Being smart, handsome, effortlessly stylish, funny and at ease in the company of women and women's fashion, it didn't take Kyle Robinson long to make his mark when he arrived in London in his early 20s. Naturally, somehow managing to be all that and straight made him stand out even more. Rather than bask in it, though, he's been getting up and going from day one.
Five years after he left Melbourne for the UK, Robinson has just founded his second fashion showroom here. Paper Mache Tiger is where he and his team showcase their labels, meet buyers and work with stores and, increasingly, online operations too. It's set in an impressive former bank building on the fringes of the city, next to his former company (and Hussein Chalayan's), and opposite the headquarters of Vice. Inside, the new company's big white basement space is like a fashion Aladdin's Cave, with clothes, jewellery and accessories from their roster of brands (which include Stolen Girlfriends Club, Athena Procopiou, Beau Coops and Damien Hirst's partner Maia Norman's ultra high-end Mother of Pearl label). When we visited, they were once again preparing to put the entire contents of their substantial space into the back of a lorry.
"Four times a year, we pack the whole showroom up and take all the collections to Paris. Some of the things that happen along the way are hilarious", Robinson explains. "You could make a great movie about that journey. And of course, if you don't speak French in Paris… good luck." Not that he's complaining - France, Robinson says, is leading the way in directional, affordable women's fashion. "They're calling it the French Invasion," he says. "Nobody else is coming close at the moment. It's good - it keeps everybody over here on their toes."
Robinson himself shows few no signs of needing incentives to stay alert. Having become fascinated with advertising at school and studied fine art at university, he started out in a variety of styling and buying roles, working for companies like MTV and being asked to fly all over the place dressing squadrons of models - "It was the best job in the world!" He began representing small designers via friends of friends and chance meetings, and arrived in London just as British fashion was waking up to the new wave of Australian fashion designers emerging in hip, creative corners of cities like Sydney and Melbourne.
Though his list of labels is now heavy with UK and European brands, the basic principle is the same: Robinson believes in emerging labels, bold design and new ideas over safety, whatever the complications. "We've got this great label called Draw in Light, two girls who are based not far from us. They make these beautiful pieces and silkscreen the prints by hand, so no two are identical. But when a woman orders two versions online so she can keep the one that fits - which is what usually happens - she's going to see two versions that aren't identical. We've already had problems with that."
With menswear, from which he's pulled back somewhat of late, Robinson says the biggest problem - especially in a recession - is getting men to diverge from the brands they are loyal to and experiment with new ones. He has clever ideas about that, of course, but since he's about to start a family and rebuild a historic home (the BBC reality show is coming to your screens soon, seriously), they're going to have to wait a bit. Online, offline, on the rails or on the ferry, it's hard to imagine Robinson getting there sooner rather than later.