When I meet Amber Symond, she’s sitting at the back of a long, high-ceilinged showroom with a huge window behind her. On the table in front of her is a small dead spider. Its delicate golden-brown legs are bent at sharp, lifeless angles.
There’s something about the domestic banality of a dead spider befitting Symond’s brand, Common Hours. Especially such a beautiful dead spider. Many of the pieces in her latest collection, Mythos, look like things we might have worn around the house throughout the lockdown, had we endured it in a glamorous parallel universe.
There is a long tuxedo jacket that comes in pale lilac and dark red. It’s cut from plush velor with flared sleeves and a soft collar that dips into a double-breasted front and closes with a single button. It is fitted at the waist and hips, which makes it feminine despite the obvious masculine inspiration. These fine lines are accentuated by stripes that cross the velvet vertically.
Symond describes herself as “a weird housewife from Australia” and says the inspiration behind this collection is the opposing forces that can exist within a person in a private space, such as a room in a house. She says, “It’s about compliance, but also about having your own private dissent.”
This feeling is embodied literally by elements hidden inside several rooms. The tuxedo jacket, for example, has handwritten passages of Oscar Wilde’s letters on the lining. Others have embroidered details, and more than one are fully reversible with different prints and colorways on each side.
The fact that each room has its own secret adds another layer to the inner world that Symond seems to find so fascinating. She tells me she was inspired by Charles Bukowski’s quote, “Find what you love and let it kill you.”
“I love the idea of finding your passion and being true to it, even within the confines of your own bedroom,” she says.
This feeling permeates the film that accompanies the collection. It was created by Ribal Hosn and Bruna Volpi, with a score by Umberto Clerici, and is stunningly beautiful.
This is the second film shot at the Common Hours house, a former Potts Point hotel, and the brand’s fourth. There was one for each collection.
In the film, the models appear housebound, bored and destructive. Dressed in luxurious Symond creations, they stare into space, write on the walls and pour drinks on the floor. One of them is trapped in a blue room with a huge pillar of melting ice. They’re slumped in chairs, with empty candlesticks, vases, and other miscellaneous household items strewn across the hardwood floor.
In one scene, this floor is covered in eggshells to symbolize, not at all subtly, walking on it. Perhaps in a way that might require you to keep your secrets hidden in the lining of your clothes.
Hands are another theme. The buttons of the dress that Symond wears were cast in resin in the shape of a man’s fist. There is a floor-length dress with puff sleeves embroidered with female hands; some are holding cigarettes and the white swirls represent cigarette smoke. The dress is made from a lightweight virgin wool from Italy and the embroidery was done by artisans in Chanakya, India – Common Hours pieces travel with no expense spared. The dress closes in the front with two parallel rows of hand-pressed, evenly spaced glass shank buttons from the Czech Republic.
Another heavy satin dress was printed with a hand-commissioned photograph. The shape of this dress is repeated throughout the collection. It is shaped like a kimono. Like a bathrobe, it wraps around the body and is cinched at the waist with a large fabric tie. The sleeves have extended cutouts that allow the wearer to move freely, and when she stretches out her arms, they hang down to the floor like wings.
Common Hours was founded in 2019, but due to the pandemic, it has only released four collections. Each uses a mix of prose, art and music to tell a story, the meaning of which is up to you to interpret: “I’d rather people see it,” says Symond. Although you’d be forgiven for getting lost in the many layers of the mostly familiar works she borrows.
Paul Colin’s iconic illustration from 1927: Josephine Baker and La Revue Nègre has obtained a license for another double silk satin robe. The silhouette of the dress is Symond’s signature; the front is dark, while the back is a warm cream that’s been printed with Baker’s famous cropped bob, bronzed skin and bright yellow skirt.
The dresses are completed with generous pieces of wool. A marigold yellow mohair poncho with a touch of large gray checks is particularly luxurious. The weight of the wool is evident as it extends over the shoulders and envelops the body. It has a deep hood and huge hip pockets. In the back it falls to the ankle, but it is shorter in the front. The mohair is cruelty-free and comes from the famous Italian mill Bonotto.
Symond only works with fabrics from the best practices, manufactures limited editions of up to 50 garments and presents only two collections per year. But she insists she’s not innovating as a sustainable designer; instead, she describes her efforts as simply “part of a global responsibility.”
The Common Hours house – which, by Symond’s own admission, “we keep destroying” – was bought by her husband, John Symond, the founder of Aussie Home Loans, for $12.5 million in late 2020 and gave him was given as a gift. But despite the extreme wealth of Symond’s world – each piece costs thousands of dollars – it manages to convey a sense of boredom and restlessness that anyone who has ever lived a suburban family existence will recognize.
That includes a fascination with song lyrics that feels distinctly adolescent. In a previous collection, she licensed the lyrics to The Cure’s “Pictures of You” and had them written on a silk dress. In Mythos, she did something similar with “Just Like Honey”, notably performed by The Jesus and Mary Chain. Sections of these lyrics were hand-embroidered along the lapel of a champagne-colored silk dress, complete with silver-embroidered wings and text from Greek mythology.
The first line of “Just Like Honey” reads, “Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world.” Undoubtedly, this is a call for a kind of feminism, although it is not entirely clear to what end. Is the common hour girl empowered or oppressed? Maybe the ambiguity is the point. Maybe we are both.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 25, 2022 under the headline “Myth making”.
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