Words by Anthony Thomas – Image by Phebe Schmidt 

“The whole reason I started making shoes was because I got bored making clothes.” That perpetual boredom and subsequent need for innovation are defining traits of Melbourne designer, Audrey Thomas Hayes’, fashion practice.

Both of Audrey’s parents are doctors; something she says drove her away from going down the clinical path of science. Instead finding salvation in her grandmother, an art therapist. “She always encouraged me to be creative. We made piñatas at Christmas, she taught me how to work with clay, we would make jewellery, she took me to dance and drama classes and eventually taught me to sew.”

Now a graduate of RMIT’s fashion course, Audrey tertiary education was a tumultuous time. While undoubtedly exposing her to a wealth of techniques and ideas, she tells me, “studying fashion killed the excitement I once had for making and designing clothes.” A comment that could easily be perceived as carrying tones of premature cynicism but taking a step back to appreciate her perspective on things quickly changes that.

You see Audrey operates at a bizarre intersection of conflicting worlds. A fierce advocate for ethical production of garments, she quickly realised she was not cut out to work in a behemoth fashion house yet is still conscious to the fact that some degree of commercial production is required for financial sustenance. Naturally, it’s the creation and development of conceptual frameworks and design thinking that Audrey values, not the business itself per se.

“When I started university, I was adamant that I would probably never own my own label but at the same time I imagined I would find it difficult to work for anyone who wasn’t like minded design wise or was uninterested in the ethics in production. As I progressed, it became clearer to me that I probably wouldn’t cut it working directly in the production of fashion. I love design development but I’m not so interested in all the ins and outs of the fashion business.”

When I ask if this is an effort to keep her designing pure, she responds with surprising rationality. “I don’t know that I’ll remain completely on the outside. I very much intend to get shoes produced at some stage with the intention of retailing them. I would prefer not to be totally consumed by it all and I suppose I could say yes, I hope that this will keep my output fresh, interesting and ‘pure’ as I will be doing it as a hobby and release, not as a job.”

As it stands, she has only ever produced one pair of each of her designs. What’s more, Audrey herself oversees every element of the process. Everything from the moulds and casts to the finer details is made by hand – a luxury rarely afforded nowadays. What is even more intriguing is Audrey’s process, where she ditches pen and paper for hands on 3D experimentation.

“I might start with a vague idea, but the end result might develop into something completely different and unexpected. As you might imagine, it’s flexible. If I were to instead start by sketching a finished outcome and work backward, you already have a clear expectation of what you want the finished product to be or do and that might not even be possible. The parameters are too tight and unforgiving.

You will find Audrey in her Brunswick studio pursuing this authenticity in the most literal manner. It’s a process of perpetual trial, error and refinement. “Usually I set out to master a particular skill and once I’ve got a good handle on it, I lose interest.” Making this time intensive process probably the only realistic way for her to channel her creativity. It certainly must make the possibilities of digital technology appealing.

“More than anything, I’m attracted to the premise of being able to design something completely abstract and then potentially use a 3D printing robot to generate that physically! It’s exciting.”

At the time of publishing, Audrey had just finished styling a film clip for Melbourne band, World’s End Press. It is her first foray into the music video field and has left her with a taste for more. “It seems to have great potential as a very short but immediately immersive and engaging visual, sensory experience.” That very idea of spatial design is currently at the forefront of her interests and 2014 will see a move to London to further her studies in the field. Prior to that happening, Audrey has a few other projects up her sleeve including a line of shoes in collaboration with H.B Peace. But judging by both her enthusiasm and approach to her practice, it’s doubtful we have seen anything close to the potential about to be unleashed once she makes her way to London.