At Australian Fashion Week: The Local Hero, The Supe-To-Be, And The Next Big Thing-------
At dusk in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, huge white cockatoos are still screeching around as the bats begin to stir, and the sky is momentarily filled with two winged species as different as day and night. It’s an amazing sight, perhaps not as charming as the lorikeets, the small parrots that settle to eat out of a visitor’s hand on the terrace of Heidi (Sass & Bide) Middleton’s house in Palm Beach just north of the city, but a reminder nevertheless that nature never stops putting on a show in Sydney. How can fashion compete, especially when it seems to flourish best in urban environments like Milan or Paris, where the spectacle comes courtesy of human beings?
Last week, the Australian fashion industry attempted to mount a persuasive alternative to nature’s charms, but when the most convincing designers seemed to be those who embraced and celebrated their environment, it was clear that you just can’t beat sun, sea, and sand. (All three were in full effect as Australia’s collections for next spring/summer were shown while this spring/summer dragged itself out in extravagant Indian style.) Seventh Wonderland (pictured, above left) and Zimmermann specialize in swimwear and, like designers in similarly blessed Rio, they take the bikini farther than you could imagine. Nicky Zimmermann in particular struck a sophisticated balance between form and function: Her retro references evoked haute Hollywood, but her prints were a contemporary blend of Spirographs and silvery black and white florals (above, right). And the cover-ups that accompanied the swimsuits (i.e., extended the brand) were sleekly glamorous in a way that seemed entirely natural for Sydney flesh honed, toned, and tanned by endless summers.
It’s a body-conscious aesthetic that has been successfully exported by Sass & Bide’s Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke, Kit Willow-Podgornik (whose new scuba dress with Lycra ruffles will spring from swimming pool to cocktail party missing nary a beat), and Josh Goot. Such is their international profile that these designers choose to spend their promotional dollars abroad. A shame, because the hometown program could have done with their gloss and focus. Although Goot, coming off his strongest collection yet, did concede, “Instead of trying to capture what’s over there, we should capture what’s over here, because what we have here is unique.”
Granted, the Sydney flora and fauna have a very particular quality, but Australian fashion week proved a point that is anything but unique. The concept of the fashion week has become a prime component in the cultural identity of cities all over the world (not just cities—Transylvania just rolled one out), and they all seem to feature the same cast of characters: the Local Hero, the Showman, the Avant-Gardist, the Next Big Thing, the Arty Duo, the Budding Supermodel, and so on. Sydney’s supe-in-the-making was 19-year-old aboriginal Samantha Harris. Its Showman was Alex Perry (1,000-foot catwalk, dressy glitz, sleb front row). The Avant-Gardist was Ben Pollitt, whose nom de mode is the more appropriately Teutonic Friedrich Gray (though it’s Rick Owens who deserves the royalties). Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales were the Arty Duo, cross-pollinating with Local Hero with their label Romance Was Born (pictured, below left). Hence, a late-night slot (made later by a 90-minute delay), a worshipful audience, and a collection that joyously erred on the side of delirious excess. (Dinosaurs mating with the Medicis under the volcano? The scenario could have been torn from Galliano’s back pages.) Or perhaps the Local Heroes were the Ksubi boys, George Gorrow and Dan Single, whose denim label hit the comeback trail after some business setbacks with a spectacle that was all crowd-pleasing style and precious little substance.
Next Big Thing? Undoubtedly Dion Lee (below right), 24 years old and already showing the kind of promise that slots him in alongside young Turk peers like Marios Schwab and Proenza Schouler. His clothes were precise and polished, his prints were extraordinary (ultraviolet Rorschach blots looking like eerie florals). And Lee’s show was perfectly edited and paced, qualities that were sorely lacking elsewhere in the week. It was also staged in the Sydney Opera House, a building that is still so breathtaking after nearly 40 years that it’s a reminder of what human beings can achieve even when the natural world on their doorstep conspires to distract them at every turn. And there’s surely some inspiration there for young hopefuls like Dion Lee.