For Aussie chef Maxine Thompson, style and comfort have always played an important part in her life, so when she decided to trade her job at Chanel for the not-so-glamorous life of a chef, she didn’t expect to compromise on that. After several years spent working in the industry, Maxine launched PolkaPants in 2016, a clothing label specialising in women’s chef pants.
From a young age, cooking has always been Maxine’s calling. “I ran my first kitchen [in] a little beachside café when I was 17, and I cooked my whole way through university whilst studying fashion design.”
But it was only when she and her two sisters started a food blog The Bookery Cook in 2009, which they then turned into a cookbook, that Maxine realised she could pursue it as a career. “While we were writing [the cookbook], I was working at Chanel and was a little frustrated by the lack of creativity in my job as I was working on the business side rather than design,” Maxine recalls. “I had also toyed with the idea of training professionally as a chef, and as we were working on the book, it felt like the right move to make.”
Soon after, Maxine enrolled at The French Culinary School in New York, just down the road from her Chanel office.
The idea for PolkaPants came when she was working in a restaurant in Tasmania in 2013. “With only three of us in the kitchen, the days were long, hard and fast, and service was hot and sweaty,” Maxine explains. “I could not for the life of me find a pair of trousers that were cool, comfortable and durable enough to work in for 14 hours a day.”
Traditionally, chef pants are much like pyjama bottoms; baggy and long, with an elasticised waist and drawstring closure. “I went through so many different pairs of store bought trousers – I even tried cooking in high waist tight jeans one night, and almost passed out I was so hot and uncomfortable!” Maxine says. “I was fed up of spending money on unsuitable products, so I took matters into my own hands and started to make my own.”
Inspired by the utility scheme clothing of the 40s, Maxine designed her trousers with a high waist and slim fit through the leg – a flattering cut for all body shapes and sizes. Made of 97 percent cotton with 3 percent stretch, they come in two different leg lengths: cropped and long.
Created with ethical and sustainable practices in mind, PolkaPants trousers are made in a small production studio in North London and their staff are paid above London living wage. “All our fabrics are sourced from Turkey where they are milled especially for us,” Maxine says. “We are currently researching ways to close the loop and donate our fabric off-cuts to be recycled and reused.”
PolkaPants works with artists and illustrators to create their unique and exclusive designs. Their latest collaboration, titled Camomile Flower, is with local Adelaide artist Billie Justice Thomson. Known for her nostalgic and iconic food and drink illustrations, Billie’s paintings are easily distinguishable. “I adore her work, and when we were brainstorming ideas for the floral collection and speaking with artists, Billie just felt like the right fit,” Maxine says. “Her bright colours and clean lines translate so well into print and her style matches our tradition of having big bold prints.”