Designer Sara Wurcker of independent Australian label HUNTER has been illustrating fashion for as long as she can remember. Having started using a sewing machine and making clothes in high school, it was the fashion drawing course at Central St Martins (during her gap year) that inspired her to study fashion design.
The HUNTER woman, is someone we all aspire to be, "...intelligent, feminine, youthful and free." With an emphasis on quality fabrics and timeless, wearable designs, HUNTER is designed and made locally in Australia, operating on a made-to-order basis from Wurcker's retail front, Wildwood Studio, Canberra.
[ KARA TOWN ] Wildwood Studio was initially conceived as a temporary space by yourself and your partner, Tim. What shift happened to make the space transform from temporary to permanent?
[ SARA WURCKER ] The original space was a bit of an experiment. We have always had ideas about opening a store and been inspired by overseas travel and our time in Melbourne. We moved back to Canberra around the time when the Lonsdale Street Traders was being developed and thought it would be the perfect time/place for me to launch my label (hunter). At the time, Tim was busy running his record label Dream Damage so it made sense to stock records in the store too. We had such a great response and had so many amazing times in the space and so every 6 months we renewed our lease - I guess that’s how it happened!
[ KT ] I understand you’ve recently moved to a larger studio space located inside the Hamlet on Lonsdale Street (not far from your old space). How did this come about? What are some of the advantages of the new space?
[ SW ] The Traders was a temporary space and it is now being re developed (like a lot of Canberra/ Braddon). Wildwood has moved down the road to another converted warehouse space along with some other amazing Canberra brands including Skeehan Studio and Kin gallery. The move provided an opportunity to re-brand and create a fresh new space - the fit out was constructed using all recycled materials with help from my Dad and Tim.
[ KT ] In recent years I have noticed a shift in the direction of retail spaces, they have grown from being a more formulaic setup to a far more experiential one. Wildwood strikes me as being exactly that sort of space, do you agree?
[ SW ] Yes, I have always had the dream of my own shop. However, the expense of setting up and running a business with staff on top of the cost of renting a separate studio space was unrealistic. Having a combined retail/ studio space works really well for me. I am able to work when the shop is open and chat to customers about what I am working on and my design process in general. And for the customer- it really adds to and involves them in the experience.
[ KT ] You carry a succinct range of labels within Wildwood, how do you go about choosing stock and presenting it within your space?
[ SW ] In terms of clothes, I only stock Hunter. How I choose other stock is a combination of pieces I love, what feels right for the shop and what I think customers will appreciate. With limited space we usually only stock 4 or 5 other labels at a time and feature work by one or two Canberra artists. At the moment we have a selection of cards by AHD, candles and jewellery by Aacute, Hessian magazine and a new addition of jewellery and ceramics by Jane Heng.
I like to give each label their own little place within the store and I’m always moving things around. All our labels really add to the visual appeal of the space.
[ KT ] Your womenswear label, Hunter, is made entirely by your own hand on both a made to order basis and in small runs specifically for Wildwood Studio. What was your reasoning behind keeping the label small and handmade?
[ SW ] When I first started the business it made sense for me to hand make the clothes. I wasn’t sure what pieces would sell or how well so I produced small runs in response to customer demand.
Now the sewing is split between myself and a machinist who I employ locally. Between the two of us we are just keeping up with the added demand of online orders. Within the next six months the plan is to be working with an Australian manufacture. I am keen to keep production local in order to oversee the whole process and keep working with relatively small runs. By keeping production local and small I can also minimise waste and transportation thus creating a smaller carbon footprint.
[ KT ] How does your daily interaction with your Hunter clientele and the first-hand relationships you build with them, shape your exploration of the female form within the fashion medium?
[ SW ] Over the last few years I have been fortunate to get to know my local customers really well. This has been valuable to me in so many different ways. I am inspired by the women around me. They are my muses and models. I love photography and I am always trying to and capture the interaction between the shape of the garment and the individual wearing them.
[ KT ] How important is the concept of ‘wearable design’ to your Hunter woman, and to you?
[ SW ] Wearable design is very important to me - it is a key motivation for making clothes and a necessity for me personally.
Hunter women covet garments that are easy to wear and value versatility. It is important to me how a garment wears and lasts. Some garments even get better with age. Foremost clothes should make you feel good and I love getting feedback about this from customers. In these ways, I aspire to make clothes that become a meaningful addition to your wardrobe.
[ KT ] You have a unique knack of choosing quality fabrics with an undeniable timeless nature. Do you source the fabrics you use for Hunter locally? What is your process?
[ SW ] I source all my fabrics from Sydney. There are a few places that I visit every three to six months. I know they will have what I need or something to inspire me. I am usually drawn to fabrics based on colour and texture rather than patterns or prints and I suppose this adds to the timeless quality. Most of the time the fabrics inform my designs but sometimes it’s the other way round.
[ KT ] What are some of your biggest design influences? Why?
[ SW ] I find that I have many influences that filter into my design process and influence the feel of the clothes.
I find inspiration in the work of artists such as Egon Schielle and Henri Matisse. I am drawn to their unique aesthetic and expressive use of lines, shape and colour.
At the moment I’m really inspired by the work of Kishin Shinoyama.
Music, films and literature have a big impact on the mood of my designs in that whatever I am listening to, watching and reading at the time influences my work in an intuitive almost subconscious way. For example The Cocteau Twins - especially the ethereal vocals of Elizabeth Frazer - have influenced the feel of my overall aesthetic.
In terms of other designers, at the moment I am really inspired by 90s Prada and Jil Sander - a minimal, timeless aesthetic and interesting silhouettes.
[ KT ] From an environmental standpoint, I’m always impressed with young business owners who see the merit in creating the smallest carbon footprint possible. Was your decision to make your clothing entirely by your own hand, locally and in limited runs, an environmentally conscious one?
[ SW ] There are many benefits in producing handmade clothes in limited runs and environmental ones are definitely a part of my decision to work this way. It’s less harmful to the environment by minimizing waste and transportation and a more sustainable alternative to the prevalent issue of fast/ disposable fashion. Working in this way has been fundamental to the success of hunter up to this point - in terms of individuality and minimal response time. It is also good for local suppliers and manufacturers and importantly something customers recognise and really value.
[ KT ] What’s next for both Wildwood Studio and Hunter The Label in 2015?
We launched the online store in March and have had a great response. I want to continue adding new styles regularly for our interstate and overseas customers. Soon hunter will be stocked in the Sydney based store Brie Leon and I am also considering looking for a Melbourne stockist.
In terms of design- I am working with designer Jane Heng on a really exciting collaboration and I have some ideas for a few unisex pieces.
Wildwood will continue to stock local artists and work with like-minded designers.
WORDS | Kara Town and SARA WURCKER
IMAGES | HUNTER The Label