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Made in Melbourne: Dress Up

Designer Stephanie Downey behind Melbourne fashion label Dress Up reflects on getting started in fashion
Dress Up's Stephanie Downey
Photograph: Graham Denholm

A denim pantsuit, a beige sweater, a silk shirt dress with a fine line drawing by illustrator Bianca Miro Skoudy: it’s the kind of style you want to copy and paste onto yourself.

Not only are Dress Up’s designs effortless and original, every detail is considered: the fabrics are high quality; the cuts are feminine, but not overly girly; and there’s pockets – proper, functioning pockets that you can actually fit your things in. It’s clothing for when duty calls.

Dress Up began 11 years ago, after lead designer Stephanie Downey completed a fashion degree at RMIT. She never set out to start a label. Rather, she just continued the processes she learnt at university; conceptualising designs and making them a reality. The label grew slowly, mostly through word of mouth. Friends would wear her pieces and she was spurred by the response she was getting. “I never had any money or a backer who invested heavily into it, so it’s grown quite organically,” Downey says.

Better yet, she does it all locally from her Collingwood studio, which is admirable in the age of fast fashion. “The reason why the label’s grown so slowly is mostly down to the fact that we make things locally. Just finding the right makers, getting those relationships and getting them to understand your design and how you want to do things takes time.”

Looking back at Dress Up’s steady rise to prominence, Downey attributes the brand’s success to one key factor: Melbourne. “I think Melbourne is really interested in fostering locally made products and businesses – [consumers] seek it out. There’s a real community and it crosses over with food, fashion, art and lots of other creative industries. I think we’re lucky like that.”

What I wish I knew from the start: “How to have a work-life balance. That’s definitely a challenge. I have a two-year-old now, and that’s helped me remove myself emotionally a bit from work. Work is no longer my everything.”

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