“Dear Natalie, I send this with a sincere apology on missing your deadline. Between conferences and packing up my house for a six-month European tour I just haven’t had a moment. So please forgive me. On the 24-hour flight, guess what I did… The answers to your questions!”
That was well over two months ago but not a moment too soon, as some of Sarah Jane’s fans have been stalking me on-line ever since a sneak peek leaked on Instagram. As the “Co-Founder, Brand Director and Ambassador” of Australia’s blockbuster brand Sass & Bide and one of Sydney’s best-dressed, Sarah Jane Clarke is a popular girl, much like her partner, Heidi Middleton, whose Tale was by far the most popular to date. I had no choice but to postpone SJ’s beautiful story for the relaunched site. A pretty package deserves a pretty package, doesn’t it?
“Have just landed in Milan for two days then heading to Sicily and Sardinia for the next six weeks! La Dolce Vita!!” she writes me in a follow-up e-mail. Six months seems extreme but Sarah Jane has a knack for traveling and uses her time away from the island to recharge and collect ideas.
“Australia is a very unique country,” she says proudly, “with fascinating landscapes, beautiful beaches, snow fields, and many cultural activities. Being surrounded by nature has a calming effect. There’s a relaxed feel to our culture that suits my being. And one gets very skilled at 23-hour flights! As long as I can travel three times a year to the Northern Hemisphere I’m content living here.”
As an avid collector, she thrives on outlandish expeditions. “Every place I visit, I source the local antique dealer or weekend market. The last place I went to was Bhutan. I shipped a container back of old and rare curiosities.” I hate to ask where she keeps all this stuff but find out later it is in fact part of a greater plan, perhaps when her Sass days are over. “My next role will be collecting wonderful pieces and curiosities, and bringing them back to Australia so our young designers have interesting pieces to inspire them.”
But we are nowhere near a Sass & Bide halt. The girls have just achieved one of the biggest goals of their career. “We are very excited to be opening our first flagship store in New York on Broome Street, set to open early November 2013. We want to provide our loyal followers an intimate shopping experience, to immerse themselves into the Sass & Bide brand. For Heidi and I this is a realization of a very big dream… It’s the cherry on top!”
I visited Sarah Jane in Sydney during Fashion Week in May. The sun was still soaring even though fall was setting in and the sky was the bluest blue. Her house is located in Vaucluse, a crisp neighborhood along the coast, North of Bondi Beach. The drive up is more-than-scenic. It’s an experience. I made the taxi driver pull over a few times to take in the views – hanging out the window didn’t cut it.
Over lunch and several outfit and make-up changes we got to talking.
NJ: You’ve been doing some major construction on the house. Are you happy it’s finished?
SJC: We have just completed a year long renovation. We bought the house when it was two apartments; we converted it into a family home. The house feels very homey and lived in, even though it’s just four weeks old! (by now a few months…)
NJ: I met your husband briefly, and a slew of little boys! When did you start your family? What does your husband do? And how on earth do you stay sane with all that testosterone around you??
My partner Daniel Baffsky is a one of Australia’s best landscape architects. He is very grounded and real but also a dreamer and a romantic. We balance each other perfectly through our differences. We met ten years ago in Sydney’s state theatre during a Barry Humphries show. Complete strangers we sat next to each other. The rest is history. We have three young boys Bo (8), Arky (7) and Ziggy (4). Lots of male energy and noise in our house. I’m the softening force.
NJ: I recognize a lot of similarities between you and Heidi, not just in the décor of your home and your relaxed, bohemian life style but also in your sweet sensibility. How are you and Heidi different, style-wise? Or are you very much in sync?
SJC: Heidi is the queen of clash and she does it so well. With her perfect body she can wear almost anything. I tend to be cleaner, sticking to earthy and tonal colors. I know my body and no longer experiment with pieces I know won’t work. You will never see me in body-con dress. I like to subtly theme outfits and there is always a bit of humor. We both don’t take fashion too seriously and even though we have our own unique take on each piece our looks complement each other.
NJ: So what are the essentials of a Sarah Jane look?
SJC: It’s unpredictable, unique, uncomplicated, fun, emotive. I wear clothes that suit my mood for that day. When I’m with the kids it’s full combat gear. When I’m at work or an event I try to always push a personal twist, mostly by adding a piece of vintage. Luxury fabrics and precise tailoring are increasingly essential to my wardrobe as well. I have an Italian tailor who ensures that every piece fits to perfection.
NJ: How important is vintage for you personally?
SJC: I love the history and the craftsmanship that has been poured into each piece. For me vintage adds personality and something interesting to an outfit. I often display pieces as art at home but they are all wearable.
NJ: And what does vintage mean for the company?
SJC: Vintage is a major force behind each collection. It is often a very small detail that sparks huge ideas and creative flow.
NJ: What is your life’s motto? What keeps you going?
SJC: I live my life with honesty, humility and integrity. Respect to my body and soul by exercising, eating well, and meditating. I make sure I have humor in each day. Travel keeps me inspired.
NJ: Do you have any advice for ambitious Ozzies who are looking across the border? Your brand is so successful, it must be an inspiration for a lot of Australian designers.
SJC: Make sure your collections have a point of view, are original and fresh. Have belief and conviction in your dream.