Australian Fashion Week: The wonderful world of Oz

By Zoe Walker

Australian Fashion Week is about so much more than what's on the runway. Viva gives us the lowdown.

Stolen Girlfriends Club spring/summer 2011 at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week. Photo / Supplied
Stolen Girlfriends Club spring/summer 2011 at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week. Photo / Supplied

Australian Fashion Week always leaves many unanswered questions. Is it about the shows, or is it actually about being snapped by street style photographer Tommy Ton? Was the Vogue team sponsored by Prada? Why are fashion assistants always the ones who look po-faced and snotty in the front row, while the editors are smiling and talkative? Who was the amazing woman from Harper's Bazaar wearing Christopher Kane neon lace one day, a Stella McCartney fruit-printed skirt the next? And, who sent out the memo to most of the designers about doing a collection of minimalist white-on-white, with an injection of bold colour? Viva takes in the shows and the vibe at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week.

Smart Sydney

The oft-repeated stereotype of RAFW is that it's all tits and ass, short shorts and pretty dresses. There's a lot of that - in fact I think 95 per cent of shows I attended featured at least one pair of short shorts - but there is a generation of younger designers who have a much more interesting and modern aesthetic; these are the designers who are helping put Australia on the international fashion map.

Labels like Romance Was Born, who showed off-schedule in a library on the Sunday before Fashion Week officially began, Arnsdorf, Gary Bigeni, Therese Rawsthorne, Josh Goot and Dion Lee. The latter three were my favourite shows of the week, because it felt like I was seeing something thoughtful and interesting; more than just pretty dresses. Rawsthorne's morning off-site show was inspired by Twin Peaks, with skeletons of trees lining the runway and a plastic backdrop. The clothes were all about relaxed tailoring, with beautiful loose silk shirts, flashes of quirky colour, standout prints, and orchids worn as accessories.

Goot is known for his prints, but his beautiful show on the sixth floor of an old car yard focused more on shape and fabric, with prints as a complement. There were touches of Jil Sander, with cocoon shapes and bold colour, but it was a grown-up collection and a memorable show.

Dion Lee had the front row in raptures with his RAFW show last year, following it up with another held in the sunshine of the Sydney Opera House. Called "Composure", Lee's smarty-pants collection featured his signature sharp tailoring, 3D origami pleats and graphic prints, this time with a somewhat clinical bent. This season's print featured photographed textures of plastic and metal, reflecting the collection's balance of the organic versus synthetic - the most interesting pieces were made of wool and silk and coated with silicone and film, the inspiration was packaging. In a week where most shows followed a formula and featured dress after pretty dress, Lee's was one of the only shows where it felt like the designer was trying something new.

Oh goody

The sandwich given to those in the front row at Kirrily Johnston was much appreciated in a week where you survive largely on free coffee and sweets from the media room, but the best goodie bag treat by far was the premiere issue of Ellery Gazette, a glossy magazine put together by designer Kym Ellery. The 190-page magazine is a summation of the Ellery brand, with fashion shoots featuring pieces from recent collections, mini-profiles on those who work behind the scenes at the label, cute quotes from the garment-makers, essays on artists, a collection of personal photos from director Kinga Burza, and more. This foray into print isn't that far a stretch for Ellery, who used to work at Russh magazine. The show was pretty wonderful too: held in an art gallery that showcased Chinese artists, it was held over two-levels with two models walking the runway in synchronisation, giving me a fright each time they entered the room via the fire escape. The runway photographers almost lost the plot when Jennifer Hawkins walked out wearing a long yellow gown. The clothes continued Ellery's quirky take on glamour, with tuxedo shapes, long lengths, and a beautiful papier peint-style print inspired by the lounge room in David Hockney's painting The Second Marriage, and created by New Zealander Greg Sands.

Lighten up please

The words light and airy popped up several times throughout the week, with designers from Zimmermann to Arnsdorf to Fernando Frisoni lightening up for the new season. Kate Sylvester's collection was even called "Into the Light", which was only a little bit ironic as the lighting at her show was so dark it was difficult to see much or any of the details. Looking at the photos after the show, the collection is actually very beautiful, a clash of ethereal and tough - inspired by an interesting combination of moths and motocross. Sylvester herself wrote an adorable story in the show notes explaining the idea behind the collection which is about a demure, moth-loving scientist who falls in love, and has an electric moment behind the light banks with a leather-clad driver from the local speedway. The show wasn't held at the speedway, but at a horse sales ring with a circular runway (which had the editor of Marie Claire exclaiming, "Oh my God it's out in the open!"). Opening with Sylvester's current favourite model Julia Nobis standing under a beam of light in a prim moth wing-printed sheer dress, other highlights included the silky pieces in bold apple green and daffodil yellow, a beautiful lace appliqued with silk flowers, the finale floor-length dress made up of a black-beaded floral, and Sylvester's signature suiting, which came in boucle wool with flame pocket detail. Some of the moth-girl models even had "fake bums" padded into their leather hot pants.

Lovely lover

It isn't cool to show excitement at RAFW. Most people look jaded or bored, or flustered if they're based in the media room. But I couldn't hide my excitement about the Lover show on Monday night, and almost skipped to their Opera House venue. They haven't shown at Fashion Week for five years, but kicked off their 10th year celebrations by returning to the RAFW runway, and I felt very lucky to be there. The brand can genuinely claim to have a cult following, with a unique blend of innocent femininity and something a little bit sinister below the surface. Shown on a square runway, with a four-sided cube screen above that flashed the models' faces as they walked, the collection was a sensual, more grown-up take on Lover's girlish aesthetic, with a strict palette of white, black, nude and red, lots of their signature lace and, one of the key trends of the week, loose fitting tailoring.

Who is that?

Celebrity spotting at RAFW is incredibly difficult, unless it's blatantly obvious - like Cate Blanchett at Romance Was Born, or model Yasmin Le Bon modelling at Little Joe Woman. "Who is that?" I asked the woman sitting next to me about the brunette bombshell surrounded by photographers at Little Joe. She turned slowly and looked at me incredulously. "That is Terry Biviano." Er, right ... I should have known. Biviano is a Sydney shoe designer, and WAG, engaged to a Sydney Roosters player and about to star in a reality show called WAG Nation. Other Sydney "celebs" in the front row? Charlotte Dawson at Alex Perry, some girls from Home & Away, Jennifer Hawkins on the runway at the Ellery show, model Jessica Gomes, cricketer Michael Clarke at the Josh Goot show, while Ruby Rose looked incredibly cool in a Miu Miu leather tee at Therese Rawsthorne. Then there were two hot blondes standing in the way of my seat at Ellery - I discovered later that they were actually model Lara Bingle and actress Teresa Palmer. Who is that?

Up the garden path

Stolen Girlfriends Club made much ado about their "no-show" shoes from China. So much was written about them, even in the Sunday gossip pages, that gosh, I'm really interested to see them when they do turn up. The point of all that buzz perhaps? Remember, Stolen Girlfriends Club are the kings of marketing.

For their Thursday evening show, instead they used painted brothel creepers dusted with glitter. Often when a reviewer comments on liking the shoes in a show, it means they can't find anything else to say about the collection - in this case, I thought the shoes looked a bit too last-minute, D.I.Y; but like the no-show shoe buzz, maybe that too was the point.

The up-the-garden-path floral print that featured throughout the collection though was, to put it simply, beautiful. Taken from the work of New Zealand fine artist Karl Maughan, the bold print is a version of a 2009 piece called Kumeroa, used by Stolen Girlfriends Club as it is in vibrant colour, then inverted with a black and blue base for a darker take on the print - best showcased in a printed denim jacket and wide-legged trousers, a grungier take on the ubiquitous trouser suits that appeared throughout the shows. Explains co-designer Marc Moore, "We reflected the image in Photoshop in two different directions. The result, is a modern, futuristic kaleidoscopic eye puzzle of flora with a twisting garden path. It's probably the most colour we have ever used in a collection".

It's a fantastic collaboration, a unique print with an interesting back-story, and massively saleable too - a full-skirted dress had me scribbling "order this" in my notebook (although co-designer Marc Moore told me after the show that it isn't being produced: bummer). They relied heavily on this print - perhaps a little too heavily - but it's easy to see why they would have been so inspired by it. Something else possibly inspired by Maughan? The thigh-high shorts in the menswear collection, similar to the shorts I see Maughan wearing most mornings when I walk past him sitting outside Ponsonby Rd cafe Dizengoff.

Best-dressed

Gawking at those sitting in the rows opposite is one of the grossest, but most fun parts of Fashion Week - and at some shows, much more interesting that what's on the runway. Unsurprisingly, it's the fashion editors who most often come out as best-dressed: Meg Gray, fashion editor at Vogue, stood out for her pink hair and quirky mix of colour and print; Christine Centenera, fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar, for her edgy yet nonchalant style; and Stevie Dance from Russh with messy hair and wide-legged trousers.

I had several conversations with visiting New Zealanders about the lack of fashion in the front row at our own Fashion Week. It's almost startling to watch the fashion pack walk to their seats at RAFW in Balenciaga cardigans, Prada brogues, Miu Miu dresses, Stella McCartney trouser suits, Christopher Kane minis, Chloe heels, Proenza Schouler skirts, Celine trousers.

Where are our glossy fashion magazine teams who try to out do each other? Admittedly, you can't buy most of that in New Zealand, but it would be nice to see that level of dressing up and effort come NZ Fashion Week in August. It is a fashion week after all.

THE TRENDS

On the runway

1 White on white

2 Colour blocking

3 Short shorts

4 Halternecks

5 1970s inspiration

6 Lace

7 Long lengths

8 Neoprene

9 Cocoon shapes

10 Relaxed tailoring

In the front row

1 Prada spring 2011 prints

2 Prada sunglasses

3 Wide-legged trousers

4 Colour

5 Trouser suits

6 Silky shirts

7 An iPhone to play with while waiting for the show to start so you don't have to talk to anyone

- NZ Herald

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