Most Australian designers try their luck in Sydney before heading overseas. Nicholas Morley has done it the other way around—but then he doesn’t boast your typical fashion pedigree. A hairstylist-turned–streetwear designer, Morley launched his first label, Buddhist Punk, in London in 1999 while based on the Indonesian island of Bali.
He’s still Bali-based, but after eventually splitting with his backers and ending a 10-month stint as creative director of Australian surf-urban label Mambo, Morley’s latest venture is Nicholas X Morley.
Launched in Sydney in April, the colorful, print-heavy debut spring collection has a kindred rock ’n’ roll–meets-surf spirit to Buddhist Punk. Women’s wear accounts for half the range, with cotton jersey baby-doll dresses, singlets and singlet dresses in graphic, often fluoro screen prints, worked with leggings, skinny jeans and hipster microskirts in Morley’s trademark crossbones logo (hence the X). There’s a little swimwear as well as jewelry, shoes and bags. Prices start from 60 Australian dollars, or about $50 at current exchange, for a singlet emblazoned with slogans such as “Skulls are not dead” or “Too skinny” to 350 Australian dollars, or $295, for an embellished silk chiffon microdress.
“I want to be streetwear, but I also want to offer something that is a little bit more expensive and detailed—I can produce both quite easily,” says Morley, who is not the only Australian manufacturing, or living, in Bali. Morley’s girlfriend, Sydney designer Alice McCall, has 30 percent of her production there.
He adds, “The beauty in producing in Indonesia is that labor here is still quite cheap and it’s still very well done—you’re here for the weather, the surf and the hand-finishing, basically.”
Hoping to “test the waters” in Sydney, at press time Morley had collected 200,000 Australian dollars, or $168,000, in wholesale orders from 32 Australian stockists as well as California’s American Rag.
“I’m back,” says Morley, who will work with Tokyo agency Jack of All Trades for the Japanese market and is scoping out distributors in the U.K. and Europe. Morley has a first-year wholesale volume target of 750,000 Australian dollars, or $630,000, and hopes to open a Nicholas X Morley boutique in the Balinese tourist village of Seminyak by Christmas.
The only celebrity in Morley’s front row on April 28 was Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe—a far cry from the raucous rock fest that was Buddhist Punk’s New York Fashion Week debut in September 2004. After Morley hooked up some merchandise collaborations with The Rolling Stones and AC/DC, among others, that show attracted a swag of celebs, notably Stones progenies Theodora and Alexandra Richards and Elizabeth Jagger, on the runway.
But, while Buddhist Punk rapidly evolved into a 6 million Australian dollar, or $5 million, brand, Morley says he plans to take his time with this start-up. “I’d be quite happy to keep it a little bit smaller,” says Morley. “I don’t need to be megarich—I just want to have a comfortable lifestyle and make cool things that people are going to want to wear. I don’t ever want to get too big so that I’m just working day in, day out. I like to surf three hours a day.”