To dry clean, or not to dry clean, that is the question. Acclaimed designer-to-the-stars Alex Perry reveals his tricks for getting years of mileage out of your favourite clothes.
Alex Perry has been dreaming up gorgeous designs for years, taking them from ideas to sketches to luxury clothes sold in high-end department stores. His creations are worn by Hollywood A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian, and Australian 'It girls' Megan Gale and Jennifer Hawkins.
Putting his knowledge of all things fashion and fabrics to good use, Alex has been a long-time partner of Electrolux and spoke to Lifestyle to impart his wisdom on how to wash and care for your most treasured clothes.
How to get the most out of your clothes
Alex's number one tip for maximising your wardrobe's longevity is fabric choice.
"The rule of thumb is the better quality it is in the beginning, the longer it’s going to last."
If you’re going to wash something, you don’t need to put it in the machine on a really long cycle, you just need to treat specific areas. If you’ve got makeup on the collar or stains under the arms, first spray them with stain remover, apply a mild soap and give the fabric a rub. Once you've washed wash the soap and gotten rid of the bulk of the stain, you should then put it into the wash.
"I throw all my gym clothes in the wash for 55 minutes - for me, that’s plenty - and everything comes out clean and smells really great," Alex says. "It’ll protect the integrity of your clothing for longer if you’re not putting them in the machine every second day on a big, long cycle - especially on a top loader that’s quite brutal on your clothing. Press your garments nicely, hang them up and just look after them - they’ll last longer."
Does 'dry clean only' really mean 'dry clean only'?
"It does," Alex says. "And to some extent, we as manufacturers need to protect ourselves. So when we say 'dry clean only', we really do mean that."
In his grandmother’s day, Alex says people knew much more about fabrics than they do today: "They knew how to wash a woollen jumper and they knew how to take care of things. They didn’t have the money to go and get things dry cleaned all the time, so they knew how to handle different fabrics."
"My friends who do have an idea about fashion will dry clean some things, but they’ll know they can hand wash other garments and it will still feel OK. But if you don’t have an idea about fabrics, you definitely need to take it a dry cleaner," Alex advises.
When washing a garment with both dark and light colours - like a Breton T-shirt - should you treat it as a light or dark?
"I treat it as a light. Wash it on a cold setting and use colour catchers, which you can throw into the washing machine," says Alex.
Turn the garment inside out and put it into the washing machine with a product like Napisan, as you would a white - the colour catchers will help the colour not bleed out. Dry the garment inside out so that the sun or heat from the dryer doesn’t bleach the fabric.
"When I lived at home, all my white clothes used to be white, and then when I moved out they weren’t anymore! I've learnt after doing what I do that this is how you look after clothes," Alex says.
Washing delicate items
"Front loaders are a much gentler way of washing clothes," says Alex. "You don’t need to have something in the washing machine for an hour, sometimes 15 minutes is fine if they’re not super dirty or they’re delicate."
Use a pre-wash stain remover and go over the collars and the cuffs to get some of the grime off before you wash them. This way, you don’t have to thrash them around in the machine, which breaks down the integrity of the fabric.
Alex advice is to always put your delicate items into a washing bag, before putting them into your front loader washing machine on a gentle cycle for about 20 minutes.
Fabrics to buy and avoid
When it comes to fabrics, Alex is an advocate of natural fibres.
"Personally, I don’t like wearing synthetic shirts because I think that they and your underarms don’t become friends. They’re not nice to wear and if you perspire, you feel really uncomfortable," he says.
Choosing fabrics made from natural fibres is always best if your budget permits. Otherwise, look for a fabric made from a blend of natural and synthetic materials, which can help the fabric to last longer and makes for a more sustainable fashion choice.
Viscose is another of Alex's fabric picks for longer-lasting clothes. Originally made from cellulose, viscose is neither truly synthetic nor truly natural. It doesn’t feel synthetic when you touch it and washes really well.
"I would generally steer towards natural fibres, because they’re healthier for you, they look better, feel better and don’t smell," says Alex.
Australia's growing high-street fashion culture
Despite spending a lot of time around high-end clothes, Alex doesn't stray away from Australia's high street outlets and encourages consumers to shop at more affordable retailers if it gives them an opportunity to have fun with fashion.
"There’s something great about when you find something that hasn’t cost you a fortune but you love it and you know you’ll wear it. You don’t have to have a big budget and you can actually buy fashion that makes you feel fashionable," Alex says. "I myself love going into General Pants. They've got great T-shirts, cut-offs, jeans and things that we wear all the time and don’t cost a fortune."
Alex's key to successful high-street shopping and styling is to develop your own taste and be confident in what you buy and how you put it together.
Alex's favourite Australian designers
Alex is a big fan of luxury womenswear label Ellery, which is headed up by his friend Kim Ellery.
"Kim is incredible, she’s doing amazing things worldwide," Alex says. "She’s got such a distinct handwriting and designing of her own. It's very young, modern and beautiful textures and shapes."
"And Toni Maticevski is one of the nicest guys ever," he continues. "Just such beautiful evening wear that’s so modern and sexy with different constructions, but everything he does makes women feel really beautiful, glamorous and strong."
For more fashion care advice and handy hints, download Alex Perry's Electrolux Fashion Care Guide.