reflecting on melbourne fashion festival
With a program catering to such a wide audience, the key to VAMFF is curating your own adventure.
Assk backstage. Photography Lucas Dawson.
Last weekend saw the final parade of the 20th Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, the consumer-focussed schedule consisting of a month-long cultural program and a week of on-site, predominantly group, runway presentations. From Dion Lee's showcase of sharp, tailored womenswear to the latest collections from long-serving designers like Akira Isogawa and Scanlan & Theodore, we were given a safe sense of what the more established labels have in store for winter.
Held at its new location, the parades took place within the Melbourne Museum (where models changed in front of a whale's skeleton), its underground car park and in the heritage-listed Exhibition Building next door. Needless to say, it was an inspiring backdrop.
In unsurprising news, our highlight of the week was the i-D presented Discovery Runway; a group show featuring a selection of emerging Victorian labels. Their winter 16 offerings were diverse but each reflected Australia's smart, versatile approach to fashion generally. Assk, who have only recently returned from working in Paris, opened the show with a friendly army draped in camouflage and patches with a message encouraging more open borders and greater acceptance around the world.
Pai's trademark, handmade three-dimensional faces took oversized tops to the next dimension and became an instant must have. Lois Hazel's flowing natural fabrics and intricate techniques offered a quietly confident alternative and Sister and Caves Collect achieved cool, strong femininity with a sustainable approach. Caves Collect's hand-crafted leather backpacks and Sister's off the shoulder bell-sleeve Stevie top are at the top of many a want list right now. Article. by Courtney Holm and AMXANDER offered smart approaches to street and sports wear and Banoffee closed the show performing live as she and the models paraded her new collaboration with Pageant complete with lime green sleeveless hoodies, padlock print lycra, oversized t-shirts and long black hoodies. In an industry increasingly adopting faster, more consumer-aware approaches to showing their collections, VAMFF has long operated on a 'shop the runway' model so these coveted items were easily acquired on the spot.
In many ways this is beneficial and practical for the designers and audience but in a relatively relaxed culture like Melbourne, whose clothes reflect a shared desire for comfort, wearability and affordability, rendering the catwalk something of a real life catalogue provides creative limits. At the same time, catering to the interests of retailers and sponsors is bound to set something of a safe framework for the action to take place. As a festival appealing to a very wide and largely mainstream audience, one of the challenges VAMFF faces is keeping the shows interesting and trying to appeal to a part of the fashion community who perhaps don't feel represented, involved or inspired by the annual celebration. That said, the festival goes some way to addressing this by including more of the younger, less mainstream designers with parades like the Graduate Showcase, the Discovery Runway and the return of the Oyster show. In fact the final glimpse of what's in store for winter 16 came courtesy of street wear wizards PAM as a gang dressed in tracksuits, graphic t-shirts, bombers and bike-light adorned gloves stormed around the runway to a techno soundtrack providing some welcome drama and spectacle.
On top of that the festival's Cultural Program provides a wider representation of the city's fashion giving relevant institutions and creative collectives the opportunity to be involved with relative creative freedom and hubs like No Order Market through to the National Gallery programming compelling content. There are writing workshops, panels, exhibitions, films and more niche runways that benefit from the festival's exposure. Interesting guests are always a highlight and this year Diesel's founder Renzo Rosso and multi-tasking creative director, Nicola Formichetti were in town to launch Diesel World, an exhibition celebrating 35 years of the brand as a linear retrospective. Styles from the 80s and 90s sat next to the current collection as a snapshot of the label's evolution. Speaking to Nicola regarding Diesel and his plans for the label, he shared the kind of sensible wisdom that could sensibly be applied across scenarios. In order to continue improving and elevating the label he told us, "Diesel was a really creative brand but then it became corporate and huge and lost its edge. What I want to do now is take it back to where it started, back to that smaller, spontaneous, crazy vibe into the next 35 years. I've had to simplify it first so this is possible." For people working in the local industry, Nicola and Renzo's business wisdom was valuable.
A highlight of the festival was the casting with strong, diverse models dominating the week. Reflecting our increasingly multicultural city, where the model came from was less important than their personality and presence on the runway. Friends, acquaintances and street cast kids of varying heights and weights walked alongside agency models as a more realistic reflection of an increasingly nuanced Australia. And with a festival such as VAMFF whose difficult task is to represent a very broad fashion demographic, it's the positive incremental changes that will make the difference.
As a fashion week falling at the end of the European shows, it's inevitable that comparisons are made but as an event with very different objectives and budgets, it's pointless to ever compare. And maybe it doesn't have to compare. As long as VAMFF can continue to provide opportunities that help to identify, celebrate and develop true Australian fashion and importantly, what's happening below the surface, then it's something we should embrace.