Capitalising On Australian Aesthetic Tropes, The Menswear Label Of Lukas Vincent Brings Something Particularly Unique To The Market.
Mitchell Oakley Smith
Australia might be the home of Merino wool – following its colonialisation, the country prospered as a result of its production and export of the prized raw fibre – but given the relaxed lifestyle Down Under, you don’t expect one of the world’s most talented emerging menswear designers to be based in a suburban area outside of Melbourne. And yet it’s exactly this landscape – of surfers and beaches and a strong disregard for sartorial tradition – that has propelled Ex Infinitas to global recognition.
“When I first took my collection to Paris to test the market, my agent said, ‘You’re an Australian brand, so what you do should feel Australian’,” explains Lukas Vincent, the designer behind the menswear brand. “I was always very embarrassed to tell people where I was from – it’s not Paris or Milan, or even Sydney for that matter – but the labels that do well today are those that adapt and embrace their heritage, so it was important for me tap into something that was personal.”
The resultant collections blur the line between a department store’s traditional categorisation of high-end luxury and urban casual, with garments such as wide-legged denim jeans, wool chiffon singlets, wrap-around robes in towel-like wool yarn and low-cut double-breasted blazers. “Creatively, that’s how I like to operate, because I love a pair of jeans, a staple in the wardrobe, with a t-shirt, but then I love ultra-luxurious fabrics and beautiful tailoring,” says Vincent. “Ex Infinitas is a melting pot of those things.”
These binaries point to Vincent’s experience in the industry, which runs the gamut from marketing and merchandising through to design and buying. Having initially studied at the prestigious RMIT University’s bachelor degree in fashion design, the fashion-obsessed student dropped out after six months to pursue his passion in a more hands-on way. “I didn’t want to just cut patterns, even though I know how important that is. I wanted to do it all.” And so it was that, by chance, Vincent met Bettina Liano, an Australian designer then – in the mid 2000s – at the top of her game with a raft of standalone retail stores.
Here, Vincent climbed the ranks over the course of several years – his CV came to include titles such as PR and marketing assistant, accessories buyer, designer and in-house stylist – before leaving for a design role at the Australian operation of Lee, the renowned denim jeans company, where he grew the men’s business from 25 to 75 per cent. “That experience was part of the reason I wanted to start a menswear business, because I saw such an enormous opportunity for men’s fashion that was built around a core of denim and tailoring, but an offering that pushed the boundaries a bit, too.”
The challenge in running his own business, admits Vincent, is straddling the creative pressures with the commercial. “I’m a one-man-show, which means I devote just about all of my time to keeping the business running, so if I'm to ever get any time to actually design, it means being really, really organised,” he says, noting the additional challenge of building a business from the southern hemisphere. “It often means I don’t get the luxury of draping on a mannequin, or seeing things [from a maker] on a fit model, as well as the obvious differences of time zone and season.”
Winning the International Woolmark Prize, then, would make an enormous difference to Vincent and the Ex Infinitas business. “The thing that really motivates me most in this program is that an Australian has never won before, despite Merino wool coming from Australia- and I love a challenge. I hope I can win for everybody in our country.” Admiring the trajectory of fellow local designers and former International Woolmark Prize finalists, such as Strateas Carlucci, Vincent plans to use the platform to continue showing his wares abroad, with the ultimate goal of building a business that’s truly international.
Of his collection for the forthcoming final in Paris in January, Vincent says that he wanted to subvert the traditional uses of wool in fashion, modernising it in the process. “There’s been an incredible surge in technical types of wool, like those used in sportswear and athletic wear, and for my brand, being so inspired by surf culture, that really works,” he says. One such material is a washed wool-nylon blend, as well as a super-fine wool chiffon (weighing in at 15.5 micron) used in a singlet and turtleneck sweater. “I like that level of innovation, of showing wool in its most versatile light.”