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Down Under Update: An In-Depth Look at Australia Fashion Week, Day One

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Gail Sorronda - Runway - Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2014Style.com’s Katharine K. Zarrella reports from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia.

After forty-nine years in the biz, designer Carla Zampatti has become known as the godmother of Australian fashion. So it’s fitting, then, that Zampatti, 71, kicked off Sydney’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia Sunday night with a jam-packed runway show and dinner.

The clothes, like plunging jumpsuits, sheer lace gowns, and fluid frocks (one of which had a dramatic white train), were the stuff Zampatti’s well-to-do hometown clients will scoop up in a second. But it was something she said during her postshow speech that got my attention. Speaking to a crowd that included editors, designers, and, surprisingly enough, Paula Abdul, Zampatti expressed her Australian pride and that soon, Sydney would overtake capitals like Paris, London, and New York as the international fashion stage’s main event.

Realistic? Not really. But that has little to do with the caliber of talent Sydney has to offer. Rather, the problem is the twenty-four-hour flight (for New Yorkers, at least) and crippling jet lag that international press, buyers, and models have to endure in order to attend (hence, brands like Sass & Bide, Tome, and Zimmermann’s choice to take their collections elsewhere).

But Australia’s designers are making an impressive effort to compete. For instance, Monday saw not just one, but two major models, Alessandra Ambrosio and native Aussie Julia Nobis, walk down the runways at Alex Perry and Ellery, respectively.

“I’m really passionate about the Australian fashion industry, and have chosen to cast all Australian and New Zealander models,” offered designer Kim Ellery, who presented her Fall ’14 collection in Paris in March. In Sydney, she turned out a range of eveningwear that played with the concepts of form and shadow. Signature bell sleeves and fluid pleated silk abounded in the predominantly black and white lineup. Particularly impressive were gowns and bustiers embellished with swirling bits of fabric at the front. Oh, and did I mention the location? An oceanfront pool-cum-restaurant at Bondi Beach? Even over the music, we could hear (and see) the waves crashing beneath us. On second thought, perhaps it won’t be so hard to get out-of-towners down here after all.

Peter Strateas and Mario-Luca Carlucci, the Aussie designers behind two-year-old label Strateas. Carlucci, showed at MBFWA for the first time this season—they usually present in Paris. “We felt it was the right time,” said the designers backstage. “We’ve gotten a lot of support locally, and the press was curious, so we thought this was the best way to say this is who we are as a brand, and this is what we’re about.” While the duo are unsure about whether they will continue to show on their home turf, their commitment to Oz is clear. Australian merino wool—in boiled, brushed, and resin-coated varieties—was featured in their taupe, black, and navy collection (a wool cocoon coat was a clear standout), and their leather jackets, accented by handsome, oversize silver zippers, were crafted from kangaroo leather.

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Two collections down and I couldn’t help but wonder: Where’s all that color and print that I’d heard so much about? I found them at Desert Designs, a fashion collective that focuses on Australian history and Aboriginal culture. The finale look, an electric printed jacket over bathing suit bottoms, was the perfect cure for my midday exhaustion. And a series of caftans and elastic-waist trousers seemed fit for romps through Sydney and Williamsburg alike.

I wrapped up the day with Gail Sorronda, an imaginative young talent with a delectable dark side. Her theme? The Little Mermaid. The presentation—which was, in part, a collaboration with Disney—opened with a ballet-light-show hybrid, and immediately launched into a parade of models in sheer black, ivory, or coral chiffon looks, many of which had jellyfish-like silhouettes. A T-shirt printed with Sebastian the Crab, paired with houndstooth trousers, was just camp enough to work. However, a jumpsuit and bell-bottoms smattered with mini Ariels felt a touch literal. Sorronda’s real strengths were her more intricate designs. A diaphanous white dress embroidered with pearly beads in the shape of an upside-down octopus was easily the best piece in the show. As for why she sticks to Sydney, the Central Saint Martins-trained Sorronda offered, “Of course it’s my aspiration to travel and be part of the global community, but everything’s so accessible these days through the Internet. And this is my home.”

Photo: Getty Images; Indigitalimages.com

The Insider’s Guide to Oz: An Australia Fashion Week Itinerary

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Dion Lee, Tome, and Zimmermann helped prove that Australian designers are a force to be reckoned with. And while two of the trio have decamped to New York’s catwalks, plenty of talent remains Down Under for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia. Headed to the shows and unfamiliar with Oz? RUSSH editor in chief and Style Map contributor Jess Blanch has curated her insider’s picks to see you through Sydney well-fed, -clothed, and –cultured. Happy trails!

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Wine and Dine
There’s never a wrong time to go to Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Point. The charming Italian owners Enrico, Giovanni, and Marco have made it the place to meet for a coffee and biscotti or pasta at any time, on any day. They also have a wine bar called 10 William Street Paddington, with an equally great wine list and a tiny upstairs balcony—the best place to be if you can find a spot.

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Swim and Steam
All the off-schedule action happens in the early morning at Bondi Beach, where the water is at its warmest this time of year. Take your swim at North Bondi early and head to Porch and Parlour for a green bowl and coffee made by its friendly baristas. Weather permitting, on the other end of the beach, go for a swim and steam at the Icebergs pool, then upstairs to the dining room and bar for organic bircher and Orchard Street Juices. It’s got to be the best view in the world.

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Shop Paddington
Paddington is a neighborhood shopping spot and home to many of our authentic Australian brands. Go to Jac + Jack for luxe basics in linen jersey and cashmere; Ellery for something beautifully on-trend; and visit Jane behind the blue door at the Land’s End Store farther around Glenmore Road for some Céline, Balmain, and Proenza Schlouler. It’s a one-off, special boutique like your mum used to shop at. Also, at Paddington’s The Intersection, you can find Scanlan & Theodore, Bassike, Camilla and Marc, Zimmermann, Willow, Bianca Spender, and Josh Goot.

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Eat Cantonese
The best way to slow down after fashion week is with a Chinese food coma, and Mr. Wong is the best Cantonese in Sydney. Ask its charming maître d’ Jonny Rockstar (really his name) for a table upstairs and experience the best prawn toasts and dim sum outside Guangzhou before eating wok-fried lobster with champagne. It’s old-school heaven.

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See the Biennale
The only place you’ll spot more fashion people than at the shows is at art venues around Sydney, as this is Biennale time (our biggest and best contemporary visual arts festival). Running until the start of June, the nineteenth iteration, You Imagine What You Desire, will run across multiple venues, but I particularly love exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW, the original venue for the event.