Threads of Ingenuity with Emily Nolan

Photography by Brigette Clark

Over the past five years Emily Nolan, the enigmatic founder of tailoring house E Nolan, has built a cult following of clients through her singular approach to made-to-measure design. Based in Fitzroy, Melbourne Emily works and lives in her creative space – “We pattern make in-house, our workroom is above the dressing room and below my bedroom.” an immersive approach that the designer breaks up with long hot baths and short trips to her favourite local haunts. Emily’s approach to design is at once academic and deeply considered, with just a sprinkling of tongue and cheek; a fresh perspective that subverts many of tailoring’s traditional notions and explores the boundaries of sartorial self-expression. We spoke to Emily about the origins of E Nolan, her creative process and the best place for a burger next time we’re in town.

On Emily’s creative space and workflow…

I’m here at the birthplace of Freddo Frogs and Cherry Ripe. I live and work in Fitzroy, Melbourne in a three storey converted warehouse, the old Macrobertson chocolate factory on Gore St. I have lived here since October 2022, so it is still a work-in-progress. I love creating and living in the same space. It isn’t for everybody but I feel most myself like this. My dream is to occupy a creative space with people that I love and for my work to make others feel better than when they arrived.

Running a small business is relentless and I do have to compartmentalise the different hats one wears. I do that with my time rather than my space. I see clients 10am - 5pm and pattern make, get my admin ducks in a row and creatively work after dinner - 1.30am. The only way I know how to work is to make a mess. One of the things I love most about living here is the act of making a mess and cleaning it up before the morning when the E Nolan day begins. I like to work at night whilst everyone is asleep, there are few interruptions and it feels like you have a secret.

On Emily’s bedroom…

You are either in your shoes or in your bed so it is wise to invest in both. Having stunning bed linen makes me feel like a real life adult - One that remembers bin night and never has to wear bather bottoms in-between laundry day.

There is a sunken bath in the middle of my bedroom. It makes me feel like Jayne Mansfield. It’s a fabulous hazard. I reset with water, I can get very overstimulated and overwhelmed, baths and showers wash off the mania from the day and the act of doing so switches me from being client facing to a more creative brain. A bit like catching the train home from work but naked.

Emily's bed is dressed in 100% Linen Duvet Set in Mist and Heavy Linen Bolsters & Bed Cover in White.

On some of Emily’s favourite things…

I am very interested in how others live. I admire the bowerbirds whose nest feels like their tangible spirit. When the budget is low, you have to be resourceful and I find so much pleasure in the hunt. When you’re shopping second hand - it feels as if items find you. A bit like adopting a turtle. I have furnished the place with 90% second hand pieces via eBay, etsy, Facebook marketplace and Leonard Joels auction house.

Every year my brother finds a different copy of Alice in wonderland. He has been doing this since I turned 18. My brother James and I are very close and this collection is probably my favourite amongst my books.

Bella Clark has repurposed stones from some of my grandmother's rings. I am a pirate with my jewellery. A ring on every finger. I carry the past with me on my fingers. I also love handwritten notes, I have plastered them across the fridge. Nothing quite like a reminder that you’re loved when you’re searching for a snack.

Another treasure is Arctic Rex, my porcelain dog. I bought Arctic Rex at Leonard Joel’s. An interstate client named him after her Uber driver from Melbourne airport, a wonderful storyteller who spent his 50’s in Antarctica.

I am very interested in how others live. I admire the bowerbirds whose nest feels like their tangible spirit.

On the E Nolan brand and Emily’s approach to the craft…

I am a made-to-measure tailor and garment designer. I started my namesake brand, E Nolan in 2018 with the aim to build a considered wardrobe for all women and LGBTQIA+. Made-to-measure suiting is a vehicle for clients to have control over to fit, design and choice of quality fabrication. We also sporadically release collections of ready-to-wear shirting, knitwear and basics.

E Nolan garments have a necessary craftsmanship with an emphasis on fit, quality and comfort. We create ageless garments appropriate for the modern landscape of busy schedules and manic morning minds. Our made-to-measure garments are available by appointment only at The E Nolan Dressing Room (Gore St) and the ready-to-wear collections are available by appointment and online.

I like to create mementos for the wardrobe. I think it's a wholehearted approach to getting dressed in the mornings, to reach for something you bloody love. The suit has the intention to be worn frequently and is something you can live and love in.

Fashion, for all its fabulous image, can make a lot of people feel excluded and intimidated. Particularly in regards to size or gender. I am very proud that made-to-measure can cater to all and our ready-to-wear garments are made in Melbourne in sizes 4 through to 22.

I’m very interested in enclothed cognition and how garments influence the wearer's psychological processes. On a surface level, garments that are made for you will always fit you better, feel more comfortable. On a deeper level, having your clothes made for you often encourages you to interrogate what you need and want from your wardrobe, and encourages you to delve into how clothing works to support your self expression in the most authentic way possible. Getting dressed is a very intimate and tender ritual. I believe that the time spent shopping for the wardrobe is as important as getting dressed each day. It is important to me that my clients feel seen and understood and that everyone can experience joy when curating and wearing their investments.

I’m very interested in enclothed cognition and how garments influence the wearer's psychological processes.

Clothing is how I express myself and I believe it is how I can help others. Think of it as my love language. This was taught from growing up in my granny's sewing room and my grandmother's millinery school. I studied fashion design at Whitehouse and graduated designer of the year then went on to complete my menswear apprenticeship and worked as a menswear tailor before starting my own business.

Deep-rooted sexism in design is prolific, especially when it comes to tailoring. Historically, it has always been men first, and women second. Women, the afterthought or a menswear pattern applied to a female clientele. I wanted to create a space and a made-to-measure product for clients that weren’t catered to. Pant suits have long been ― and often still are ― more associated with men, and subsequently, power. But for centuries, women have been breaking convention by wearing pants at times when they weren’t considered acceptable women’s attire. They were shamed, ridiculed and even arrested for wearing them. Both the United States and France had laws in place that made it illegal for women (and men) to go out in public wearing clothes that didn’t “belong to his or her sex.”

On designing ready-to-wear garments…

It is important to me to live, work and dress honestly. My blowfly, the E Nolan fly logo is the intrusion of the real, the fly in the ointment. It has been tricky to pen the dance in my head that happens when working away. It’s pretty weird that I have ended up in such a meticulous medium given that it takes a lot of discipline for me to sit still. It is always two fighting energies, to arrest attention and then bounce across the room. I often think of the blowfly as the intrusive thought, creativity interrupting. I appropriate traditional menswear ‘rules’ to dressing and outfit ensembles and I geek out on the form and function of menswear garments so there tends to be an irreverence masculine energy to my silhouettes.

It is important to me to live, work and dress honestly. My blowfly, the E Nolan fly logo is the intrusion of the real, the fly in the ointment.

Emily's bed is layered in 100% Linen Pillowslips in Mist & White and Heavy Linen Bolsters & Bed Cover in White.

On the made-to-measure process…

Made-to-measure requires unique client services, extensive training, pattern making and attention to detail. Anything client facing is not particularly scalable, which is what I see my industry (and most industries) focused on. E Nolan is both service and product focused. We apply real-time feedback to our processes, putting the power back in the hands of the client which I think is most important. I struggled to find this sort of service in luxury fashion in Australia. It is the answer to flippant add-to-cart purchasing, overconsumption and wasteful manufacturing. It is a niche market, where the luxury of the experience and product comes down to time and an intimate approach.

The E Nolan made-to-measure process consists of three fittings. In the first fitting, it really must feel like a bit of an interrogation as I do need to understand where these garments are going so I can best lead a client through the fabric and design. We have ‘stock fabrics’ which are fabrics I have selected by hand in Northern Italy in Biella, Northern Ireland, Huddersfield and Yorkshire UK. Think of these stock fabrics as cloths I am reaching for and designing with, the everyday staples. Always natural fibres; wool, linen, cotton and cashmere. 

We also have ‘cut length’ cloths, these are 700+ fabrics we have access to from the world's most reputable mills. The same mills supplying Saville Row and luxury houses. Cut length fabrics are ordered specifically to the required yield of the individual suit. 

I have designed and pattern made 13 lapels to choose from, three pocket styles and selected many linings, canvas structures, shoulder expression and buttons to choose from. We make single or double breasted jackets and four trousers styles straight, cigarette leg, wide leg and pleated. 

The second fitting is scheduled for seven weeks after the first fitting. At the second fitting, the client tries on their garment for further alterations which are completed within a week for the final fitting so you are looking at a 7-8 week turnaround time. I have between 30 - 35 fittings per week - my first fittings are capped at 10 new clients per week.

On local haunts and favourite pastimes outside of work…

I am right in the thick of it here in Fitzroy. Live music, beer and pub food. 

Marquis of Lorne: My dining room is Marquis of Lorne, 2 minute walk for the rockling burger and half price tinnies. 

Hector’s Deli and sit in Carlton Gardens: I’m mad about sandwiches. I’ll eat anything between two pieces of bread. My favourite is the fresh eggplant with a side of hectic sauce. 

The Brandon, Carlton: For Friday Joker Poker and Sunday debriefs. Some of my best friends have been made smoking in the sun. 

Cam’s Kiosk Abbotsford: For Melbourne’s best pasta Spaghetti Napoli with buffalo mozzarella and Sunday life drawing with Lani Mitchell.

I love visiting Andy, Mitch and Annika at Oigall Gallery on Gertrude St

Something to look forward to for 2023…

Falling in love.


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