In Australia, Designers Don't Get Political —They Just Wanna Have Fun

Photo: Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images.
As a self-proclaimed "fashion person," descending upon Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia felt like sailing unchartered waters. Figuratively, but also literally, considering I'd never been within a toe's reach of the Southern ocean. In all seriousness though, there's a warmth to Australians that, to a New Yorker, is off-putting in the most refreshing away (think beyond the accents and somehow charming use of the most foul profanities, and instead of their curiosity for the world). It's a spirit that carried over into the resort 2019 collections, too. Contrary to popular belief, watching fashion shows does get old — but not in Sydney.
For starters, the point of Fashion Week in Sydney versus New York or Paris is that the playing field is leveled. There's as much pressure to get into, say, the Camilla show as there would be those designers with less hype (and cultural appropriation), like Double Rainbouu or Lee Mathews. That's because their fashion community, albeit mighty, is small. What Aussie runways may lack in crowd size (at any given show, rows stop at two or three) they make up for in scenery. Standout venues were offsite from Carriageworks — what would be their Lincoln Center or Bryant Park (RIP) — like Emilia Wickstead x MatchesFashion.com on the shores of Coogee or Ten Pieces, whose backdrop was the Bondi Icebergs.
As a first-timer in Oz, it was easy to get wrapped up in the splendor that MBFWA had on offer. Beyond the clothes, however, Sydney has room to grow. For starters, perhaps by consequence of location, trends that hit the international runways a few seasons ago are just catching on. Not that too much emphasis should be placed on the shelf life of clothes, per se, but it was particularly interesting to spot as many coats synched by Off-White belts outside of the shows as there were.
In terms of diversity, and thus politics, it seems Sydney designers work with what they have and what they know, respectively. Most of the models in town for the week were either brought there by mega agency IMG or they were locals. But that meant that you could count the number of Black or non-white models on one hand. The Adelaide-born model Akiima was the only Black model on the majority of the runways, walking just about every catwalk. Forget age, size, and ability diversity, too.
But what stood out the most — at least to international delegates — was Australia's lack of political commentary across the fashion business. Most of the discourse American and international markets are currently saturated by (anti-Trump rhetoric, female empowerment, sustainability, gender-fluidity, queer inclusion) don't seem to hold court down under. And we'd be remiss not to acknowledge that the country only legalized gay marriage six months ago.
That Sydney's fashion circuit is just as insular as New York or London isn't so much a flaw as it is what connects the hub to the larger conversation at hand; that, no matter where you are in the world, the fashion industry is far from perfect. What makes MBFWA so unique, however, is how little it takes for granted the privilege to provide a stage for its local talent in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Sure — Pier 59 is pretty cool, but have you ever been to Darling Harbour?
For now, add the designers in the slideshow ahead to your radar: They're smart, their clothes are more wearable than not, and they represent the best of a hearty, proud chunk of land. It may take a day to get there, give or take a few hours depending on the head- and tailwinds, but you can't say Australians don't know how to have a good time — and it shows. When it comes to making clothes that may not say a whole lot but look damn good, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia was just the breath of drama-free, seaside air I needed.
Disclosure: Travel and expenses for the author were provided by IMG for the purpose of writing this story.

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