Quickly carving a name for itself as one of Australia’s coolest fashion labels, Aje combines urban sophistication with tough femininity and coastal style. With 20 boutiques across Australia and stockists across the world, Aje opened its first international store in Newmarket last year. Zara Overton chatted with the duo behind the brand, co-founders Edwina Forest and Adrian Norris, to find out more about their New Zealand arrival.
N. Can you tell us how the brand started?
Adrian: Aje was founded in Queensland in 2008 between myself and Edwina. We immediately ‘clicked’ after meeting and became best friends. The desire behind the brand was to transition from the coast to the city, as we hoped to bridge this divide between urban and coastal style which at the time was not readily available. Twelve years on, Aje pays homage to a quintessential Australian aesthetic, but with a twist, and with a sense of dualities between us both; the tough and the feminine, the effortless and the cool.
N. What does the name Aje mean and how do you pronounce it?
Adrian: Aje is an acronym for Adrian joins Edwina and is pronounced ‘age’.
N. Your first New Zealand Aje store opened in Newmarket last year. What made you decide to bring the brand to Auckland, and Newmarket in particular?
Adrian: We are thrilled about our new Auckland home. When looking to expand Aje into the global market and launch our first stand-alone store, New Zealand was the natural next step for us to take. Apart from being our closest neighbours, we had seen incredible engagement in the New Zealand market through our online store, ajeworld.com. With the expansion of Westfield Newmarket – the stars as they say, aligned.
N. Have you been to Newmarket before?
Adrian: We visited Newmarket both in the lead up to the launch, while still in the development stages and post launch, to celebrate with our new Auckland team and customers. For Edi and I, it is always truly rewarding seeing the retail concept come to fruition, and being our first stand-alone international store, this process was all the more distinctive.
N. The Aje store designs are breath taking and each is unique but has a very distinct aesthetic, the Newmarket store being no exception. Can you tell us about the design of the Newmarket store and what process goes into the design decisions?
Edwina: With each of our 21 stores, the intention is to create a truly unique and impactful brand experience. We feel that it is important to take the time to consider the unique qualities and touchpoints specific to each location, aspiring to engage each Aje visitor with a bespoke experience. When creating concepts for the Newmarket store, we made a concerted effort to maintain a beautiful flow where customers are able to explore with ease. The store itself possesses such a light and spacious feel to it, emitting a sense of wonder, calm and tranquillity. These elements stem from our Queensland heritage, I think! The in-store product offering is tailored for the Auckland customer, appearing luminescent in contrast to the vibrant white walls. The polished concrete flooring, wooden finishing’s and brass accents, embody the coming together of the brand’s DNA of fusing urban and the coastal lifestyle.
N. Who is the Aje customer?
Edwina: The Aje woman sees the world through curious eyes. She craves adventure and new opportunity and seeks to immerse herself in the world around her and its many great unknowns. The Aje woman is self-assured, aware, tactile and discerning. She seeks growth through experience. She thinks of ‘cool’ as an attitude, as opposed to something you wear. We want to encourage this curiosity and desire for knowledge, as sure-fire ways to feed the soul.
N. What is the inspiration behind your latest collection?
Edwina: Designed in two acts, the Spring 20 offering is titled ‘Révérence’, and pays homage to the ballet, to form, texture, movement and womanhood. We were inspired by the classical and the modern, therefore you will find dancer details such as a fusion of oversized lacing, soft pleats and ‘the Aje sleeve’ – which presents liberation, freedom of form and movement. When creating ‘Révérence’, we had the ballerina and the balletomane in mind, the elegant and the graceful, the confident and the selfassured women. Whether donning this season’s intricately updated suiting, a dramatic sculpted one-shoulder mini, or finding dancer-off-duty cool with trench detailing and man-style shirting, the ‘Révérence’ attitude is at once sanguine and nonchalant. We really love this one.
N. Do you have an all-time favourite Aje piece?
Edwina: Rather than a favourite piece, I have a favourite Aje silhouette. As Aje has evolved, our foundations and creative spirit have very much remained constant. As a brand we are known for untamed volume, which is always paired with structure. Our intrigue in the exaggerated sleeve emerged through our love of experimenting with volume and movement. We find that there is a real sense of freedom created through the use of a billowing sleeve… This freedom is something that we aim to create in all of our collections, an effortlessness that lives at the core of our brand. Since its introduction the statement sleeve has quickly become an Aje staple and a constant season after season. Today, we reinterpret these voluminous silhouettes in new ways, constantly rediscovering the contrasts and proportion in a new light, colour, texture or treatment.
N. Does the NZ customer differ to the Australian customer? If so, how?
Adrian: We feel that there are strong similarities between the New Zealand and Australian customer; both seem to possess an affinity to celebrate home-grown fashion houses, looking locally to seek knowledge and inspiration. In New Zealand what we’ve discovered is a unique and beautiful patriotism. Perhaps it is attributed to an appreciation and understanding of artisan techniques and an interest in premium quality pieces.
Edwina: We can see the Aje customer seeks pieces that can effortlessly slip into our wardrobes to be resurfaced season after season – this approach is something that resonates with us also.
N. Working as a pair must lend to some great collaboration, ideas and perhaps at times some challenges? How do you manage your relationship in both friendship and business?
Edwina: Just as the beauty of our creations innately comes from the differences in aesthetic between Adrian and I, it is this contrast between us as co-founders that serves as the underpinning of the brand and allows us to wear differing roles. We have always organically embraced these differences and the beauty in contrast. As humans, we are emotional beings and we can be so unconsciously contradictory – hard and soft, feminine and masculine, powerful and gentle, assertive and vulnerable, polished and effortless, considered and untamed. Our design philosophy embraces this play on duality creating pieces that empower the wearer to embrace their own contradictions.
N. Are there any particular areas in the business you each focus on?
Edwina: Like with any first-time business owners, Adrian and I have had to wear many different hats throughout the past twelve years of Aje – and often all at once!
Adrian: We both naturally possess a very handson approach to what we do and have applied this to educating ourselves on every aspect of the business. As Aje has evolved and our team expanded, we now focus and specialise our roles – myself as CEO and Edwina as creative director – to focus on those key aspects of the business that we have both organically gravitated towards.
Edwina: This has been incredibly soul fulfilling for us both and has continued to ignite the spark twelve years on.
N. What trends do you think we will see more of in 2020?
Edwina: The exaggerated silhouette will continue to soar; it’s become a mainstay. Updated suiting too has become a major player [for us] – but in bold hues and with intricate detailing. A well-tailored suit is the perfect way to make a statement while looking effortless. More and more women are embracing the masculine suit for formal dressing, which I find very exciting.
N. Aje recently released its first jewellery collection, Adorn. What made you decide to branch into jewellery?
Adrian: We launched our premiere jewellery collection ‘Aje Adorn’ last November which we had been developing for some time. I love how each piece has its own little history and story. We wanted to create a full look for the Aje wearer, necklaces, earrings and pieces which are worn without occasion.
Edwina: Much of the inspiration even coming from my own personal collection and favourite vintage finds that Adrian and I have sourced from around the world.
N. The rising digital environment has enabled brands to more easily connect with consumers from a variety of different touch points, however it has also meant more competition for bricks and mortar stores. How has social media and technology impacted the way you do business?
Adrian: Social media and the digital world are vital components to any business in the age of today. We love seeing a real-time reaction from our customers, when they respond to imagery or Aje Insiders wearing the brand – it’s very exciting to gauge that immediacy to market. For us, we see the two touchpoints between brickand-mortar and online, as a congruent and a truly flawless experience that only strengthens the accessibility of the brand, for Australians and customers abroad like New Zealand, or the United States and Europe where we receive a lot of intrigue.
N. The Aje Report is a monthly journal featuring insider profiles, behind the scenes and significant moments for the brand. What was the reason for creating this online journal?
Edwina: The Aje Insider is something that evolved organically. What became apparent to us in collaborating with creatives in fashion or the arts, is that we have cultivated a network of very special humans via the ‘Aje world’, and The Insider Report became a platform to celebrate and share the blessings and work that these exceptional individuals do – each one a trailblazer in their own right! It has evolved into something that we are deeply proud of, and acts as a constant source of inspiration for our team, and also our audience.
N. What are you reading at the moment?
Edwina: Deepak Chopra is a favourite of mine, so ‘Perfect Health, The Complete Mind and Body Guide’.
Adrian: My book of the moment is ‘Death in the Spring’ by Merce Rodoreda.
N. Best fashion investment?
Edwina: A timeless longlined blazer, a welltailored black suit, an oversized white shirt, and a mid-length dress that can be adapted to suit any occasion, along with one special statement piece whether it be in a bold print or feature artisan detailing. These certainly are my personal go-to styles for everyday effortless dressing.
N. Do you listen to any podcasts? If so, what ones?
Edwina: ‘Business of Fashion’ is an essential resource for anyone in the fashion world and is certainly my go-to podcast.
Adrian: I also tune into BoF as well as Harvard Business Review.
N. It’s 10am on a Sunday morning, where will we find you and what are you doing?
Adrian: I am working out on a Sunday at 10am, more than likely at the designed gym space in Sydney’s Double Bay, Shelter.
Edwina: You will find me at my favourite local gem ‘Fratelli Paradiso’ in Potts Point in Sydney enjoying breakfast with my husband, followed by a stroll through the beautiful harbourside Rushcutters’s Park just nearby.
N. What’s next for Aje?
Edwina: We are so proud to have inaugurated the second decade of Aje by opening MercedesBenz Fashion Week in Sydney last year. It was a statement of recognition for our brand, but also for our loyal customers, many of whom have been with us for coming on 12 years, and who continue to grow along this journey with us. As we look to the future, we always seek to offer our customer something truly unique, and it was incredibly special to mark this milestone moment with them in mind last year. The Aje woman continues to be at the heart of our brand, and shapes everything that we do. We will continue to listen to her, design for her, and grow with her, offering a platform for her to express herself wherever she happens to be in the world.
Shop S277, Level 2 Westfield Newmarket
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