Fashion is an extremely difficult career path. Some produce a few collections for a couple of years and then disappear. However, Et Al, which now has six retail stores, with one in Sydney and five in Melbourne, has been attracting those who gravitate towards a primarily black and layered look. Berliners carry out this look particularly well, and so do Melburnians, thanks to boutiques such as Et Al (Latin for ‘as well as’). Founded by Christine Doughty and her late husband Les (Doughty), Et Al grew out of Showroom, a company producing knitwear throughout the 1980s. After 30 years in business, both with Showroom and Et AL, Doughty and her team take an extremely low profile when it comes to the media. “People tend to find us, whether they’re local, from interstate or from overseas,” says designer Anthony Capon, who has been working closely with Doughty in developing the ranges for the last 10 years.

Et Al’s first store in Smith Street, Collingwood, which opened 13 years ago, saw the two meet each other for the first time. Capon walked into the store (he trained at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Canberra) wearing an unusual combination of layered black clothing, not dissimilar to how he dresses today. “My first words were, ‘You look amazing,” says Doughty, who is still impressed with how Capon puts things together. On the day of this interview, Capon is wearing a squashy rabbit pelt hat by Reinhard Plank, soft suede lace up boots, a scarf around his waist and a skirt he designed for an Et Al range at least five years ago. A black gross grain ribbon woven through his side plait was from a present he received for his recent 34th birthday. “I said to Anthony, ‘Let’s catch up when Les and I return from Hong Kong’,” recalls Doughty, who had an instinct the two were on the same page. Doughty, as with Capon is beautifully attired in layers of black, with a sheer textured jacket.

After 13 years together, it’s not surprising that each sometimes finishes off the other’s sentence. Both are intrinsically involved in the women’s and men’s collections (up to 100 designs are produced each year for the two ranges), while Capon is responsible for the men’s collection, something which he started from the beginning. Well before gender neutral was bandied around, the duo was selling skirts and other pieces from the women’s collections to men.

“Men tend to have wider shoulders and require longer sleeves, but apart from that we see both ranges as being quite fluid. You could say the menswear is slightly more structured and tailored,” says Capon.

Unlike many fashion houses that have a theme each season, Et Al is more of a look that slowly evolves. You won’t find everyday items, such as T-shirts. However, you will discover some highly considered pieces that appear timeless. ‘We like to challenge ourselves, as much as our customers. Things must excite us in the first instance,” says Doughty who as with Capon, literally tries on and critiques every design that ‘moves forward’.

For Autumn/Winter 2018, there’s a jacket waiting to be sent out to one of the stores. The black cotton and woollen jacket features detachable pockets and harness-like straps across the back and front. “I designed this jacket at the same time Christine and I were designing the uniforms for the Vue de Monde staff, from the maître d’, to the waiters,” says Capon, referring to the apron-like detailing on the Et Al jacket. Another shirt displayed nearby features a full and gathered hemline.

“We can use anything from five to nine metres for any one of our pieces,” says Doherty, who sources most of the fabric from Japan (often from Australian produced wool). Another jacket modelled by Capon is more of a wrap, slightly shorter in length at the back. “Our customers are looking for something different. And rather than see the same thing everywhere, we may only end up making as few as 10 of these coats,” says Capon. “We are not a department store or splashed out everywhere. Often, it’s by word of mouth,” he adds.

While both have a strong creative spirit, Doughty in particular is mindful of the commercial reality of operating six stores. “I enjoy challenging people in terms of what they wear. But clothes have to be comfortable and feel pleasurable to move around in,” says Doughty, who still adds her opinion to Capon’s direction in menswear. “We’re definitely not trend driven. We’re more likely to be influenced by our clients,” she adds. Both Doughty and Capon often work in the store to gauge reactions to new designs ‘hitting the floor’. “A few have requested a little more colour,” says Doughty, who has introduced a few accessories to highlight the still primarily black palette. “I tend to draw the line against patterns,” she says. “If I wear any colour I tend to feel like a child,” says Capon.

They don’t claim to be for everyone and as Doughty says, “A woman walking into our store wearing a tight pink cardigan doesn’t generally stay for very long.” However, architects, creatives and artisans from a broad spectrum gravitate to one of the Et AL stores, whether they are in their early 20s or well into their 70s and beyond. And unlike most stores, which go on sale just as the season sets in, Et Al never goes on sale. “It’s important to remain focused and not get sidetracked. You simply can’t be everything to everyone,” adds Doughty.

Text by Stephen Crafti.

Lifestyle & Design

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