how fashion's new direction bodes well for local designers
An underlying rebellion is at the heart of a universal movement towards the qualities Antipodeans have always valued in their fashion.
ashleigh good wears georgia alice and harman grubisa. photography karen inderbitzen-waller
The current fashion landscape is undeniably one of rebellion. Increasingly, Head Designers are being replaced by Creative Directors at many of the major maisons and, indeed, the concept of designer has been completely revolutionised. Take Simon Porte Jacquemus, for example - the fresh young maverick of Paris Fashion Week fame. Jacquemus burst onto the scene with his namesake label just six years ago and, with no real technical training to speak of, he brought with him a design knowledge that was somewhat more organic, stemming both from his mother and his years working in store at Comme Des Garçons. Despite Jacquemus' non-traditional background, though, his label has garnered significant attention over the past couple of years. His is an approach that sees his peers act as both his muses and the women for which he designs. For many people, it is this very presence of nonconformity that has reignited their excitement when it comes to fashion. In Jacquemus' case, this may have a lot to do with the fact that Paris remains the most storied of all the fashion capitals and is therefore quite rigid in terms of who is allowed to show there.
But it is not just in Paris that this spirit is taking hold. Enter Marques'Almeida, the progressive new duo out of London that this year took home the prestigious LVMH Prize (for which Jacquemus was also nominated). Unlike their Parisian peer, Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida are both classically trained in design, but it is in their approach that the sense of rebellion can really be felt. For this pair, it is about aesthetics more than trends; difference as opposed to conformity. This is the very reason why designers like these have been standing out of late - because people, it seems, are inherently drawn to wearability. Relaxed silhouettes, undone edges and a focus on comfort and quality have become essential to the principles driving design today and these show no signs of slowing down either. It's a fresh perspective that couldn't be more perfectly suited to the Antipodean aesthetic. And it has given rise to a good number of fresh new designers putting Australia and New Zealand on the fashion map.
The key 'localness' of fashion's new direction is in the fact that it celebrates wearability and originality above all else. These are two of the cornerstones consistently employed by our local designers simply because it makes sense. Indeed, the relaxed lifestyle of our island home means that Antipodean women tend to value these aesthetic codes more than, say, the fussy extravagance of a couture ball gown - and couture is yet another space undergoing rapid transformation right now, but that's a whole other story. Local designers like Georgia Alice, Ingrid Verner and Kym Ellery now provide the perfect examples of how the Antipodean perspective has really begun to flourish in the context of fashion's new mood. All three labels share in common a certain renegade spirit and, importantly, their design focus tends to hinge upon what women actually want to wear. There's a sense of functionality inherent in their collections, but at the same time a spirit of individual rebellion. This is exactly what we are starting to see more of overseas, too, and it is largely responsible for injecting the fun back into fashion. For a while there, things felt somewhat suspended. As technology raced onwards at breakneck speed, longstanding maisons were forced to reconsider their approach. This adaptation has taken some time, but even the historical houses are now beginning to come around.
Kym Ellery is our latest local designer to be invited to present at Paris Fashion Week and, with her, she's taken a flair for voluminous proportions and unconventional fabrications. Meanwhile, New Zealand designer Georgia Alice has caught the eye of international critics like Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller - who described her clothes as "quiet garments" allowing women to "quite literally feel unilateral luxury." This focus on luxury is important, but even more so is the focus on style over trends that seem to set our local designers apart. They form part of the new guard of nonconformists that are busy rewriting the rules in fashion today. Vetements is another label that comes to mind here. Operating as a design collective in Paris with a certain level of mystery about them, this group of friends combine their collective experience at a number of different houses to deliver clothing that is all about attitude rather than transience. As fashion houses continue to carve out a new set of guidelines overseas, the way is paved for more progressive newcomers on a local scale. And as a result of this, our Antipodean designers have never felt more on point.
Much of this has to do with the increasing democratisation of fashion. No longer is the front row reserved exclusively for powerful fashion editors, but also for the equally powerful bloggers and celebrities prepared to tell it like it is. No longer do we have to wait months to view the collections via printed pages, instead they are available to us almost instantaneously. Live streaming collections and the overall digitalisation of the space has meant that the customer now wields more consumer power than ever before - capable of offering honest feedback in real time via avenues such as social media. As a result, designers and creative directors are catering just as much to the audience directly as they are to the editors nowadays. This has worked superbly well for Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent, who - despite some scathing reviews and a very public conflict with revered fashion critic Cathy Horyn - has managed to double the revenue of this 54-year-old fashion house in just 3 short years at its helm. With a resume that includes photographer and curator, as well as designer, this is no small feat and represents a real turning point for the industry. As design houses new and old continue to approach an aesthetic rather than trend-driven direction, then, the Australian and New Zealand vision can only continue to rise.
This is not to suggest that trends have disappeared altogether and, certainly, the high street still deals heavily in this domain. But now the driving force behind really good fashion is simply shifting. Today, it is less about that season's painterly prints or another's Spanish influence, and increasingly more about factors like silhouette, proportion or use of texture. And what better way to embody this than with Verner's reinterpretation of the classics, Georgia Alice's raw-edged hems, or Kym Ellery's architectural cuts? Indeed, Verner's SS15 offering was entitled 'Eat Cake', a reference to one of the most rebellious of all fashion figures, Marie Antoinette. This collection is self-described as a shift in gaze for the brand, looking outward instead of inward and acknowledging the very fact that our local designers are set to make an even greater mark in years to come. Why? Because these are the brands producing signatures that retain life beyond seasons and - in the context of changing fashion weeks and the rise of the pre collection - it seems that few qualities could possibly be more valuable.
Text Rosie Dalton