Her name is Alisha, a young woman from the village of Hodka in Gujarat, India. Donning her wrists are stacks of colourful bracelets while wrapped around her body is a dress decorated in vibrant embellishments, exuberant colours and the centuries-old art of mirror embroidery that she learned from her grandmother and elders in her village. She is one of young fashion label Dandy & Brooks’ many artisans, selected in certain parts of India and South Asia for their artisanal skill, and employed to emblazon their craft on the label’s modern bohemian-style garments.
“We really value craftsmanship,” says Australian founder Sally Holbrook. “It’s a dying art form. It’s part of our personal legacy to keep these traditions alive.” Now found on the brand’s mesmerising kaftans, dresses, jackets and accessories, Alisha’s beautiful heritage lives on and is introduced to a global audience.
Azul wears an ‘Anastasia’ wrap dress in pure silk, hand-printed and hand-embroidered. Dandy & Brooks platinum earrings hand-crafted using 1920s antique diamonds
sourced from Vienna and Brazilian amethysts
Vienna and Brazilian amethysts Dandy & Brooks was born out of an innate love for craftsmanship and history. Both Holbrook and her business and life partner Austrian-born Paul Marko grew up in families surrounded by culture, with a deep appreciation for art and the tradition of craft. “We both come from creative mothers who love finding treasures in antique shops,” says Holbrook. “My mother is quite eccentric – she oozes creativity and during school holidays we would go and experiment, finding certain fabrics and materials to then mix and match them. I began to have a sense for colours, the purity of fabrics and the magic of artisan hands.”
Born in India with British and Persian heritage, after four generations her mother moved to Perth, Australia. Influenced by an academic father, in Perth, Holbrook studied science and finance. Yet when her passion for design eventually emerged, she went back to study French and English Chinoiserie furniture. “I love a mixed aesthetic,” she beams. A few years later her love for the decorative arts whisked her away to London where she enrolled in an MA at Christie’s Education in Fine and Decorative Art from the Renaissance to the Present, followed by a diploma in Decorative Arts from Christie’s Paris. “Much of my inspiration stems from my travels as well as my studies at Christie’s,” says Holbrook. “I always dreamt of becoming an interior designer but it was my interest in textiles that drove me to create fashion garments.”
‘Sofia’ dress in pure silk, hand-embroidered and hand-beaded. She wears an 18carat rubellite ring, green amethyst and tourmaline earrings and a multi-stone bracelet
Holbrook met Marko at a dinner party over 10 years ago when she was living in Paris. “We met at midnight at a Chinese New Year’s celebration,” she smiles. “We quickly found out that we shared a similar love for aesthetics.” They were married one year later. Marko’s love for craftsmanship also started in childhood. “My father was a Formula 1 race car driver and my mother took me to designers and craftspeople all over the world in Argentina and throughout South America,” he remembers.
Marko also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy. His father is a contemporary art collector and hotelier, owner of Marko Hotels in Austria. An appreciation for art and luxury has been a part of his life since he could remember but also something personally necessary. Tall and slim, Marko has become accustomed to always having his clothes made by hand. “I still have jackets that I made from over 25 years ago,” he laughs.
The couple has travelled the world together. On each trip they take – whether it be somewhere in Europe, the Far East, South America or Australia – they go in search of local artisans. “We travel all over the world and spend a lot of time with craftspeople watching them make beautiful things,” says Marko. “We see a garment made by a machine as a life without a soul. Dandy & Brooks is a brand that strives to create individuality for ourselves first using artisan culture and pure fabrics.”
‘Christina’ wrap dress in pure silk and ‘Anastasia’ flared jacket in cashmere and wool
It all started over seven years ago when Holbrook was travelling between Australia and Switzerland to buy stones for jewellery she was creating. Once again, the artisans she was meeting inspired her and she decided to try her luck at making tunics. “I made a tunic for myself and our friends started asking for them,” she recalls. “And then I turned the tunics into dresses and jackets and like that the brand was born.” Her first selling experience was at a private Chateau Christmas event in Geneva for artisan creators. “She sold out,” says Marko. “We had so much success.” It was enough for Holbrook to realise that she could do even more. “I thought I am not the only one who wants these types of things. Plus the seasons are mattering less with travel; I wanted to create garments that were wearable all year round and all over the world.”
Sustainability is key to Dandy & Brooks’ ethos. “Our mission is to create pieces that one should be able to wear for 10 years,” says Holbrook. “We are creating to last for generations.” Yet sustainable fashion is time-sensitive. There are limited pieces for each style. At present, the couple produces 100 pieces per look in two or three different colourways. Each item can take several days to create depending on the complexity of the garment and its embroidery. “Quantity is not the problem, rather it is time,” says Holbrook.
Christina’ wrap dress in pure silk and ‘Anastasia’ flared jacket in cashmere and wool
Dandy & Brooks currently creates two collections per year to coincide with Fall-Winter and Spring-Summer seasons as well as several capsule collections based on a particular cultural inspiration or style. “We’d love to do a capsule collection revolving around Nepal,” says Holbook. “Nearly everything we do is hand-embellished. Normally, these clothes are only available in haute couture, but we have made them more accessible. We have tried to reintroduce craftsmanship into clothing so that it is once again accessible to more people.”
The couple believes firmly in upholding local traditions by incorporating them into modern-day garments – ones that appeal to a global audience regardless of age and culture. “It’s our way of giving back and keeping these centuries-old craft traditions alive,” says Holbrook who travels constantly to the South Asian region where she oversees local craftsmen. “In India this craftsmanship is dying, so this is our way of preserving it; making garments by hand gives these clothes a soul,” she muses.
The ‘Millie’ jacket
“Craftmanship is passed from generation to generation. It makes the world so much richer.” Moreover, as Holbrook underlines, hand-woven fabrics feel so much softer because of their constant passage through the human hand.” Run your hand over one of Dandy & Brooks silk kaftans and you’ll marvel at its lightness and creamy texture. Similarly, the brand’s jackets, with their hand-embroidery, contain ever so slight imperfections on their surfaces – signs of the human hand or rather the human soul creating a work of art. And that’s the final touch of a Dandy & Brooks garment: its unique signature. “Each garment has been signed by the person who made it in embroidery,” says Holbrook. “It’s been hand-embroidered like an artist signs a painting.”
Photography by Greg Adamski; Hair and make-up by Ania P; Model: Azul. Dandybrooks.com