Gail Sorronda’s home studio is perhaps exactly how you might imagine it.
Monochromatic, beautiful and dramatic – much like the designs for her eponymous fashion label, but with the accoutrements of personal life dotted about the place. Some children’s toys parked over here, old family photos stuck to the wall there. In the corner, there’s a bookshelf crammed with Bukowski, Dostoevsky and Nabokov, plus a stack of old board games.
When not in her James Street boutique, in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, Sorronda lives and works in a hillside apartment tucked into a narrow Hamilton crescent, in the city’s inner north-east. It’s an expansive old place with white walls, high ceilings and dark timber floorboards; a central kitchen helps separate the living and working spaces.
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A dark existential unease runs through Sorronda’s designs, but in person she’s personable, goofy and endlessly self-deprecating. Her home studio reflects that.
“When I’ve needed to bring on help, I’ve sometimes thought that I don’t really want people walking through my personal space. But then I was like, ‘Maybe that’s my ego talking. Who cares?’” she says, laughing. “This is who we are.”
Sorronda’s studio occupies an L-shaped sleepout on the left-hand side of the apartment. It’s a bright and airy space with louvred windows down one side, which she keeps open during Brisbane’s mild winters. The far end of the studio has views across an enormous sweep of the Brisbane River with its ferries and leisure craft, and the skyscrapers of the city in the distance.
There’s a long white workbench, a couple of mannequins, rolls of fabric leaning in the corner, and various garments and headpieces at different stages of completion. What catches the eye, though, is an old Juki DDL 5550-6 industrial sewing machine that Sorronda estimates to be “maybe 30 years old”. Constructed out of cast steel and set inside a work table, its spool pins are adorned with a set of rosary beads.
Sorronda says much of her time in the studio working on a new collection is spent bouncing between the mannequins and the Juki.
“I’ll look at different fabrications and that will inform the direction I go in,” she says. “But if I get a sample fabric, I’ll drape it on the mannequin or drape it on myself to see the feel I get from it. ‘That could make an interesting sleeve,’ or, ‘That could make an interesting hemline.’ You’re just looking for these little notes of inspiration.”
From there, Sorronda will develop a toile and then work with a pattern maker to refine her patterns. Once she has a collection of samples ready, it’s time to produce a lookbook and then send the designs to Sydney for production.
Back in 2019, Sorronda and her husband and business partner Atlas Harwood considered finally renting a separate studio space – but then came the pandemic.
“I’m glad we didn’t because I would’ve never been able to be in there,” she says. “And we wanted to reduce our financial risk as well. It’d be great if we had a bigger space and could separate a bit of life. But then this is so much a part of who we are now.”
Sorronda’s latest collection, Energy Vampire, draws its inspiration from various sources – including her work late last year producing merchandise for Queensland Ballet’s production of Dracula. But it is also, in part, a response to both the pandemic and a yearlong bout of pneumonia that she’s only just beginning to shake.
“Being sick did slow me down,” she says. “I just had to be more disciplined. As soon as I got back from work I’d just go straight to sleep. You had to stop, slow down and prioritise. It really bugged me that I couldn’t read to Juniper [her daughter]. I couldn’t do anything other than just get through the motions of the day. And we had to make the business the priority, as well.
“The name Energy Vampire had been around for a while but I always feel like collections are oracles for me. Everyone’s feeling a bit zapped and worn down. I was physically worn down. A lot of people are suffering and having to address things that we previously took for granted.”
Energy Vampire is in many ways classic Gail Sorronda, featuring all the moody, angular drama that over the years has seen the label wind up in the wardrobes of celebrities Chelsea Wolfe, Winona Ryder, Lorde and Megan Washington. But there’s something particularly striking and stark about this collection when compared to Sorronda’s previous work. The black and whites are punctuated by the occasional blood red. There’s an interplay of the organic and the inorganic; of opacity and transparency.
“It feels particularly serious to me,” she says. “There are lots of human elements with the bows and details like that, but it has this darker energy.
“Every collection has a web of inspiration. But it’s always another chapter in the narrative, in this body of work I’ve done so far, that’s like my little story to share.”
Read more in our Studio Visit series.