For 30-odd years Brown Sugar was a “bit of all right” until its descent, in the last six or seven, into a sad, unfashionably mediocre shadow of its former self. “It was very daggy,” says Winfred Fan, emphasising the “very”. The youngish (42) director of Brand Directions quit his highflying loft at Kookai 18 months ago to rescue the floundering Brown Sugar vertical retail and manufacturing empire from administration and almost certain death. “Lost its way” was a term bandied often at a cosy media dinner to relaunch the revamped brand at celebrity chef Neil Perry’s swank Rosetta restaurant in the Crown complex, Melbourne.

” Brown Sugar is back from the Wilderness Of Sad Old Frocks…”.

By evening’s end however, there was no doubt the now 38 year old Brown Sugar is back from the Wilderness Of Sad Old Frocks. (WOSOF if you prefer,and feel free to jot that down.) Now it’s up to its former market of 40-plus ladies to recognise that, and return to embrace it with disillusions dissolved. Whether or not they do is in the lap of the proverbial fashion goddesses. Mr. Fan’s work is done.  Now fingers crossed. Perhaps a new market of 30-plus urban classicists will also discover it. Fingers, eyes and legs crossed for that happy thought.

“Perhaps a new market of 30-plus urban classicists will also discover it…”

Winfred Fan appears to be an earnest and clever gent with genuinely good intentions toward women who prize style and elegance above attention-getting fads. He deserves success. As does his chic new team of Brown Sugar designers, headed by two glamourous women, Jessie Morrison and  Kat Ignatieva. They personify the brand’s key pitch at well-groomed, moderately fashionable 30-somethings. At Rosetta, as three models walked between tables of journalists and bloggers, Jessie, Kat and stylist Emily Ward (an inspired choice to cobble together six outfits to best convey the brand’s new mojo) talked about Brown Sugar’s commitment to style more than fads, the importance of fit and look as well as feel of good quality. For one short but gratifying moment, they even addressed the touchy matter of sleeves. A pet of mine. “Some women like them,” says Kat, or Jessie, and I immediately jotted that down. Amen. I would even venture more expansively that MOST women like a sleeve. It’s a personal theory based on vast anecdotal knowledge that renders their disappearance from so many categories of fashion in recent years (particularly those such as evening and bridal where they are most sorely needed), all the more bamboozling.
But I digress. Emily introduced a Baroque story of tweedy textures over sleek basics, all in rich earthy, plum-pudding colours.  The shapely silk shift frocks, soft leather jackets, thickly textured cashmere blend coatlets, metallic-shot blazers and knits cut perfectly for laying, are manufactured in Chinese factories which enables some attractive price capping. A shawl-collared car coat coveted by several fashion journalists who, depending on their age and taste, said they would wear it with skinny leather trousers or a chic pencil skirt and opaque tights, is just $199.

“Several fashion journalists…said they would wear it with skinny leather trousers or a chic pencil skirt and opaque tights…”

The soft structured fleshy leather zip jacket is $350. Those are the two most expensive items with fashioned dresses $120 – $160, pants and knits around $100 and useful, ensemble-transforming scarves about $70.
The styling is controlled and classic; no sexyhotnownow interpretations of bullseye fashion trends.
Brown Sugar’s online store is going gangbusters already according to Mr. Fan, and his boutiques around the country are also getting a slow, modernising makeover though most are still located in B-list suburban and regional centres. Planting a couple in A-list city or de-centralised malls could lure those 30-pus urban classicists mentioned earlier and dissolve any WOSOF delusions still lingering among Brown Sugar’s core 40-plussers. It’s a thought.

Janice Breen Burns,