Flatiron designers Sam Scally and Penny Duggan were almost destined for fashion. The sisters remember “falling asleep to the whirring of our mother’s sewing machine late at night”, resulting in beautiful “velvet A line dresses with leather knee high boots” and “broderie anglaise tiered dresses” that the girls were matched in...
When the two became mothers within weeks of each other (“not planned, we swear!”) history repeated itself – Sam and Penny founded a baby fashion brand together, the first of a number of businesses the pair collaborated on. This was followed by an interior styling business, and finally by the happy accident that was to become Flatiron: “It started when Sam designed a couple of dresses that she felt were missing from her own wardrobe”, they explain. “ A few friends noticed her dresses and asked to have some made up for them. This then evolved to pre orders through small salon sessions held at home, and then eventually we opened the doors of our flagship boutique in Melbourne’s inner East.”
When we ask the designers what their wardrobes were missing pre-Flatiron, the answer encapsulates what the brand stands for: “FLATIRON is the antithesis of fast fashion”, they say. “We wanted that casual cool, and we want our pieces to be treasured, and to hold a place in our customer’s wardrobe, and heart, forever.” That’s why everything about the label is so considered. From reversible pieces, to detailing that can change a sleeve with a simple unbuttoning, Flatiron is designed to transcend trends and time. Collections are designed with previous ranges in mind, so that lovers of the label can build new pieces into their existing wardrobes. And when it comes to fabrication and cut, well, no corners are cut.
We spoke to the sisters about their brand, their fashion philosophy, and why their mum is their style icon…
Images: Mandy Couzens | Visit FLATIRON
Talk us through your careers prior to launching Flatiron. What sparked the foray from interior styling into fashion?
Prior to having our children, Sam enjoyed a long career in the fashion industry; in product development and buying, so it is natural that she was drawn back to fashion. Penny came from a background in homewares, and magazine production and editing.
We were fortunate enough (not planned, we swear!) to have our first and second children within weeks of one another. The age-old story, that leaving your career and starting a family gets the creative juices flowing, was very true for us. We threw our four children in the mix and went about developing our first fashion label – a baby fashion brand that enjoyed great success Australia wide.
This journey came to a natural end as our children grew. Our next adventure came about as organically as Flatiron has, when friends asked us to help with their interiors. Again, interior styling provided us with a fulfilling creative outlet while our families grew.
Design has forever been with us, as we are fortunate to come from a very creative family, parents and siblings alike. We were surrounded with it growing up and it was always highly valued. So, it’s probably no surprise we have found this path, for which we are very grateful.
What was the process like of setting up your own label? How much were you able to do yourselves, and what did you need to outsource?
As with our interiors business, the fashion side of things grew organically. It started when Sam designed a couple of dresses that she felt were missing from her own wardrobe – good quality, classic styles with an inherent understated elegance. A few friends noticed her dresses and asked to have some made up for them. This then evolved to pre orders through small salon sessions held at home, and then eventually we opened the doors of our flagship boutique in Melbourne’s inner East.
While we have let our label grow organically, we have always had the courage to unapologetically say no and concentrate on what matters most. We are as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have. It has set us apart.
We work so well together with very little ego, a great sense of humour, and that special ingredient called sisterhood.
We merge our strengths and weaknesses and ensure we surround ourselves with great people who share our values. We feel very fortunate to have our FLATIRON family.
Today we work very closely with a loyal tight knit team of extremely talented women, namely our patternmaker, production manager, garment manufacturers, and our talented styling team.
Do you find that there are many synergies between interior styling and fashion design?
For us the lines between interiors and fashion are fluid. Elements of our lifestyle constantly creep into our designs. We change our interiors seasonally, often reworking our existing pieces. This is also true in our designs. Many can be worn multiple ways and reinvented to work back with past season’s pieces.
With fashion being so trend driven, we ensure we are always true to our personal style and aesthetic irrespective of trends.
As with our interiors business, the FLATIRON label adopts a holistic personal aesthetic. Outside appearances are only part of the equation. We create so that women feel their most powerful and authentic – so the way she dresses is connected to her inner landscape.
You’ve managed to carve out such a beautiful niche for yourselves with your collections. Where did you see the gap in the market?
Personally, we couldn’t find that ‘casual cool’ that we needed in our wardrobes. We wanted keepsake pieces to treasure, that are simple yet striking, and that ooze quality and sophistication.
Although we are both involved in the process from conception to the launch of each season, for Sam, her strength is fashion forecasting, colours, blocks. Big picture stuff. Penny manages the finer details – the fall, the fabric and the little unique tricks in our designs.
Can you share a little bit about the philosophy and the vision behind Flatiron?
Since FLATIRON’S debut in 2016, we have reflected the freewheeling spirit of our homeland, Australia. By distilling design to its essence, we reconsider the rules of tailoring to celebrate a raw beauty.
From first sketch to last stitch, our collections are hand-touched and thoughtfully created. We focus on beautiful detailing: luxurious natural fabrics and inherent versatility. Our garments are all the better for living in.
Where do you find your inspiration?
In a digital world, it’s hard not to be inspired by everything that is shared, but we do try to block out the white noise as much as possible and focus on the pieces that we want in our wardrobes from season to season. The go- to pieces that you value, and will become your forever favourites. We also focus very much on versatility and try to include little tricks in our designs which means there is usually more than one way to wear our garments – like a hidden button that takes a drop sleeve to a full puff sleeve, or a dress that is reversible.
We listen to and interpret what women need to feel confident, stylish and empowered. Timeless and versatile, each collection builds on the last. With a signature mix of elegance and relaxed Australian style, almost all of our pieces can be worn in more ways than one.
What does a typical working day outfit look like for both of you?
We always wear FLATIRON so depending on whether we are designing or in meetings, we may pair our FLATIRON favourites with a pair of jeans and trainers, or for meetings, team them with a kitten heel or a belted jacket and boots.
Our styles and interpretation on each piece are inherently different so it’s always great to see how we and our team and clients bring each piece to life in their own way.
What about if you’re dressing up in the evening?
We deliberately design FLATIRON garments so they can take you from the weekend to evening and everywhere in between. We both really like to keep things cool and casual with a twist, and are big believers that you can change a look with a great pair of shoes, a statement piece of jewellery, or a beautiful belt.
What tips do you have for a woman who wants to look fabulous but is limited in time?
We love this question – our store invites you to take your time, try many pieces; it is slow and we listen. Our attention to in store styling helps you find your own style and ensure your pieces work with your lifestyle so they will be loved.
We design with fluidity in mind. Rather than dictate how a piece should be worn, we give each garment intentional versatility. We encourage the exploration to make an outfit your own. We accentuate beauty in imperfection and rawness.
Keep it simple. Invest in a good jacket, a great pair of pants, some statement tops, classic jeans and a good selection of white tees and tanks. Update your shoes and treat yourself to a statement piece of jewellery that doesn’t need to be OTT.
You steer clear of trends, but rather work with classic pieces that can be mixed and matched with pieces from your previous season. Is this ethos and its subsequent sustainability a focus for you?
Most definitely. FLATIRON is the antithesis of fast fashion. We want our pieces to be treasured, and to hold a place in our customer’s wardrobe, and heart, forever.
As our style is innate, our pieces work back with past FLATIRON purchases and collections. We encourage our gorgeous FLATIRON friends to bring these in and rework them. We know this of ourselves, if we invest in something we love, we will wear it again and again.
This conscious approach to how we create is a common thread throughout our business. Starting with the integrity of how and where our range is made and running through many big and small business decisions eg fabric sourcing, producing small runs of each garment and ensuring that fabric wastage is kept to a minimum, recycling hangers and avoiding excessive plastics in production and warehousing.
What are some of your favourite pieces in your collection?
For Autumn/Winter 2020, FLATIRON has created a collection that is set to the tone of Australia’s freewheeling spirit. Soulful and poetic, it blazes with modernity.
This is a collection that swims in deep colour and celebrates offbeat contradictions. It shakes up the established order with original layering. It eschews the expected. Overcoats worn as undercoats. Sorbet hues worked with earthy tones reminiscent of the Australian landscape. Deliberately mismatched prints and heavy embroideries. Accessories of poise and precision that provide a true mark of distinction. This collection is an ode to counterbalance – it is illuminated by the twin flames of form and texture.
Created for more than a moment in time, FLATIRON’s latest collection is destined for many rotations around the sun.
What can women expect from their experience in your gorgeous store?
We are a family, but our notion of family transcends blood. Our customers have become our family. They are our kin.
Whether they drop by to say hello or want a complete revamp of their seasonal wardrobe, they are always our absolute focus. We all get such a buzz from meeting new Flatiron friends who share the love of our label and become loyal to the brand.
Flatiron truly understands value and how to make people feel valued. We believe acts of kindness are powerful. Going the extra mile isn’t out of the ordinary. It is the ordinary.
What other brands do you admire?
Locally, we admire brands that have stayed true to the Australian sensibility, which is very unique on a worldwide platform, and is an innate part of our climate, landscape and lifestyle.
Who are your style icons?
We would have to say our Mum. She is the mother of four daughters and our childhood memories are falling asleep to the whirring of her sewing machine late at night, or sitting under the table at Lincraft while she poured through the pattern books. She had us all immaculately dressed in matching ensembles from an early age. She made our pyjamas and our bathers and hats too. We have vivid memories of our velvet A line dresses with leather knee high boots and broderie anglaise tiered dresses.