Inspired by mental illness, archaeology and criminology, coastal born designer, Ebony Munro, defines her work as a “history museum of souvenirs of time,” where “the brand itself, is thyself.” It’s an approach to design that, though at the other end of the spectrum, sits on the same pane as Isabelle Hellyer’s. Through all is a gentle spring, she’s liberated us from costume stores and offered us a pared back, dress-up box style, where each shade of lavender, each button, gets more consideration than her life choices. Together, the work of Hellyer and Munro converge to form a functional fantasia. One where you can eat a jello salad wearing a ball gown while pondering the scale of life on earth. We spoke to them about it.
What-Else: Where did you grow up and how did you grow up?
Isabelle Hellyer: I was born in San Diego. I started school in a town of about 10,000 people outside of Boston. Nice memories there. It snowed, and there was this restaurant — name redacted — which had an all-you-can-eat buffet that was like $6 for adults and free for kids, so my parents would take us there all the time. I remember loving that buffet, 'cause they always had Jello salad at the dessert station. When I was in Primary School, my family moved to Australia, and I grew up in Canberra. No more Jello salad.
Ebonny Munro: In a beach town called Merimbula in South NSW. The people there can be hard, but the nature felt raw and really beautiful.
What is your process of making decisions daily? And creatively?
Isabelle Hellyer: Big decisions are easy, you go off your gut feeling. You just know! Small choices — between lavender or violet fabric, between white or cream buttons — those are harder. So I ask for friends’ opinions often. I’m lucky, my friends have good taste. I wanted to do a water bottle for this collection and that seemed to be taking forever, ‘cause everything on my shortlist was so similar. I ended up sending half a dozen friends pictures of six near-identical stainless steel bottles and going with the majority vote. Not particularly creative there.
Ebonny Munro: I guess there is no life guide to the E.M. decision making sector. I just live my life in the moment, I make no plans really, I'm a "yes, lets do it now type of human, I’m not one to dwell on an idea without going in with full force and making it happen.
With jewellery, I get obsessed with a concept and go hard into it. It makes it easy for everything to come to life, I write lots of two word combinations or sentences and that inspires me to be stuck on a theme. I believe that mistakes when soldering and making jewellery are supposed to happen when creating new pieces, and I am very experimental in my lab.
What is your favourite meal?
Isabelle Hellyer: Jello Salad. Just kidding. Nice home cooked Italian.
Ebonny Munro: Morrocan chickpea tagine, very special when shared with loved ones, I have a tagine pot and pop on traditional morrocan music and light my morrocan candles inside of their glass houses that reflect beautiful shapes on the wall. It makes me feel at home.
When did you start thinking about design?
Isabelle Hellyer: Tough! I was always drawing ball gowns as a little kid. Maybe we can count that as design, if we’re being generous. I never really stopped being interested in clothing for more than a year at a time; it was something I’d always come back to. When we moved to Australia, we lived with my Grandparents for a couple years, and my Grandma taught me how to sew. Kids don’t have much patience, though. I just wanted new clothes. You need patience to finish anything well. all is a gentle spring has certainly taught me patience.
Ebonny Munro: I became obsessed with opals and amethyst and began to learn to solder by watching men in Bali make jewellery. It’s something I began to do at 19. I came home from Indonesia very inspired and just brought some equipment and went rogue on working out how to make jewellery with metal. The rest is history.
What interested you in creating your own distinction in fashion?
Isabelle Hellyer: I wanted to wake up and look forward to the day ahead of me. And I wanted to build something of my own. I knew I enjoyed design, image-making, and even plugging numbers into spreadsheets. Those were all satisfying to me, and could be rolled into one job: running a label. The only way to succeed is to work hard, and I think it’s much easier to work hard for yourself than for someone else! It wasn’t ‘cause I had something I just had to say to the world through clothes. It was because I wanted to live a happy life! ;-)
Ebonny Munro: I haven't thought about that before really. I tend not to look at what everyone else is doing, yet draw inspiration from paintings and music that I like and that reflects in my wor. My interests all seem to entwine into a world of their own that in return are distinctive of my style of craftswomanship.
How would you describe your brand?
Isabelle Hellyer: It's a way to enable a style of dress that I want to see more of. In the beginning there was a dress-up box, storybook style that I felt people were interested in, but it wasn’t really available outside of costume shops. I wanted to pare back cosplays and historic costumes enough to make them a part of an everyday wardrobe. And I try to do that using what’s around me. I try to source fabrics locally, produce on-shore, and work with people I know and love.
Ebonny Munro: I guess it's like a history museum of souvenirs of time and interests of my journey through life. There are spiritual elements and themes concerning intuition and spiritual instinct. The brand itself is thyself, so it’s a mirrored reflection of my interests. Right now I am very invested in pursuing a brand that is pushing for something close to my heart, which is mental illness, without creating awareness it seems selfish for it to just be about my interests. I have been moving towards creating something outside of thyself for the greater good. I don’t believe a brand should be without soul and well wishes and helpful in some way
What motivated you to take your own perspective on design into a real life business?
Ebonny Munro: I had to express that normality is a construct that is okay not to be a part of,
and it was easy to portray this with the internet rising at the time I began making jewellery. I also didn’t have many great options in my life, always feeling like an outsider and failing at normal constructs of society.
What are you currently looking at towards new things you’re making?
Isabelle Hellyer: God, it takes a long time when you’re small. I have ideas I’ve been slowly realising for close to two years now. The collection I’m most looking forward to is a print collaboration with Tim Hardy. We’ve lived together, we’ve worked together, we’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together. I love Tim. And I admire his work ethic. He’s got natural talent which he doesn’t squander. He’s always shooting. It will be really fun to interpret his photographs as prints.
Ebonny Munro: Mental illness awareness and rare diseases are my motive to create beautiful new pieces as celebrations for each “illness”. As I polish the silver shiny, and set healing natural gemstones in the adornment, I will be making wishes to take our people who have been put in the shadows of our societies into the light, like the gleam of a mirror shine polish on jewellery. One of the pieces will be inspired by Schizophrenia and it's the most beautiful piece I have ever made. Others will be Alice in wonderland syndrome, which my partner and I have experienced before. It's a phenomena that happens when you feel like everything around you is massive and you feel like a tiny person.
What does 2021 look like to you?
Isabelle Hellyer: Good. I’m happy. I’ve found the rhythm. 2020 was gonna be the year of international expansion! Of a studio in Los Angeles! That wasn’t the case. I’ve adjusted. 2021 is about working with what you’ve got. The grass isn’t greener. Actually, in Australia, we’ve got some of the greenest grass in the world. Chloe Cockran did a funny-ha-ha series of trend predictions on her pod Xnorkpowka. She said this year was about something like, “creating the moment, not waiting for it to happen around you.” Works better when she says it, so go listen, but that’s it. We’re in Australia, and we’re not going anywhere for at least a year. There’s no London, Paris, New York. So whatever aspirations you have: realise them here, at home. What’s the meme? Me: I want Paris. Mom: We have Paris at home. Put up a picture of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or something. In COVID-era, this is really as exciting a place as any.
Ebonny Munro: According to the stars, wondrous. According to the earth, I will be busy studying archeology and simplifying my adornment collections. Time will be a big theme and I will be consuming information on archeology and criminology which reflect both the crimewave collection, and b.c. ghosts previous collections with my jewellery making which could just be a potion for the best things yet.