Where Melbourne’s most powerful shop … and it’s not Gucci or Chanel
Leela Cosgrove doesn’t mind spending thousands of dollars on a dress, and then cutting it up.
As the chief executive of a multimillion-dollar business, Ms Cosgrove, 38, has to look the part.
“As the business approached the $1 million mark … I started going on a transformation in terms of fashion. I had to lift my game,” she said.
And while Ms Cosgrove shops at the Paris end of Collins Street, you won’t find her at Gucci or Chanel.
Ms Cosgrove, 38, prefers to invest her money – $20,000 and counting this year – in Melbourne’s small but thriving bespoke fashion scene.
With her pink-tinged hair and tattoos, she may not fit the mould of the stereotypical bespoke fashion client.
“When you feel like a little bit of an outsider … your clothing can have such a huge impact on your confidence and your ability to walk into a meeting and close deals,” she said.
Most women’s first brush with bespoke may be a suit made on a south-east Asian budget holiday or their wedding dress but more are turning to local tailors for their work wardrobes.
Ms Cosgrove’s go-to is Susan Dimasi, of Material By Product, who she met at an event at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Over numerous fittings, the women have formed a close relationship.
“All [Dimasi’s clients] seem to have a background of mothers who sewed and appreciate great materials and craftsmanship,” Ms Cosgrove said.
Dimasi’s pieces are built to last, or to be remodelled. A black-tie gown is cut to a day dress, which can be worn back to front as a jacket, and so on. Fast fashion this is not (her jackets cost about $2000).
Clients often find their way to Dimasi – she calls them “patrons” – after poor experiences at high-end retailers.
“The new CEO is … putting their money where their mouth is now. They understand the power of the dollar,” Dimasi said.
The personalised service extends to chauffeured transport to fittings and a glass of champagne, as well as repairs.
“[My clients] are tired. They walk in and what they really value is getting to sit down, having a cup of tea and having a good conversation,” Dimasi said.
Laura Richards, 35, is another professional who has dabbled in bespoke with Albert Park designer Julie Goodwin.
Ms Richards said that while her navy coat cost four times what she would usually spend, she hopes to wear it for 20 years.
“I don’t know if it’s an age thing but I am more interested in things I love and having less of them but feeling great every time [I wear them],” she said.
“I really loved being fussed over … you don’t just walk in, go to the change room and hand over your money.”
Goodwin said her wealthier clients don’t want to wear labels because “it can be seen as wearing your money for people to see”.
“At the other end there are people who save up for one good suit a year,” she said.
Goodwin said her younger clients tend to start with a dress then “graduate” to a jacket, which starts at $2000.
In her twenties, Ms Richards had suits made in Thailand but the experience of Goodwin making her coat can’t compare.
“It’s an empowering way of enjoying fashion. I am in the driver’s seat as opposed to buying trends,” she said.
By Melissa Singer
June 24, 2018 — 12.15am
Melissa Singer is National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
This article first appeared in The Age