Following stints at Zimmermann and Sass & Bide, Charlotte Hicks set out on her mission to create ESSE Studios, a considered and conscious approach to the fashion industry. Charlotte shared the story of ESSE Studios, creative process and everyday essentials with Superette.
Charlotte Hicks, Founder of ESSE
What’s your story? How did you get to where you are today?
It’s been about 12 years since I started designing post graduating (with honours) with a Bachelor of Design from UTS in 2008.
I ‘cut my teeth’ as design assistant at Zimmermann, before going on to gain experience with other Australian labels. Most recently, I finished a 6-year tenure as RTW designer at Sass and Bide.
After over a decade of experience, I had made some poignant observations that became the foundations my brand, ESSE, became built on. More specifically, the abundance of excess, the wastefulness, the speed and the overall loss of value a customer places on each of their purchases all felt like problems the industry needed to address.
As a result, ESSE became a fusion of old and new; a modern and innovative approach to business, underpinned with timeless values of integrity and quality. Encouraging and nurturing a slower and more mindful approach to consumption has been the focus for me, and ESSE has given me a platform to explore this in depth.
How would you describe your brand in 3 words?
Considered, artful, ease.
How would you describe the ESSE customer?
I could talk about her for hours – She is real, raw and authentic; the perfect blend of masculine and feminine. Modern, considered and informed. She speaks volumes, but doesn’t need to yell to be heard.
Cotton Rib Dress (Coming Soon)
What inspires your collections and aesthetic and how do you keep it relevant?
I always turn focus to the ESSE woman - constantly keeping her front of mind. I am led by the questions “What is the ESSEnce of her,” and “what are her ESSEntials?”
I also endeavour to ask myself what the key pieces she will need in her life are in each release, and how I can make them really work for her. I try to be as inventive and show initiative as much as possible when designing. It is my hope that if I evolve with her, that in itself will keep everything relevant.
Is there one item or perhaps a collection in particular that is your all-time favourite?
I am really quite excited about this Pre-fall / Edition Three release. The cotton + rib pieces have excited me this season with their versatility and how they can mix and match so perfectly. These are the sort of pieces you will have in your cupboard forever as those non-negotiable items.
What is something not that many people know about you or your brand?
My design process also involves a hidden bit of ‘performance’. I honestly believe that there is an ease and functionality to everything – whether that might be a little bit of stretch, or a fabric that is really durable or performs. I really want to give the ESSE woman that little bit of luxury, but also provide her with something she can ‘function in’; something that is comfortable and makes her feel at ease. I know I personally only ever feel myself when I feel at ease in what I am wearing, and I apply this same principle to my designs.
ESSE started with two elements - Denim as a fabric and the concept of a suit.
Denim as a fabric has such an incredible history, and naturally, its history is all based around functionality, durability and performance. And, well, a suit just encapsulates my woman – chic, masculine and modern all at the same time. ESSEntially, the whole brand started with one idea – The Denim Suit…I’m not sure many people would know that.
What has been the absolute highlight of your career so far?
Winning the VAMFF award this year was such a massive and empowering career highlight. It truly was an incredible industry acknowledgment, and, to me. It wasn’t about just ESSE…it seemed almost like more of an accolade for the years of working behind the scenes too. At least it felt that way…even if it wasn’t!
If you were to describe your own style, what would it be and what couldn’t you live without?
I am actually quite low maintenance, and I think ESSE is a bit of a natural extension of me. I am quite masculine, but I do love my pieces to have an ease to them. I also need my pieces to work with and for me every day. I am quite active day to day, so I really need that performance element. I honestly can’t live without my ESSE Knit pieces!
What do you do to switch off?
Easy. Ocean, beach, water! If I can catch a glimpse at the horizon, I am instantly calm.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
There is only one person getting in the way of everything you want in life, and that is yourself.
Where are you based? What are some of your must-go places or hidden gems there?
I am based in Paddington, Sydney. Ooh, I don’t know if I can reveal them….
William Street is my favourite little local walk, I love walking in and out of all the little shops. Bess is the most gorgeous florist, Alimentari one of the best local cafes in Sydney and Di Nuovo is the best spot to grab a second-hand designer collectable!
Where is your favourite destination of all time and why
Greece – I am part Greek, so my heart is definitely there. The sun, the food, the culture….it all just has such a warming energy. Perhaps I’m a little nostalgic, but I feel it’s definitely where my soul lives.
You’ve already achieved so much, what’s next for you?
Thank you! I think my biggest focus for the next few years is just nurturing and growing a beautiful team around me. Having worked for so many fashion brands, the one personal goal that I have for the business is growing an amazing team with a beautiful culture. The industry isn’t always easy, and I just really want to create a fun, nurturing and inspiring place to work. Really, my dream is to just assemble an all-star team of passionate people who can help realise a dream together, and, of course, have too much fun along the way!