Lillian McKnight • 9 August 2012

Having debuted earlier in the year at Cannes, The Sapphires is already shining internationally. At its core, however, the film has an entirely Australian spirit.The story of four indigenous women who form a girl group and embark on a tour of Vietnam at the height of the war, it is a feelgood Australian comedy with a big heart.

With The Sapphires released nationally today, we caught up with Weave Dibden Neck. Founder of eponymous label by weave, the designer took on her first role behind the scenes of a major motion picture as a costumier for the film.Creating the stage costumes for the Sapphires themselves, played by Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell, Weave lets us in on the grunt work behind the glitz.

pages: How did you initially get involved with The Sapphires?
Weave: I have worked with The Sapphires amazing wardrobe supervisor Lisa Javlin on many smaller projects prior. She is a wonderful stylist for film and television. She had a huge job ahead of her to organise the wardrobe for the film, with the incredible designer Tess Schofield at the helm. It was her decision to include me to create the stage costumes for the Sapphire girls.

Tess had the huge job of researching the original designs of the group from the sixties, then fabrication sourcing with Lisa. I was brought in to create it. As part of the team of costumiers, runners and assistants, I worked from my own studio and focus solely on these garments.

Can you tell us a bit about your history in design? 
I have been creating stage and video costumes for a very long time alongside my label by weave. By Weave is a seasonal high-end women’s wear label created and sold at invitation only events and online. I also create couture wedding gowns and high-end commission pieces for special events, red carpet, and style for magazines and advertising campaigns.

Stage and video outfitting is such a creative and interesting line of work. The inspiration lies within the music itself and the creative ideas of a team. My label is a very different process as it is purely me and my ideals are at the time, whereas wedding couture is a very intimate design process that requires a great deal of intuition and ability to transfer other peoples dreams into reality.

What initially drew you to costume design and creation? 
I studied fashion design at East Sydney Fashion College in the National Art School for three years. I came from the beautiful countryside in Adelaide, where I had already done two years of study that introduced me to all facets of design.

I always knew I would be a fashion designer, but costume really just fell into my lap.  Running an underground streetwear label for many years just went hand in hand with creating outfitting for stage and video. It soon developed into the high-end brand by weave.

The creative spirit involved in all aspects of design has enabled me to not limit my scope. This was the first feature film I have been involved with, so I am absolutely thrilled to be part of such a great and inspiring team and powerful story.  

Is your approach to creating costumes different to other aspects of your work? 
Absolutely. Costume has many people involved in the process, whereas with my label I am in charge of all outcomes. With a production like The Sapphires, I am strictly dictated to. Being that I am not the designer in this project, I must be incredibly respectful to the vision the designer initiates.

When I’m creating my label I dictate the vision. Generally, when it’s a film clip or stage costume for bands, there is a creative team behind the idea and a general group vision. I can have a stronger input into the individuality of the actual clothing, so long as it works with the overall vision.

When I am creating a collection, it’s a whimsical dream in my imagination. I feel it is more free.

Tell us about the evolution of costumes in The Sapphires— from conception to final product.
Tess Schofield, the designer, was the driving force behind the design of the films costumes. Her thorough research was integral to making the film look authentic and represent the true nature and spirit of the original Sapphires. She was able to meet with the original girls one-on-one to feel how the vision should come to life.  Once the vision was created, Lisa was able to organise the logistics and team.

Aside from the Sapphire girls, the film’s huge cast was also clothed by Tess’s vision. From original soldier’s wardrobes to period hospital wear and Vietnam’s street and club scenes, Tess and Lisa brought the vision to life.

My part in this came from Tess’s vision and research. I met the girls, measured them individually, then made and fitted toilles so the real dresses could be created.  I sometimes found myself sewing in the costume truck in an outback town on a domestic machine while cast and crew would be flying past dressing and flapping! It was truly an amazing experience.

Did you encounter any challenges?
Being a team of incredible professionals, when challenges arise, the team kick in to fix it.  Tess was an amazing driver because if something needed changing or fixing, it was done smoothly and without a freak out. The stress levels are high so a cool and smooth team is the best advantage to problem solving.

How do you feel about the final result?
I think that everyone that was involved with the film has had a very moving experience. Sitting on the waters edge of the Murray River outside of Albury watching the final scene being filmed truly brought a beautiful sense of togetherness between all cast and crew.

It’s a very special film and having it received so well in Cannes, I think that everyone involved could not be prouder of what it has achieved.  It’s a beautiful story, and that’s what this really is all about.

What’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to designing the costumes for a new short film being released by the end of the year by director Max Hemmings. I am styling for several television advertising campaigns at the moment and will be releasing the new line for by Weave shortly.

There’s a fantastic new French chocolate bar and restaurant called Princess Coco in Sydney city that has been outfitted by by Weave.  It’s opening mid August.

The Sapphires is released nationally today. Visit Weave Dibden Neck’s website for more information.