform, we’re allowed to feel empowered.
“But I actually hate the word ’empowering’ is that context. It’s not the suit that makes you feel empowered, it’s the conversations around it, it’s your connection to what you put on your body, on creating something that feels like you and can be a form of armour that isn’t actually a facade.”
With a focus on also serving the LGBTQIA+ community, creating suits for any age, gender and identity, Nolan’s sizing ranges from 4 to 22. Seeing 30 clients a week of all ages — from a non-binary 13-year-old celebrating their bat mitzvah to an almost-retired female judge — Nolan is constantly learning and growing as a designer, a tailor and a woman, through the interactions she has with her clients.
“They make me excited about ageing,” she says. “It’s amazing to have these close relationships with people I might never meet in real life, who are all so different but so insightful in their own ways. I’ve made some amazing friends along the way.”
Her ability to be flexible with her tailoring, is more than just her curious mind and love for people’s stories. She doesn’t have the boundaries that mainstream tailors have because unlike most retailers, she actually makes her own patterns.
“There are companies that produce patterns you can buy,” Nolan explains, “so you pay big money and they’ll give you a pattern, they’ll give you try on commentary, they’ll give you fabric books. They’ll even teach you how to fit it.”
“That’s how the majority of ‘made-to-measure’ businesses operate. So the fact that we make our own patterns to suit the customer, is a huge point of difference to us. It gives us a lot of freedom.”
This truth behind how made-to-measure brands actually work brings clarity to mainstream fashion’s continued inability to design for diversity. Suddenly, it makes sense that a regular retail assistant wouldn’t know how to fit a person with limited mobility, or someone who is going through a gender transformation — because they don’t have the tools, or the knowledge.
Meanwhile, Nolan’s customers average on six appointments per suit. It’s a “getting-to-know-you process” she says, as well as fittings at different stages of the creative process too. That way, she can curate the suit alongside the customer, so they feel included and end up with a finished product that is exactly how they imagined.
“I really wanted to create a space and brand that doesn’t make people feel misunderstood or not seen,” she says.
“Often when you go into a mainstream retail space, they don’t know what to do with you if you’re even a little bit ‘different’, or a have a request that sits outside of their vocabulary. Like, they might never have seen your body shape before, not be able to do a specific alteration you’re asking for or allow for a naturally fluctuating body weight.
“Every person has a different story. Some people’s bodies are changing due to them taking hormones. Some people’s cultures require them to dress in something more modest, but they still want to feel sexy. Some have limited capacity for motion. It’s about joining them where they are, not making them fit into your box.
“Creating something different each and every time is what makes my job so creative and fulfilling.”
Emily Nolan is the definition of a true designer. She takes people’s stories, their life experiences, their desires for their future and even their trauma, into creating something beautiful for them to treasure forever. Her suits are breath-taking enough to be one-off pieces, yet functional enough to wear every day.
With 600-800 fabrics to choose from and literally a world completely rid of sexist boundaries and limitations, she is sitting in a light-filled space she created, waiting to make your suit fantasies come true.
So, if you’re in the market for having your life changed by a custom-made suit, you should give her a call.
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