Phoenix Keating's DE-SEX collection
Phoenix Keating's DE-SEX collection ranges from the demure to the mildly scandalous. Photo: actkaren.hardy
Phoenix Keating's latest collection woos with the sleek, sophisticated prettiness of pencil skirts and buttoned-down blouses, then mildly scandalises with models trussed up in ropes, with nipple pasties on their small, pert breasts.
This is the nature of his range, titled DE-SEX, which takes its cues from fetish gear and aims to strip away some of the raw sexual connotations of ropes, latex and binding in favour of aesthetic appeal.
Keating, 21, of Sydney, established his eponymous label in 2008. He explains his inspirations are always drawn from eras past. Looking at Belgian housewives of the 1700s, ''I kind of saw the roots of modern fetish wear,'' he says.
''I thought if we've managed to sexualise this very dowdy [look], we should be able to take it back a bit and make it less sexualised and take something that is latexy and sexual and bring it back, make it easy to look at and quite wearable.''
Certainly a lot of the pieces are demure enough, but others would raise a few eyebrows, such as a floor-length black sheer gown that reveals all, teamed with a rope harness and modest headscarf. The collection conceals and reveals all at once.
''Yes, definitely,'' Keating says. ''That is my personal aesthetic: it's about this kind of modesty that's sexy in the modern atmosphere.''
The youthful designer is precociously well-spoken and charming. His adventures in fashion started out in his mid-teens. There were courses in high school, then courses in TAFE to instruct him in the art of fashion illustration and fashion construction, as well as some community courses on pattern-making. All this groundwork culminated in a 20-piece debut collection when he was about 18.
He photographed the range, put it online and a couple of weeks later, had a message in his inbox: ''Urgent: request for Lady Gaga''. This email asked the debutant designer send off his entire first collection to New York in the direction of one of the most outrageously-costumed and fashion-conscious singers in pop music today, which he did within a week.
''I was calm about the whole thing,'' Keating says. ''They did use the [pieces] but the pictures didn't get published.''
A year later, there was a request for more of his clothes after the showing of his second collection. As Gaga was coming to Sydney, Keating was asked if she could wear some of his things.
''She wore two whole outfits when she was here, and that's when I fell over with excitement.''
His ultimate quarry, in terms of who he would most like to dress, is actress Tilda Swinton, who is noted for her avant garde style on the red carpet.
''She's a huge inspiration of mine,'' he says. ''she's strong, a powerful warrioress. She's got an incredible energy.''
Keating had an off-schedule showing at Australian Fashion Week this year and next year has been invited to show on-schedule.
In the meantime, those who care to see his work can catch an installation of his in Sydney this month. Limited pieces of the DE-SEX collection will be presented in a stylised installation at Seven Hundred Photos on June 28 at the Darlo Bar on the corner of Liverpool Street and Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst.
''It's going to be a showing of my clothes in a way that people wouldn't expect. It will be quite fabulous,'' he says.
Asked what fashion design is to him, he says it's all about art and narrative.
''Whenever something speaks to me, I have to sketch it. It's about the drama, really, this palpitation in my heart when I see something I love and have to draw it. It's my real, true love, I think. I've always had this passion. I think that I've always pushed myself in this direction.
''Not many people know what they want to do and have such a passion for what they want to do so early. That can in a way justify my age and what I'm doing at that age.''