Romance Was Born. Passion project to brand.
running a creative business
The harvest: via Vogue
Together Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales, explorers of the relationship between fashion and art, have garnered worldwide respect for their luscious runway shows and designs. Bold expressions, vibrant imagery and dreamscape-y collections have attracted style mavericks and mavens such as Cate Blanchett, Tavi Gevinson, Nicki Minaj, Karen O, MIA, Natasha Khan, Cyndi Lauper, Lily Allen, Grimes and Miley Cyrus to RWB …
At The Metropolitan Museum of Art. just to the left of the Camp: Notes on Fashion installation’s entrance is an inset display of sparkly ensembles;
“A moment of enjoyment” reads the text behind a trio of mannequins gussied up in sequins and glittering embellishments.
The two leftmost looks are by the London designer Ashish. On the right are the first pieces ever designed by an Australian label to be included in one of the museum’s Costume Institute shows. It’s a black skirtsuit—sans shirt—with rainbow plexiglass broken hearts and moons from Romance Was Born’s Spring 2015 Cooee Couture collection, inspired by the work of Australian couturier Linda Jackson. The outfit in the exhibition is a remake of a Romance Is Born runway look that designers Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales made especially for the museum.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us and a wonderful compliment,” the pair told Vogue Australia at the time of the show’s opening. “We’re proud to celebrate the country we were both born in and continue to live in. Of course, we understand the importance of a global audience, but it is so flattering to represent our country in this way.”
On a sunny autumn day in Sydney, just after the Camp show had opened in springy New York, Plunkett and Sales were perched on a different museum’s steps. Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, known for its science displays and pop-culture exhibits, also doubles as one of Oz’s best fashion resources. In recent years it has staged shows that feature the wardrobe of Isabella Blow and celebrated the career of Akira Isogawa.
But more exciting than what goes on display is what’s in storage. Across the road, through some security guards and many locked doors, the Powerhouse houses the costumes from every single Baz Luhrmann film, as well as a treasure trove of historical dress. Somewhere between the 18th-century Australiana and Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous Hawaiian shirt from Romeo + Juliet is also a cache of Romance Was Born pieces.
Handlers are shuffling a rack holding a dozen or so of Plunkett and Sales’s favourite designs. “That one is the Cate Blan-ket,” says Sales. The knit dress has quite the backstory: In 2009, [Cate] Blanchett wore it to an exhibition opening in Melbourne; a local tabloid invented the moniker, and the press went wild.
Plunkett and Sales seem pleased by the pun. As they tell it, their Romance Is Born project is sort of like an in-joke gone serious. They just never really thought that two best friends with wicked creative streaks would become a business, let alone a brand recognised by The Met.
As fashion students at the then East Sydney Technical College Plunkett and Sales met at a dance party. By 2003 they had dressed Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in a googly-eye top for a concert in Sydney. Two years later they entered a fashion competition in Italy and needed to come up with a name.
“We were at a stage in our lives when we were really into going out and having fun. The [name comes from the] whole idea of the heightened feeling of that,” Plunkett remembers. “We just thought it was hilarious as well. There’s a lot of humour and fun in our work.”
They pulled the words Romance Was Born off a pin Sales’s cousin had bought in Chinatown. “We just thought it was funny and cute,” he says. “It was a joke, but as time went by, it came to emulate everything we wanted to achieve.”
Nearly 15 years later the joke is on them, in a way, because a pair of mates who loved “hanging out and making crap” have become the most powerful voices in Australian fashion. They have dressed celebrities, made the cover of Vogue’s Australian imprint, and turned their passion project into an international business [including …] a couture show in Paris.
Plunkett and Sales have managed to structure Romance Was Born as a fully fledged business that balances their creative urges with the realities of retail.
“The last five years have been when we both realized that this is what we want to be our career,” says Sales. “We always loved the idea of fashion. We’ve only just realized recently that clothing is what we’re in the business of.”
Growth means thinking about what’s commercial and what’s not. “It’s a balancing act,” says Plunkett. “Branding is something we’ve been talking about more seriously recently because that’s such a big part. We don’t sit down and think, ‘What’s the mood of the season?’ or, ‘Who is the model of the season?’ We’re just so concentrated on the garments, but I think it’s so important to have a sense of what a brand means.”