how the new generation of designers are making fashion fair

2016's graduates are tearing up the rule book, reinventing traditional models and making considerate fashion for the future.

by Briony Wright
10 November 2016, 10:55pm

Tallulah Storm wearing Dougal McMurchy. Photo by Nadeemy Betros.

As 2016 draws to an end and a new generation of designers spend their final course weeks frantically completing graduate collections, a picture of fashion's new frontier is beginning to emerge. In a world where established labels and fashion houses are constantly adapting to keep pace with changing times, attitudes, business models and production schedules, students have an advantage in terms of comprehending the new market. They inherently understand the needs and wants of young customers and are aware of the power that brings. At the heart of this is the desire to create an environment that is arguably more inclusive and respectful than ever before. Leading this charge are the new crop of creatives, many of whom are questioning the status quo via their work, challenging long-held ideals of what is beautiful, fashionable, responsible and fair, and essentially flipping the rule-book on its head.

Elisa Keeler by James Robertson at the Holly Wood Seven showcase.

This new approach to fashion is never more under the magnifying glass than at student-led runways. In Melbourne alone, the last few weeks have seen a number of independent graduate presentations, each of which powerfully communicate the priorities of young designers. Small, committed collectives, who understand the importance of showing their creations in contexts they can control, are doing things their own way. By harnessing crowd-funding opportunities they are not only managing the way their clothes are shown by removing the issue of financial dependence, but also devepoling a community of fans. All while putting on an exciting event that is can remain completely pure and celebratory. As a generation that has witnessed more mature labels focus their vision on a predominantly white, wealthy, skinny, straight customer, these new designers are determined to broaden the field and make fashion fit for the people who don't identify with that paradigm.

Natasha Havir Smith by Timothy Treasure at the Hollywood Seven showcase.

Last week the Hollywood Seven Showcase took place in the driveway of a motel in Brunswick. It featured the work of a group of relatively experimental RMIT graduates including Alison Pyrke, Brendan Morris, Elisa Keeler, Natasha Rose Havir Smith, Giancarlo Rotar, Jordan Conder, Dougal McMurchy, and Valona Flamuri. The clothes being presented were worn by friends, family and street cast models. While each designer had their signature, overall the fashion was liberatingly weird and thoughtful. It represented new ideas and approaches to garment making and dressing while examining its conventions. Speaking to the event's co-ordinator, who also goes by the name of Holly Wood Seven, it was obviously a priority that the event was also a safe place where everyone and every idea was given consideration. After acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which the event was held, Holly Wood added, "making fashion is a privilege and I think it is important to take into consideration and understand the use of resources, how what you do will make others feel, to understand when it's relevant to care and to think about how fashion can be socially progressive without being tokenistic or oppressive." 

Inherent in this approach is a general challenging of convention. Here are styles, fabrics and colour combinations that would typically be considered tasteless, as well as genderless garments and a D.I.Y rejection of mainstream fashion. When asked about this designer Alison Pyrke clarifies, "each designer has their own perspective on these ideas. There is an understanding that certain signifiers of dress may allude to a particular gender, genre, taste level, and set of predetermined rules or codes, but to reclaim this language allows for renewed ownership of expressions through fashion. Ultimately, we do what we want and the idea that something material might be bad taste is subjective." In doing so these designers are taking back control of fashion, rejecting the very idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things and making us think differently about the way we dress in the process. 

Katie Barter by Simon Fitzpatrick at The Line Up showcase.

In this universe, everyone has the right to feel respected. Where models have traditionally been expected to wear designer's creations without question, even the people parading the outfits at the Hollywood Seven show were empowered. Holly Wood explains, "in terms of how the garments are shown on bodies, we wanted to provide a sense of enablement for the models...if they were assigned a particular look, it was important to have their consent about what and how something was worn. It is oppressive to force someone to wear or do something they are uncomfortable with." These designers are voting with their actions for an industry free of exploitation.

Grace Alateras by by Simon Fitzpatrick at The Line Up showcase.

The Line Up,  another student-organised runway which took place on a windy Melbourne rooftop recently, featured collections by Madeleine Sinco, Katie Barter, Alinda Tralongo, Victoria Bliss and Grace Alateras. While aesthetically quite different, the designers were united in their desire to control how their work was seen alongside similarly ambitious students. The presentation involved an exhibition of "static installations that presented the conceptual development behind the garments." The runway choreography was slowed down allowing the audience of teachers, family and friends to really take in the detail. According to Grace Alateras, the driving idea was to "extend the audience's interaction with the honours collections and to curate a platform that was in complete control of the designer." Speaking to the designers about their priorities, it's clear sustainable production and authenticity is central. Victoria Bliss acknowledged that for her a priority is ,"the longevity of each piece I produce. I like to use a lot of traditional crafts in my work and am very interested in bespoke fashion as a way of tackling issues in fast fashion — really slowing the process down." For Grace it's "quality that drives my practice. I want to create something that is versatile, exciting but will stand the test of time. There is a sense of accomplishment knowing that the clothes are really yours and authentic." 

Centre for Style performance at the Tarra Warra Biennial

Originally paving the way for this kind of bold approach to fashion are experimental collectives like Melbourne's Centre For Style. Helmed by Matthew Linde, CFS have become a strong voice locally and overseas by representing and supporting outsider fashion and giving it a sturdy platform from which to grow. Their shows are seminal for their complete disregard for the way things are traditionally done. They represent a kind of anti-fashion, and are making space for new voices to enter the field with confidence. Here underrepresented communities are given the freedom to express themselves without restraint and it's effectively pushing fashion into exciting new territories. A recent magazine called Heroes and Fanfiction released by CFS in conjunction with independent publisher 3-Ply for the Tarra Warra Biennial is a good example of the new freedom of expression. In it designers, labels, artists and stylists were, according to Matthew, asked to "construct a hero look of themselves in under one day using materials they had in close proximity." The results are creative, funny and revealing and represent a democratic, rule-free approach to fashion.

Centre For Style's Heroes & Fanfiction magazine cover.

Meanwhile, this new attitude of acceptance and inclusivity is being reflected in the work of graduates around the world. From Central St Martins and the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts to Sydney's University of Technology and beyond collectives are forming based on an understanding that the current state of fast fashion can't be sustained. These new designers are creating weird, interesting, exciting fashion that's considerate to people and the planet. They're precisely the people we want helming the industry moving into the future. 

Valona Flamuri by Timothy Treasure


Text Briony Wright
Lead image by Nadeemy Betros

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