Commas has evolved from swimwear to an elevated, unstructured and relevant local aesthetic. And the world is rightly taking notice.
There’s only one thing that designer Richard Jarman can’t do without.
“Sandals,” he offers, after a few moments of thought. “It has to be sandals. To be honest, I wear them right through winter – they’re my go-to, I guess, the staple when everything else changes.”
His answer may surprise some. But the simple urbanity that the footwear represents elegantly sums up the philosophy that drives Commas, the Australian-made menswear brand founded by Jarman in 2017; now one of Australia’s premium sartorial exports stocked in some equally premium retailers that includes SSense, MatchesFashion, and, most recently, Harrods in London.
A refined sense of style while still playfully alla moda, sandals are the footwear of leisure. And leisure, or holidaying, is what Commas is all about. Or to be more precise, it’s the feeling that taking a holiday, even if it’s just a weekend getaway, can generate – that sense of freedom; the calmness that washes over as you step out into the sun in a remote port.
As the brand name suggests, Commas is that pause between one moment and the next.
Best known for their unstructured silhouettes and a utilitarian approach to luxury, Commas has offered a different perspective to what’s usually associated with ‘Australian menswear’. No exaggerated ruggedness or overly deconstructed detailing. No trend-oriented capsules. Instead, a clothing defined by fluid lightness highlighted by its use of natural materials – Italian linens, cotton, silks. Fits focus on drape, allowing the body to move freely while colour palettes remain restrained. It’s a simplicity in design that has also made it as popular among women as it has men.
What originally started out as a collection of perfectly crafted swimwear including boardshorts, Commas has evolved into a well-rounded, fully-realised resort wear wardrobe crafted to create a sense of evergreen downtime.
“When we began to tease in ready-to-wear, people just got so excited,” says Jarman, 36. “So we thought, this makes so much sense to keep developing this.”
Dressed in head-to-toe black linen from the brand’s most recent collection (and his ubiquitous sandals) Jarman is a walking endorsement of the label’s meditative concept. Perennially tanned from a lifetime spent in the water – “We [wife and business partner, Emma] swim all year round” – and with a soft way of speaking that’s considered, thoughtful even, Jarman is a far cry from the frenetic energy usually found within those who work in the fashion industry.
This could be because he didn’t start out in fashion. Hailing from Sydney’s southern beaches, Jarman was studying economics and was on the pathway to attaining a masters in property development before he decided to take the plunge and design a line of boardshorts and swimwear. While Jarman would continue to juggle both careers for a few years, growing demand for the product placed him at a crossroads.
“I continued working full time after finishing my masters and I worked in the economics industry for overall 10 years,” he explains. After he landed the Matches account, things started to pick up pace.
“[Matches] advised me that the collection was selling out and that they would like to place another order on that same collection. After that, I tried to juggle both jobs for a while but as Commas continued to grow with more accounts and larger orders it became obvious that a decision needed to be made.”
Even after diving into head on into the industry, Jarman’s managed to retain a relative distance from its ebbs and flows — instead focused on creating a brand that’s remained true to its original vision. In the space of just five years, Commas has undergone an acute refinement of purpose and aesthetic.
“For me as a designer and maturing personally, swimwear was a big challenge to start with, not coming from fashion. And then once we ought to handle that and we’d set up manufacturing – in terms of design, I felt like I was growing and wanted to do more.”
The brand’s first major break into the global market came when Jarman was selected to take part in an Australian contingent selected by Woolmark to attend the twice-yearly trade (and peacocking) show Pitti Uomo. It was here that the brand was snapped up by online luxury etailer MatchesFashion.
The second gateway into fast tracking their success came courtesy of a certain C-word – COVID. The decision to have Commas made locally meant avoiding global factory closures and freight delays, garments ready to go when international buyers came calling.
“There were some stockists that were on the fence with us, like SSense. We’d met with them a little bit earlier but it didn’t seem like an order was coming through then suddenly they were like, ‘Hey, we’ve just had a meeting and if you have stock, we need it tomorrow’. And we simply said ‘yep, cool… It was a matter of perfect timing.”
Timing, so too a case of intuitively understanding menswear’s changes. The familiar codes that marked the sector – structured tailoring built on corporate formality – was falling out of favour, replaced by more fluid modes of dressing that were adaptable and, most importantly, more comfortable.
Each collection from Commas is a continuation of the last, traversing the various silhouettes of relaxed styling. From the shirting, trousers and lounge shorts to robes and outerwear – fits are loose, cuts are oversized. Handmade knitwear, a collaboration with the legendary John Macarthur of Purl Harbour and done in his studio in Bondi, is chunky and highly breathable to be suited to even Sydney’s thick humidity.
“[Macarthur] works with these incredible Italian cottons that are super breathable – they’re perfect.”
The brand also walks fashion’s more recent path of ‘modern luxury’.
“I think the lens in which we view luxury has changed a lot,” explains Jarman. “I think right down to things like the way people holiday — seeking freedom and then disconnecting.”
The latest collection is the most directional for the brand. Hand painted art, a mix of Etruscan-esque and modern still life, adorn silk shirts while knit polos seamlessly blend the functional with formal. There’s also a debut Commas suit — done in a very COMMAS way. Available in a neutral cream or dark chocolate, the double-breasted linen jacket and trousers swap the rigidity of formal tailoring’s for a more organic fit.
“We went to a destination wedding in Bali before the lockdowns and I remember being there and being in a fully lined suit, just thinking, ‘this will not be part of my holiday wardrobe ever again’ — I was sweating profusely. So this style of suiting was a by-product of that.”
Much like the expansion from boardshorts into ready-to-wear, Jarman explains this as a natural progression for the brand — transforming one of menswear’s cornerstones into something more (ahem) suitable to wear poolside at a chosen resort.
“Soft tailoring makes a lot of sense for us. I think in terms of corporate suiting, I don’t ever see that being part of our wardrobe, but I think it’s really just playing into what you see is missing from the holiday wardrobe and designing into that.”
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