Down Under Update: An In-Depth Look at Australia Fashion Week, Days Three and Four-------
Style.com’s Katharine K. Zarrella reports from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia.
Dion Lee is one of Sydney’s hottest young fashion stars. And the designer, who has shown his mainline collection in New York for the past two seasons, kicked off Day Three of MBFWA with a strong Spring ’14 presentation of his secondary range, aptly named Dion Lee II. Held in a warehouse, the exposed beams of which were draped with an airy white fabric, Lee’s lineup had a thoughtful ease to it. Colors were cool and simple—various hues of blues, whites, and blacks, with splashes of red and electric orange—and silhouettes were relaxed but also technical. Several looks featured deconstructed jackets in denim or leather, which were then attached to skirts, dresses, and trousers and transformed into clever, laid-back bustles. Elsewhere, suit jackets and blouses were slit up the spine to expose models’ bare (and tan) backs, and shirts and blazers offered clever cutouts—usually at the elbow or hip. “There was this concept of twenty-four hours,” explained Lee backstage. “I was inspired by the shift in how people dress today—you mix together all the genres of your wardrobe, from sportswear to eveningwear, tailoring, and even a little bit of loungewear, and I think the blend of all those elements is the defining category of the brand.”
Having opened his first Sydney flagship in December and set to bow another in Melbourne come July, Lee has experienced not only homeland, but international success. But that’s not always the case for Australian talents. Given their country’s distance from, well, everything; the import taxes that implies; the decline of domestic manufacturing; and the fact that Aussie designers are on an opposite seasonal schedule from Paris, London, New York, and Milan, the youngsters Down Under often have a rough go of it. Furthermore, designers have had no support system, like the CFDA in New York or BFC in London, to help them find their way. Through the Australian Fashion Chamber, which was discussed at an open forum during Day Four of MBFWA, Vogue Australia editor in chief Edwina McCann hopes to change that. “I’d love to see an Australian superstar,” McCann told Style.com. “But big-picture-wise, I think we need to redefine success. [Australians] have always looked at success as having a really healthy retail business in Australia, exporting and perhaps even showing on the Paris schedule, but I think nowadays, we need to understand that some of our best graduates would be best to go to bigger houses and work their way up,” she explained, noting that she’s had significant support from the CFDA, Anna Wintour, and Franca Sozzani.
The Chamber is still in its early stages of development and needs to secure further funding (for sponsors and/or the government), as well as tailor its goals to the needs of Australian designers. For instance, one topic brought up by a few designers is the fact that Sydney doesn’t have a low-cost or free platform like New York’s Milk Studios or London’s Topshop show space. Another key concern among designers is how to navigate the opposing seasonal selling schedules of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Josh Goot, who showed me his terribly impressive Fall ’14 collection during a studio visit, thinks the Chamber is a good first step. “It will join a lot of dots, and it’s great to have a not-for-profit organization that’s invested in the future of Australian fashion,” he said, before walking me through his impressive lineup of black-and-white, glitch-inspired wares. Goot, who has twenty stockists in Oz, as well as twenty abroad and Australian flagships, told me the focus for Fall was on “digitally decayed beauty.” This translated into fragmented floral jacquard prints. Elsewhere, he focused on a new, more streamlined look for the label, offering easy but sophisticated silhouettes. Black foam-bonded tops and skirts with silver insets were simultaneously sculptural and easy. Other standouts included layered skirts and T-shirts, a series of smart wool outerwear, and a skirt with a thick black waistband. Goot, who showed the latter with a black turtleneck, mused, “I’d want to know the girl who’s wearing that.” Considering how well he seems to understand his client, I’d imagine he already does.
After my chat with Goot, I walked a few streets over to visit with Lover designers Susien Chong and Nic Briand. This pair has managed to cultivate a healthy international following, which includes celebs like Emma Watson and a handful of Victoria’s Secret Angels. While 50 percent of Lover’s sales are currently exports, the designers assert that for Australian-based brands, their hometown market will always be their most important—a concerning fact, perhaps, considering the rapid pace at which fast-fashion chains are arriving in Oz. “We have 22 million people here. You’re bringing all those stores here. On top of that you’re going to have a new generation that grows up shopping at those stores. It will be very interesting to see how designers sustain their businesses. But at some point,” Briand said, “I think there’s going to be a kickback.”
Nadia Napreychikov and Cami James, the designers behind cult label Di$count—which closed out MBFWA with an off-schedule show on Thursday night—don’t really need to worry about competing with fast-fashion chains. That is, unless Topshop starts producing hand-sequined leggings, coats, and ass-less dresses with text like “Sex” or “You Will Never Own Me” across the front. To the beats of heavy metal, Di$count’s models hopped on a spinning mirrored platform, and showed off coats and frocks embellished with menacing, large-lipped faces; tights beaded with Mickey Mouse heads, smiley faces, and lewd phrases; and a robe garnished with electric pink fur and a giant purple eyeball. These clothes were not for the faint of heart. (In fact, they’re probably geared toward Di$count’s current clients, like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Britney Spears.) However, other pieces, including sparkling, tassel-drawstring basketball shorts and covetable studded leather jackets in a rainbow of hues, have mainstream appeal. As for where they get their techno-club aesthetic, the designers said, “Each piece is its own story. We just like to combine everything we love, and the inspirations come from what we’ve experienced in our lives.” Judging by their psychedelic Spring outing, Napreychikov and James, both in their late 20s, have led a life jam-packed with adventures.