Growing up in Melbourne’s west, you started sketching designs at the age of four. What inspired your early interest in design?
I was always infatuated with design and how people dressed. And dressing up is an important thing for me. I remember seeing sketches my cousin had done in high school of bridal dresses, watching Donahue interview Valentino on TV.
Another pivotal moment was going to the Balenciaga retrospective at the NGV [National Gallery of Victoria]. It was utterly fascinating. I was a little bewitched by the concept that one could make a dress by hand, that there was a technique to fashion; and that a soul was important. That has formed my work to this day. It’s easy to get caught up in fashion for glamour and lifestyle but to me it really is an exploration and a challenge every time.
What is it about fashion design in particular that drew you in? What is it about clothing and fabric that fascinates you?
I love seeing women look and feel beautiful. I love that feeling that I have just made someone’s life a little bit more exciting. A little more fulfilled and acknowledged. There is something about being able to capture that when a woman puts a dress on that is utterly intoxicating. Fabric and clothing people can be just as sensual as undressing. It’s that idea that you put on your carer and protector. When you take that off you usually undress to those you love or desire.
What were the most important things you learned during your time at RMIT? What had the greatest influence on you during your time at RMIT?
The most important thing I learned was time management. My teacher at the time (Libby Austen-Dixon) said to me: “Your work is amazing, you just need to channel that into making it work to a time frame.” I think of that every day. I learned how to handle fabric from Neville Sutherland. How to construct fabric from Adrie Janssen. How to stick to my own style by Karen Webster. To be technical and flip it on its head from Janette Gavin. All these things stay with me. The most important thing was to do things your own way. Some things just flow naturally, and RMIT let me do that.
What inspired you to establish your own label a little over a decade ago? At the time, did you feel that there were any risks associated with this?
I didn’t think about it really. I stumbled into it and found that I liked working for myself. I have loved working for other brands too [Toni worked for Donna Karan and Cerutti after graduating], but sometimes I think that ego and hesitation kills that from growing. So I step back and focus on my own ideas. I can be the biggest critic, I can push ideas that may not seem relevant or right and I am responsible. I went with it and I am still going with it.
It’s been said that you have a solitary approach to design – do you agree, and if so, why do you choose to work this way?
Sometimes. I do like that idea of letting yourself be lazy and crazy without others’ eyes judging at the initial stage. But my team is great. I run things past them as they all have a different perspective, but it’s usually after I have started the collection. I don’t want to have other thoughts and ideas mess with gut instinct. So much is the way it is because of how music sounds, how light hits a wall, how a reflection can change things. It’s necessary to have that time with yourself.
“Everyone I work with is devoted to that principle of hard work equals rewards. And it means that those moments that are glossy on the outside for those few minutes have a soul and a deeper voice.”
What have you learned about business as the Maticevski label has grown in the past decade?
Service is everything! Everyone is important and everyone deserves to feel beautiful!
How do you think the fashion industry has changed since you established your label?
It feels like it’s a little more relevant on the world stage. But I feel like we are challenging ourselves a lot more. It definitely feels exciting to be in Australia.
What is your favourite part of designing?
All of it. Sometimes finishing a piece that I’ve already finished in my head can be difficult and lag on. But once it’s finished it’s this realisation that it was easy, why did it take me so long? I like challenging my team to think in new ways. To challenge what they know and how they can approach an idea differently.
Do you think your work has been influenced by your Macedonian heritage in any way?
I don’t know. Maybe a little, but more in terms of the mood rather than the costume or design. I’ve always thought that there is this strange contrast between melancholy and joy that is inherent in the Macedonian culture; it’s a little bit sombre. Maybe it’s the orthodox religion. The scenery and landscape is beautiful and pure. There is a lovely rustic quality to it. Not sure if all that is translated in my work.
What drives you to keep designing and creating?
I guess it’s just the need to do it. I love to work, I love working my brain and my body. I love seeing people excited by what I do, I love the satisfaction of an idea fulfilled.
You created a special work incorporating a stairwell for the NGV’s Melbourne Now exhibition (which also featured works from more than 120 other RMIT alumni artists). Would you say that Melbourne, as a city, has any influence on your work?
I guess living here still says that I love it and I don’t have to blow wind up its you-know-what. We love Melbourne, everyone that visits loves it. I don’t know if my work particularly references anything ‘Melbourne’. If anything it means that all the other 400 artists in the exhibition are people who are doing their own thing and doing it their own way.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
I think that hard work should be rewarding. If you don’t like working then stay away. It really is one of the toughest jobs (depending on your level). On average I put in over 18 hours a day into my work and business. It’s exhausting but I love it. Everyone I work with is devoted to that principle of hard work equals rewards. And it means that those moments that are glossy on the outside for those few minutes have a soul and a deeper voice.
How did you feel winning RMIT’s Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2013?
It was definitely an honour to be recognised by my university. I have fond memories of lecturers and I am happy some of my dearest friends were made at RMIT. I was always locked away at the library researching and absorbing as much as I could. I went from one end of the library to the other and went through every book. Even if I didn't understand it, I took in whatever was visual and it formed part of my thinking. I remember being at RMIT as a really fun time, I loved working and creating.
Toni Maticevski is a humble and exceptionally talented creator of masterpieces. His attention to detail and exploration of cut and drape that frames the body sits alongside the top tier of fashion designers globally. His work is essentially in the category of sublime collectables – because of the attention he gives every stitch, cut, fabric and trim.
When he was a student in his honours year he explored the concept of making his whole collection using haute couture hand techniques. The result was perfection, the stitching by hand so fine and perfect that it was impossible to tell it wasn’t done by a premium machine. He was at one with the cloth and the construction, immersing himself in the experience. He has never lost that commitment to the craft of fashion, a true artisan.
Toni has survived in fashion because he is talented but also because he is well grounded. He has not sought fame and the bright lights of bigger and better opportunities. He has entered international markets with care and only when the demand for his collection was there. He works collaboratively with Myer and most importantly, he has integrity in all that he does. He still creates so many of his own bespoke pieces and has a true understanding of what the customer wants, providing them with a priceless experience.
He has balanced ready-to-wear with a solid business of creating one-off bespoke creations. When working with clients, they provide a deposit up-front that assists in paying out-of-pocket costs, and then full and final payment on the collection of the garments. If only retailers paid designers like that – very few of them would then go out of business.
One of Toni’s most redeeming qualities as a designer is that his creations are unique. He doesn’t get influenced by trends or following what others do. In a world of fast homogenised fashion, that’s a breath of fresh air! His most recent collection was pure Maticevski genius! This collection fuses drama without being overpowering, paying tribute to the female form in the way that only he understands cutting and draping at such an highly evolved level.
He sculpts cloth in the most inventive way so as to flatter the body. Every woman should covet a Toni Maticevski gown, just so you can dress up and feel the weight of the fabric create a natural dynamic movement as you sway around a room, evoking an air of elegance and sophistication.
He captures the spirit of 1950s Balenciaga but with such a contemporary spirit that is both fundamentally wearable and aspirational.