PHOTOS: NATE PALMER.
Every season or two, sisters Beth and Tessa MacGraw conjure up a new mascot for their label macgraw. For Resort 2016/2017, there was Royal Ralph, a smiling insect with different colorful wing patterns; for Resort 2018, which debuted earlier this month at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia, it is Saint, a golden swan with a red sash. “We always name them,” says Tessa, who hand-draws each print. “We love a little royal undertone,” Beth adds. “That’s why most of our animals will get crowned.”
After a yearlong streak of winning prizes (including The Tiffany & Co. National Designer Award, The Regional International Woolmark Prize, and The Australian Fashion Laureate for Best Emerging Designer) and acquiring enviable stockists (Moda Operandi, Farfetch, Lane Crawford) the sisters wanted to show their gratitude towards their supporters. “We called our Resort 2018 collection ‘Love Letter,’ and that was just to thank everyone, basically,” Beth explains. Some of the love is expressed literally —there are hearts throughout the collection, embroidered into cuffs and collars and printed onto silk linings and blouses—and some of it comes through Saint, whose sash slogan, “loyal,” is also stitched into the collars of blazers. Then there was the runway show itself, which opened with Nicki Minaj announcing, “I’m a motherfuckin’ monster,” as smiling, happy-looking models walked—and then, during the close, danced—down the runway in matching and mismatched pairs of pale pink, red, green, blue, and black velvet slippers. “We like to have fun, and we like our girls to have fun,” Tessa says.
Now feels like a particularly pivotal moment for the duo: when we meet them at their studio in Darlinghurst, Sydney, they are personally packing orders from their e-boutique. The orders come from around the world—Brooklyn and Hong Kong are among some of the visible shipping labels—and they can barely keep up. Halfway through the interview, their parents stop by to help collect some express packages. This June, the sisters will travel to New York, where they lived for over a year, to show their collection with the Australian Fashion Council. In October, they’ll conduct appointments in Paris.
“Mum and Dad had a flooring business when we were growing up,” Beth tells us. “We watched them, and we kind of knew what would be involved in having a business. That’s why we took our time before we threw ourselves into it. We don’t do it in halves.”
DESIGNERS: Beth and Tessa MacGraw.
ESTABLISHED: April 2012.
BASED IN: Sydney, Australia.
DESIGN BACKGROUND: Beth: [When we were quite young,] Mum made all our clothes. She used to hand-smock them. I think we looked like little ladies. I liked it—or, I didn’t like it in the beginning, but I grew to like it. We always had matching [clothes]. I was pink, Tess was blue. I wasn’t jealous of your color, were you jealous of mine?
Tessa: I had red; I loved red.
Beth: You had red and blue.
Tessa: It was alright.
Beth: We started designing pretty young.
Tessa: We used to make clothes for our dolls. There was a doll called “My Child” that we used to love dressing. We used to cut their hair.
Beth: We’d do full shoots. It was Barbie and then the dolls got a bit bigger, and then we started doing it on ourselves.
SISTER, SISTER: Tessa: We’ve always gotten along. We’re just friends, really. We’re just mates.
Beth: Everyone we tell we’re sisters and we work together, they always say, “I could never work with my sibling.” I do feel like we have a pretty rare relationship where we spend—
Tessa: A lot of time—
Beth: Together and are still happy in each other’s company.
Tessa: It is quite a lot, [but] I think we work when we do spend a lot of time together. It’s a bonus.
Beth: I think we’re better together.
Tessa: [laughs] Separately, we’re half a human?
Beth: I can’t explain it.
Tessa: No, I agree.
Beth: There’s an energy. I feel like I couldn’t do this without you on many levels.
Tessa: Definitely. It’s a tough thing to do, really. It’s not easy creating collections all the time. Obviously we love it, but there’s a lot that goes into it.
MUM AND DAD: Beth: Mum and Dad are our financial advisors. Dad likes seeing lots of orders. Mum’s only allowed to wear macgraw.
Tessa: Head-to-toe, now that we’re doing the shoes as well.
Beth: She’s allowed to buy bags and shoes from other labels, and that’s it. She’s got a growing wardrobe. She needs to probably stop buying macgraw.
Tessa: Dad’s always like, “You’ve got too much!” And we’re like, “That’s never going to end, Dad. She’s got to wear macgraw— she’s Jill MacGraw.” But it is quite funny. Sometimes we’ll have a family dinner and we’ll turn up in the same outfit.
Beth: That’s not good.
Tessa: It’s not great. Now we call before.
GRANDMA: Beth: Grandma was a knitter and an embroiderer. On our school holidays, we used to go to Grandma’s house—
Tessa: And knit. It’s kind of embarrassing.
Beth: I actually taught Grandma how to knit lace into wool. I’m quite proud of that. She didn’t know how to, and I was like, “Alright, Grandma. Pull up some needles.” Then she got better at it than me because she’s persistent.
Tessa: Grandma used to do Christmas decorations out of wool, which I love so much. Little Santas. They’re so cute.
Beth: We still bring out grandma’s Christmas decorations.
THE SIGNATURE MACGRAW BLUE: Beth: We decided on that after a trip to the U.N. [in New York], actually.
Tessa: The U.N. has that beautiful blue.
Beth: We were like, “We like that, but it needs a bit more of a purple-y undertone—just subtly.”
CREATING NEW COLLECTIONS, FABRICS, AND PRINTS: Tessa: We’re always thinking about what’s next, and we’re together a lot, so we’re always discussing it. There are a couple of ideas on the mind, and it’s about which one fits the collection best—if it’s summer or winter, what’s the vibe? What fabric?
Beth: It’s different every time.
Tessa: We’ve got a couple of suppliers that we love to use. We’ve got a Swiss supplier that we love for lace.
Beth: But increasingly, we’re making our lives much more difficult by—
Tessa: Creating our own.
Beth: We’ll really like a yarn, and then we’ll build a lace around it. We recently created a merino lace. This particular supplier, they’re supplying all the major luxury design houses, and we wanted to work their machines to do this lace in a merino, which they hadn’t done before. It took some convincing, but it drapes so differently. Usually it’s done in a cotton or a polyester—there’s a lot of different yarns they’ll use—but we convinced them to test out this yarn, which meant something to us, because merino is Australian. Now they’ve put it into their regular production line, which we’re pretty proud of. Even though there are some fabrics that might jump out at us, we increasingly want to create. The idea [for the merino lace] came from a flannel flower, and then we just built everything around that.
Tessa: All our prints are hand-drawn in-house by me, which I think separates as well. I love that part of it.
COLLABORATING WITH THE COUNTRY WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA: Beth: We came off doing the merino lace, and we still want to take our customer on a journey with us. We had a great response to that lace, so we really wanted to use wool. We did a collaboration with the Country Women’s Association of Australia. They’re basically the farmers’ wives, and they do all sorts of events.
Tessa: They embroider and they make cakes.
Beth: They’re a very well-loved group of stoic women across Australia who live in the Outback. They raise money for all sorts of things—welfare, mental health, supporting farmers in droughts.
Tessa: They’re pretty amazing.
Beth: They’re like angels. They knit and they darn and they embroider. It came to me in a dream. I was like, “There’s this untapped resource, and I know they’re going to be thoughtful—”
Tessa: And care.
Beth: And have this hand-touched element. We’re certainly not fast-fashion—we’re very slow, thought-out fashion—and that hand-touched feel, I think people have come to expect from us. We got them to embroider love over our collection—they did these little hearts on the collars and cuffs of our shirting, and a little hand-knitting. We also collaborate with another hand-knitter from Bondi.
Tessa: I think they were probably a little bit overwhelmed at first. They didn’t quite understand what we do or on what scale we would promote them. We had them in the paper at our show. One of them had to do a radio interview the other day, and she called us just before. She was so scared. She actually thanked us—it made my year.
Beth: They’re very dedicated and they’re the most on-time people we work with.
DECIDING DISAGREEMENTS: Tessa: We’re generally on the same page. It is rare that we disagree.
Beth: We are respectful of the other person. It doesn’t happen very often, [but] every now and then you’ll say, “I really think this needs to be in there!” and I’ll go with it. You’re usually right in those moments.
Tessa: [laughs] Thanks!
Beth: But honestly, I can probably count on one hand the number of times it’s happened. We’re very in-sync.
Tessa: As the brand grows and we’ve identified who our girl is, and who our customer is, it becomes so much easier to source fabrics and find what each collection is about.
THE FUTURE: Tessa: We’ve never had the, “I’m quitting moment.”
Beth: There are testing times—like three days before a fashion show, usually, there’s a little meltdown moment. But we’re in this for the long-haul.
Tessa: This is what we’ve always wanted to do.
Beth: We do this to create beautiful things, so that people can have beautiful things to wear. We didn’t get into this so we’d become billionaires. That’s not really how fashion works. You’ve got to be in it for the right reasons
Tessa: And you’ve got to love it.
FOR MORE ON MACGRAW, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.