From Rats On The Runway To An Icebergs Pool Takeover: The Most Iconic Moments From Australian Fashion Week

Since 1996, Australian Fashion Week has been the pinnacle of the local fashion calendar. While it may not be as widely covered as its northern hemisphere counterparts in Paris, Milan, London, New York, and Copenhagen, the week-long event remains an invaluable opportunity for local designers to show their Resort collections to the fashion world (and beyond!).
In recent years, it’s gained increasing international attention, with AFW leaning more heavily into innovative emerging designers who are blessedly embracing more diversity and inclusion in their choices of models. These days, some legacy brands have turned their attention to international fashion weeks, Zimmermann showing in Paris is the most notable example, making space that is eagerly being filled by boundary-pushing artists (Nicol & Ford and Erik Yvon are two examples that spring to mind). 
The annual event was hosted at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay until 2012, before moving to Carriageworks in Redfern in 2013. Since then, the art precinct’s bricked buildings and arched windows have become as visually iconic as Australian Fashion Week itself, with street style photos immediately recognisable thanks to the industrial backdrops. 
Over the years, though, it’s the moments on the runway that have rightfully planted themselves in our minds. In the last two years, we’ve seen progress in terms of First Nations representation, and in 2023, Ngali became the first Indigenous designer to have a solo show. In 2022, the first adaptive runway took place. In earlier years, the chaos of snakes and rats accompanying models down the runway has been the cause of headlines, and AFW has seen iconic international supermodels open shows, and awe-inducing offsite show locations at iconic Sydney landmarks have taken our breaths away. 
In 28 years of Australian Fashion Week, there have been countless unforgettable moments, but these are some of our favourites.

Melissa George Sashays Down The Runway (1996)

Photo: Patrick Riviere/Getty Images)
In 1996, actor Melissa George took to the runway for Alex Perry. Though George was yet to hit it big in Hollywood (she starred in Alias and Grey’s Anatomy), her runway debut was the very same year she finished up her 501-episode run as Angel Parrish on Home and Away, so it was big news at the time.

Supermodel Linda Evangelista’s Ball Gown Moment (1997)

In AFW’s sophomore year, international supermodel Linda Evangelista made the trip to Australia for fashion week, but undoubtedly the most iconic moment was her walking in the Alex Perry show, in a ball gown that she is said to have been sewn into. 

Rats On The Tsubi Runway (2001)

In 2001, Tsubi (now Ksubi) tested the poker face of every attendee when sending rats down the runway alongside the designs. The precise number of rats that were let loose is hard to come by, with some reporting 169 and others saying there were 250. Either way, one rat is too many, let alone hundreds. I’d challenge even the most seasoned fashion editor to maintain a straight face with literal rodents scurrying around their feet.

Kristy Hinze Wears A $1 Million Diamond Bikini & Diamond Python At Tigerlily (2001)

In 2001, Tigerlily upstaged its own $500,000 pearl bikini (worn by Eva Herzigova) the previous year by sending Kristy Hinze down the runway wearing a $1 million, diamond-encrusted bikini. Not only that, but she also carried a diamond python around her neck while walking and if the photos are anything to go by, the snake got a little bit snug at some points. Thankfully, no models or snakes were harmed in the making of this show.

Tsubi Makes A (Literal) Splash (2002)

One year after bringing rats to fashion week, Tsubi shocked show-goers once again, with models jumping from boats into Sydney Harbour, mid-show. Thankfully, everyone was safe and well, though admittedly, a bit damp.

Mischa Barton Sits Front Row (2008)

Photo: Gaye Gerard/Getty Images
Two years after exiting The OC, Mischa Barton visited Australia and joined Simon Lock (the founder of AFW) in the front row at the Kirrily Johnston show. Barton was one of the biggest stars in the world at the time, thanks to her iconic role as Marissa Cooper, and I just know that every teenage girl in the country saw these photos of her at Fashion Week.

Romance Was Born Takes Over The State Library Of New South Wales (2011)

Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Offsite shows are usually some of the most special in the schedule, thanks to the inspired locations. In 2011, Romance Was Born used the State Library of New South Wales as its backdrop for its collection, called ‘The Oracle’, which featured sculptural headpieces and gilded gowns.

Ten Pieces Turns The Icebergs Pool Into A Runway (2015)

Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Photos barely do Ten Pieces' breathtaking 2015 show justice. On a sparkling autumn day in Sydney, the label had models walk on the edge of the most iconic pool in the world, and showgoers sit inside the drained pool to watch the show. With surfers looking on from the waves beyond the pool, it doesn't really get any more 'Sydney' than this show.

Bella Hadid Opens A Show (2016)

Photo: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images
In 2016, Bella Hadid opened the Misha Collection runway, with the designer saying at the time that Hadid embodies what a “Misha girl” is. Seeing an international supermodel on the Australian runways is always a thrill, and this was no different. 

Oscar De La Renta Closes Fashion Week (2016)

Photo: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images
An international designer like Oscar De La Renta showing at AFW is a rarity, but in 2016, the designer brought summer party dresses to the runway for the week’s closing show, led by model Shanina Shaik.

First Adaptive Runway (2022)

In 2022, AFW hosted the first (and long-overdue) adaptive runway. Disability consultants, Lisa Cox and Nikki Hind, were brought on board to plan the show, and that behind-the-scenes representation was mirrored on the runway with disabled models. Heartbreak High actress Chloé Hayden told us at the time that being cast as a model for the show was an “out of this world” experience. 

Ngali Became The First Standalone First Nations Runway (2023)

AFW 2023 marked another long-overdue ‘first’ with Wiradjuri fashion designer Denni Francisco's label, Ngali, becoming the first standalone show by a First Nations designer. Ahead of the show, a representative of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council performed a Welcome to Country and held a moment of silence to acknowledge the Elders, as well as the lives lost in the Indigenous community in the past few years. The show was spectacular, with billowing resortwear and hand-painted boots capturing the spirit of the collection, titled ‘Murriyang’ (which translates to “skyworld” in the Wiradjuri language).
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