A studio huddled amongst the eccentrics of London’s East End is where Geoffrey J. Finch crafts visions from his imagination into tactile works of fashion. It’s a long way from Toowoomba, where he first formed a love for fashion as the son of a dressmaker. As one half of London-based label Antipodium (the other half is Ashe Peacock), Geoffrey has helped evolve the brand from its roots as a fashion boutique and PR agency to become a coveted fashion label, known for its capricious, smart design and cheeky Australian wit.
Fashion was part of Geoffrey J. Finch’s life from almost the very beginning. With his mother a dressmaker, his home environment was always filled with the trappings of the profession. “I grew up to the sound of the sewing machine,” he recalls fondly. “And I have very early memories of being at Palmers Fashion Fabrics in Toowoomba … the watermarked taffeta-upholstered counter and the sound that you could generate from scratching your nails across it.”
While his love for fashion was there, his opportunities to nurture it as a career were somewhat limited, growing up in small-town Queensland. “At the time in Toowoomba, young boys weren’t supposed to want to work in fashion,” he laughs of his childhood dream. “So instead I wanted to be an architect.” But he soon realised, after a stint of work experience, that there was very little excitement in drawing up electrical plans, and he returned to his dream of fashion.
Upon finishing school and not wanting to go straight to university, Geoffrey decided to go on an exchange to a small town outside of Lyon in France, where he had his first chance to study fashion. It was also during that year abroad that he visited London for the first time – and his initial impressions weren’t particularly positive. “Coming from France, where everything was a lot more ordered and perfect, I thought London was foul,” he grins. “But after the third day, I realised that I actually loved it and that I wanted to move there at some point.”
That chance came in 2004, when 21-year-old Geoffrey packed his bags for the English capital to pursue his dream. He soon found a work placement at fellow Aussie Ashe Peacock’s Antipodium boutique and fashion agency, which helped Australian fashion brands to make a mark in the UK. After working on a series of creative projects together, Geoffrey and Ashe noticed a niche in the fashion market, and began crafting a selection of pieces of their own under the Antipodium name. It quickly caught the eyes of British Vogue and a buyer from Liberty, who encouraged Geoffrey and Ashe to expand on their work, and Antipodium became a fledgling fashion label in 2006.
These days, it’s far from fledgling, and graces the svelte frames of many of London’s most stylish women. Geoffrey creates collections featuring what he likes to call “subverted classics”, using capricious references to pop culture. “To me, one of the hallmarks of Antipodium is that it has a wonderful sense of personality and a certain wit, but that it’s also very versatile, wearable and approachable,” he says. “That’s something that I’m really proud of.” His next collection is a riff on emoticons in pop culture, featuring an impressive colour palette and play on shapes and textures.
When asked about the elements of his Australian upbringing that often pop up in his designs, Geoffrey laughs. “Well, look, you can take the boy out of Toowoomba but you can’t take Toowoomba out of the boy! Next month, I’ll have been in London for eight years, so there’s obviously a very London sensibility to my work. But I think that mixing that with a kind of Australian nonchalance gives us our particularly unique aesthetic.“
London has clearly become home for Geoffrey, and he speaks of it with the fondness of someone who has experienced its trials and come out the other side smiling. “It’s a difficult city, but the most amazing thing about London is that, if you’re dedicated, have a sense of humour and you’re sharp, people are very welcoming and will help you as much as you can,” he says. “I actually think the Australian fashion industry can be quite full of itself, but it’s really quite down to earth in London.”
On the lessons he’s learned over the past eight years, Geoffrey says there have been many. “I think the very first lesson I learned when I arrived in London was how insignificant I was,” he laughs in retrospect. “It was a wonderfully grounding experience. London has a great way of knocking you down and then helping you gradually build yourself up. You see things in London everyday that make you rethink your perception of beauty and question your outlook on life.”
One of the greatest challenges he faced was dealing with the fashion industry at such a young age. “We started the label when I was 23,” he elaborates. “At that age you’re quite green and naive, and you’ve got lots of different people wanting you to do lots of different things. You eventually get to the point where you decide you’re just going to do it your own way – and that’s quite a golden moment.”
His advice for budding fashion designers is not necessarily what those seeking the glamour of the industry might want to hear. “First of all, go and work in a shop,” he says. “I think people really forget that that’s what it’s all about. I started in retail – the retail consumer is a wonderful teacher and they’ll very quickly tell you what they like and don’t like. Also try to do as many internships as you can, so that you can soak up as much information as possible.”
Geoffrey says that there are many things that he wants to achieve, but he’s happy to also acknowledge his progress. “I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and we have a really wonderful team,” he says affably. “We’ve had an enormous amount of growth this season, particularly in America and Japan.”
One of his greatest achievements, he reveals, was when iconic London store Liberty placed Antipodium’s first-ever order. Another was when he received the call that Barneys New York had placed an order. “I may have embarrassingly shed a tear,” he says sheepishly. “I was sitting in the osteopath’s office at the time, which made it all the more embarrassing! But the buyers at both Barneys and Liberty are really such admirable people, so it’s really exciting to work with people of that stature.”
Despite the long line of celebrities and socialites who step out in Antipodium’s distinctive garb, the people Geoffrey looks to for inspiration are closer to home. “Over the years, there’s been a lovely collective of people that’s built up around the brand,” he says. “And there are characters within that collective – I guess you’d call them a bit of a creative rabble – who are writers, editors, stylists, musicians and artists … Some are fabulous heiresses and some are living in squat, but they all really inspire me. A key group within that is actually from Brisbane – we all really support each other in our different careers and it’s nice that we’ve all been friends for such a long time. They can remember all of my fashion mistakes!”
When asked for the piece of wisdom that resonates with him most, Geoffrey cites the title of a book by advertising genius Paul Arden, which he used to read on the Tube to rev himself up. “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be,” he recites. “That’s always been something that has inspired me.”