From robes to riches: The fashion targets of Amber Symond
11th May 2023

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One interesting thing about the creative director of Australian fashion label Common Hours is nearly always mentioned first. Amber Symond is married to John Symond, the multimillionaire founder of mortgage broker Aussie Home Loans, but in fashion, rich relatives are as common as scrunchies.

Common Hours creative director Amber Symond with models Lauren Stevenson and Duke Sneddon in pieces from the Alley Cat collection being shown ahead of Australian Fashion Week.Credit: Janie Barrett

Amber’s intricate, embellished, anti-stealth wealth designs hint at much more.

Labels from millionaire WAGS and nepo-babies fill the runways, but international recognition isn’t guaranteed. In three years Amber Symond has forged a path to success with lavish robes and dresses featuring the words of authors and lyrics of artists, along with Lurex mesh underwear.

Common Hours clothes are priced between $480 and $24,000, and have sold out at British e-tailer MatchesFashion.com for three consecutive seasons. Soon they will be stocked by Lane Crawford, Asia’s arbiter of all things luxury.

“Customers attracted to the brand are collectors who don’t buy much but when they do, they are collecting pieces that are meant to last,” Symond says. “We work with incredible artists. The heritage mills that we collaborate with pursue excellence and the prices reflect the craftsmanship of all the artists involved.”

“The most we have made is 50 of one style. Sometimes there will only be 10 of one piece.”

Fabrics for the more expensive robes are sourced from Indian atelier Chankaya, which collaborated with Dior on a collection in March but Symond isn’t interested in creating a luxury giant to rival the houses of Paris.

“I don’t have a monetary goal,” she says. “My aim is to be even bolder. To take more risks and work with more artists in all fields.”

Tonight a new collection debuts ahead of Australian Fashion Week, which starts at Carriageworks in Sydney on Monday. Models for Common Hours will take to an improvised runway through the Potts Point property purchased by Symond in 2020 for $12.5 million, about four kilometres from the 2685 square metre Point Piper home she shares with John and the two children from her first marriage to Patrick Keating.

Rather than source inspiration from the standard super yacht destinations of Portofino, Monaco and St Tropez, Symond has turned to childhood memories in the back alleys of Sydney, filtered through the window of a Kombi van.

Her parents operated the North Sydney wine bar Alley Cat in the late seventies and eighties, which has given the new collection its name. Alley Cat was a place where bands such as Matt Finish, The Clones and The Farris Brothers, later INXS, would showcase their material.

Common Hours creative director Amber Symond thinks of her collections as collectible art.Credit: Janie Barrett

“My dad converted a Kombi van into a bedroom when it became too late for us to go home,” she says. “I remember looking at the barmaids and thinking of them as the most beautiful creatures with long tights, skimpy singlets and clumpy eyeliner.”

Nocturnal activities inspired this collection, one of only two that Common Hours creates a year, compared to the five to six ranges released annually by competitors. Symond prefers taking her time on pieces featuring artwork licensed from the estate of Tamara de Lempicka and original work by Judd Shoppee, which is why she has abandoned the fashion week calendar.

“We want to take the entire day to get the show perfect. We are always looking for excellence. We want people to have the time to do the storytelling and to enjoy and engage with guests, friends, the makers, cutters and our team.”

When Symond takes her bow as creative director, “I’m really uncomfortable with any types of titles”, she will be deaf to any applause.

“This is the elixir to my own overthought,” she says. “This is a personal endeavour. If it lands with an audience, that’s great.”

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