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August 21 2014

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

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

We Are Handsome, Maticevski

If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize during my short time in Sydney, it’s that a healthy chunk of Australian life is about having a good time, hitting the beach, and looking great while doing it—and I think that’s gorgeous. This is perhaps the only fashion week in my entire career in which the tanning credits have been included in the show notes. If that doesn’t speak to Sydney’s fun-in-the-sun mentality, I don’t know what does.

Also indicative of Sydney-siders’ enviable lifestyles? We Are Handsome’s Spring ’14 outing. Held at the oh-so-green Paddington Reservoir Gardens, the show boasted swimwear covered with splashy prints (a bikini top that looked like watermelon slices was particularly clever), feather headdresses, dancing models, and oversize baubles in the shapes of wild animals and refreshing fruits. The stars of the show, however—coming in just ahead of a few shirtless male models who strutted with surfboards under their arms—were two shockingly calm young ladies who strolled down the catwalk with live pythons coiled around their torsos. “We have a snake print, so it made sense,” said designer Katinka Somers of the exotic accessory. “We tried to get a tiger, but we couldn’t do it,” added her husband and codesigner Jeremy Somers, gesturing to a swimsuit emblazoned with the cat.

Christopher Esber - Runway - Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2014Later on, designer Toni Maticevski presented a more elegant—albeit no less lively—side of Sydney style in his impressive lineup of sculpted, kicky skirts, dresses, and jackets. Crafted almost entirely of a non-crease neoprene-like material, the gray, black, white, and acid orange collection had a thoroughly modern sensibility, yet still nodded back to the classics. One tangerine jacket, for instance, recalled Cristobal Balenciaga’s cocoon coat. Meanwhile, full frocks referenced fifties silhouettes, and mesh overlays brought a sporty modesty to skin-baring looks. Also notable was the designer’s theme: orchids. The glossy runway was covered in a shadowy floral print, as was a range of his high-volume wares. “I thought, What if we fed orchids glycerin and weird-looking chemicals, and then shot them into space?” explained the designer backstage. He later added, “It’s important not to shy away from creativity.” No doubt, Maticevski embraced it here. And it paid off.

Tuesday’s runways wrapped with Aussie favorite Christopher Esber’s nautical collection. Big gold buttons on jackets and skirts really drove home Esber’s “women on the water” vibe, as did playful little tags that were embroidered with models’ initials. Ribbed knits—an Esber signature—were among the best pieces in the show. A skirt of that variety was embellished with beading, and a nineties-esque cream spaghetti strap slipdress, paired with a white tube bra, embodied the laid-back sensuality that seems key to the Down Under aesthetic. “Australian fashion overall has a sense of ease and sexuality to it,” explained Esber postshow. He experimented with the latter for Spring with a series of über-short wool-silk-viscose blend bloomers, which were styled with matching conservative jackets. The overall effect of these pastel ensembles was fifties cadet-cum-pinup. As for his future plans, Esber, who has gained international acclaim after winning the Aussie leg of the 2013 International Woolmark Prize, offered that broadening his global presence is currently his main focus.

Romance Was Born Exhibition Opening - Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2014

Day two ended—as all good days should—with a party. This season, Romance Was Born, the cerebral, vivacious range designed by Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales, skipped the runway in favor of a collaborative exhibition with artist Rebecca Baumann—a fitting move, considering the Sydney Biennale is on view next door to the MBFWA site. Dubbed Reflective Glory, the show, which debuted with a raucous dance party, focused on wearable objects of celebration. Shimmering, painstakingly embellished sequined frocks were intended to stir up nostalgia in the viewer, reminding them of unforgettable fetes or nights out on the town. No look epitomized that concept more than a vintage Madonna T-shirt that the designers covered in clear sequins and transformed into a dress via metallic streamers. The garment was made with the same shirt that Sales wore when he first met Plunkett at a house party years ago.

Displayed hanging from the ceiling, Romance Was Born’s wares looked to be dancing with Baumann’s installation of color and light—the space was a veritable kaleidoscope of energy and pizzazz. “We fly our own flag,” explained Plunkett during a preview. “We’ve always just done what we wanted and have tried not to overthink things. Our clothes are more about a feeling.” As for this particular collection, she offered, “We want the consumer to engage with it on an emotional level. It’s not just about wanting to look hot or sexy.”

As I mentioned before, Day Two’s shows magnified Sydney’s sense of fun. More important, however, they proved that there are some very serious talents here who work very hard—they just happen to have a ripping time while doing it.

Photo: IndigitalImages.com; Getty Images