Ask around how much people are willing to spend on a T-shirt and the answer varies wildly: from $5 to $500. One regular Chanel customer quipped that while she'd happily spend $7000 on a jacket that would last 20 years, $700 for a T-shirt was a bridge too far.
Still, brands like Aje, which has led the designer T-shirt wave in Australia, have convinced Australian shoppers that $200 is a perfectly acceptable price point.
Co-founders Edwina Forest and Adrian Norris have done this through a combination of good design and quality – an Aje T-shirt worn and washed regularly looks the same after two years – as well as educating consumers that a good T-shirt is interchangeable with a shirt or knit in terms of outlay and value.
"There is much beauty in simplicity," explains Forest. "We have a lot of pieces that have an incredible amount of detail. But those pieces need to be paired … with something simple. In the beginning [11 years ago], we had lots of 'wow' pieces but not much to work with them to let those have their 'moment'. Having the tee allows that, and having the logo allows people to identify them as being part of the brand."
Since launching their brand, Forest said the Aje tee has had more than 50 iterations, including the most famous style, which has the brand emblazoned on the front in sequins and sells for $190.
"There are the T-shirts that stay the same each season and if you change them people get terribly upset," says Forest.
David Jones womenswear buying manager Teneille Oakley says the allure of the logo T-shirt "is they allow the customer to buy in to a brand at an entry price. Australian consumers love being branded and showing everyone what they're wearing."
According to Oakley, Australian consumers are quite relaxed about being, at the crudest level, wearable billboards for brands ranging from Bonds to Balmain (Aje is stocked at David Jones). And though "logo culture" has hit saturation point, she says it's far from over, given the trend towards more casual dressing.
"It’s become acceptable to wear a T-shirt to work," Oakley says. "The challenge designers have is how they evolve the tee and make it relevant to the consumer."
Forest says affordable luxury brands such as Aje need to strike the balance between the more commercial pieces, such as tees, and the fashion pieces that show their design mettle.
"While you want something to continue to sell and evolve … you don't want it to define you either," Forest says. "It’s also important to have elements of newness but not too many [garments] so we can showcase our work."
Aje will open Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia in Sydney today with a presentation of its resort 2019 collection. This will include its first jewellery collection and an expanded accessories offering.
While many Australian brands, including Camilla and Marc and Viktoria & Woods, have also adopted the logo tee, Forest says Aje has always run its own race when it comes to what's in fashion.
"It’s a decision we made a long time ago not to be trend-driven as a brand. It’s been more difficult sometimes because what's reported on in the media is quite trend-based. It’s allowed us to have a unique point of view."
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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia runs until May 18. mbfwa.com.au.