Draped in his signature swarthy garb, Anthony Capon makes his way across a bustling Canberra intersection on a balmy Saturday night.
Anthony, no stranger to the odd stare, gets plenty of them as he strides confidently into the restaurant for this interview. Completely unfazed, he greets me with a hug and sits down. He embodies the cosmopolitan chic of his new home city Melbourne, donning a cape-like leather vest, black denim cut-off shorts, a pair of heeled ankle boots and to top it all off, a printed Mariah Carey and Will Smith retro t-shirt.
“My friend bought it for me ’cause he knew I’d love it,” he says.
“I’ve had six people come up to me today and say, ‘Oh my God is that you with Mariah?’ I was like ‘um… I’m not black; also I’m not Will Smith’. This is ’90s Mariah anyway, I would have been five years old in this picture.”
Anthony has indeed come a long way since growing up in Canberra and his days as a retail assistant behind the counter of gasp… Sportsgirl, would you believe. He moved away eight years ago.
“I decided that as soon as I graduated if I didn’t move I would have just stayed here,” he says.
A work experience stint at the now defunct fashion label Vicious Threads in Melbourne, which he garnered through one of his lecturers at the Canberra Institute of Technology, turned into full-time employment. He moved quickly from women’s wear designer to production manager and visual merchandiser for the stores.
“I was on minimum wage; I don’t know how I lived,” he says.
“The only reason I left was because I decided to ask for a pay rise for all the extra work I had taken on. They said no… so I left.”
The fashion industry has always been recognised as a beguiling beast – both a place of creative expression as well as a humbling fortress of sacrifice and rejection.
Anthony recalls a situation one of his close friends endured. She had been working at Costume National in Europe for more than two years. She couldn’t afford to live and returned to Australia where she struggled to find work and was told that she didn’t have enough experience.
“She doesn’t work in fashion anymore,” he pronounces. “She got tired. It’s a waste of talent. She is incredible.”
So who was getting all the jobs? Anthony gushed about his moment of serendipity soon after leaving Vicious Threads. While shopping in Collingwood he stumbled upon the concept store Et Al. The label’s owners were in the store and it was love at first sight.
“They looked at me and said, ‘You look amazing. We love you, we love what you’re wearing',” he recalls.
“I was wearing an outfit I had made myself.”
Anthony was hired.
“When people believe in you, it’s just one of those things, you can’t force it.”
Anthony lives by the mantra of a good friend Charlie – a fashion buyer of note.
“Wherever you go, whatever you do, you can never leave the house looking like shit,” he recites. “And it’s true. I got the job at Et Al purely because of how I look.”
The Et Al (translated from Latin meaning ‘and others’) ethos fitted Anthony’s life trajectory and personal aesthetic perfectly.
The label boasted abstract silhouettes, rich textures and monochromatic tones. The label’s core audience is the mature woman – someone who no longer has children in school, likes to travel, has paid off their mortgage and whose body has changed from a 10 to a 14.
“We’re putting a product out there that has a point of difference and that’s why we are surviving and will survive,” he says.
He believes that knowing your audience and creating something unique for them will give you the longevity you need in a tough local market.
Anthony now has a large stake in the decision making process with the company.
“When they hired me they told me I was the future of that company,” he says. “I believe in it so much because no one is doing what we do.”
In his role Anthony has been given the opportunity to travel the world to seek inspiration. His time in New York, Tokyo and Shanghai proved the most rewarding.
“Hong Kong is a shopping mecca for me,” he coos. “Most items in the world have the ‘Made in China’ label. It’s the birth place of a lot of products and fashion. They are ahead of the trends… they literally make them.”
After his first showing at Australian Fashion Week in 2010, where he showed male models donning skirts, the media touted his style as avant-garde and androgynous.
“The word androgyny makes me want to spew,” he scoffs.
“To be honest I don’t relate to them [cross dressers] because I don’t consider myself one. I don’t believe that my interpretation of fashion needs to have a gender. Why can’t guys wear skirts? Girls have so many options.
“I hate being pigeonholed into something. I don’t want to challenge to be a brat, I believe in equality.”
Despite being adopted from a Filipino orphanage by his Australian parents as a baby, Anthony has always felt like he was accepted for who he is. His lifestyle and strong sense of individuality helped him overcome early adversity.
“I still remember the time I was spat on in Canberra,” he recalls. “I was about 16 years old. I went home to my father and was very teary. It was half racism and half to do with what I was wearing.”
After winning the second season of reality design show Project Runway in 2009, Anthony found consolation in his talents.
“I went from one day being spat at to the next being told I was an amazing designer.”
The show provided him a catalyst to showcase his creativity and made his personal style more accessible to the masses.
In spite of some teething issues which remain “off the record” he was able to launch his own label a.Concept which he now stocks in Et Al. It has, however, taken a backseat for the time being, due in part to the lack of a market for his clothing in Australia.
“I can see my stuff in Hong Kong. Every guy there is always well put together,” he says.
“The ladies think they can buy a Chanel handbag and that will carry their outfit but the men there are always impeccable.”
After securing an agent in Japan in late 2012, Et Al has its sights set on launching a menswear collection in Paris later this year.
“We’re not doing a parade but we have a showroom in Paris,” he says.
“There are no expectations; we’ve never done it before so we’re seeing how it goes. Ideally we would love to target the Asian market but the Asians won’t believe its credibility until the Europeans take it on.”
In the meantime, Anthony has his hands full creating a collection of garments in collaboration with one of Australia's most influential salons, Mieka Hairdressing. Founder Tracey Hughes will be touring hair shows worldwide and Anthony’s clothing will provide inspiration for the hairstyles to be seen by more than 10,000 people in the US alone.
With talent and success that belie his years, what advice would Anthony give?
“It’s so hard telling young designers to be focused and positive… the harsh reality is very few labels are taking on new designers. When I see a young designer I say – all I want you to be is passionate.”
The formal part of the interview over, Anthony suggests a drink at the bar across the road. As we attempt to step through the door a burly security guard stretches out his arm blocking the doorway. Anthony and I routinely rummage through our wallets looking for our IDs (flattered at the ripe old age of 31 that I still get asked).
The guard shakes his head...no!
He looks Anthony up and down, pauses... "No shorts permitted."
I sigh in disbelief, Anthony, completely unfazed, looks at me and shrugs. "Meh," he says and turns to leave.
I protest as we walk away.
"Doesn't he know? These aren't any shorts – they're designer.”