Fash! Geek: Melbourne Trail

Melbourne Trail

For the first time in four years, I didn’t make it down under this year for MBFWA in Sydney.  Sad face emojis all round when images from shows like Romance was Born started pouring in on Instagram (don’t tell me how good it was â€"  I could see it emanating from the folds of fabrics swooshing about, even in the blurry iPhone videos).  But my temporary regret in not going down to Australia was soon replaced by that terribly addictive trail on Instagram where you click on someone to follow and get recommended three more like-minded people.  In two minutes, after clicking about, I had found myself on a Melbournite trail of designers â€" some I know, many I didn’t â€" reminded me how much of a solid scene there is down there and why the fashion there seems that much more engaging.    
It’s hard to avoid cliched generalisations as Melbourne is so often described as the more “European” counterpart to Sydney’s “LA” vibes.  Or one is “gritty” and the other “shiny” respectively.  Personal experience concurs with that comparison, as trips to Melbourne and a helping hand from former assistant and proud Melbournian Kat George helped me to understand why I *in a very very small voice* prefer Melbourne to Sydney.  Getting to know trailblazers like Shauna and Misha of Perks and Mini, Ingrid Verner and the crew at retailer Pet Shop Girls goes some way to explaining why so many labels of similar ilk (if not in aesthetic then definitely in spirit) are springing up.  I found myself missing the experience down under not because of the champagne fizz of Sydney or the view from Icebergs in Bondi but because it would have been a chance to get closer to the underground waves from Melbourne. 
After much clicking and saving of images, I thought I’d linger a while over the Melbourne labels (outside of the ones I’ve previously written about before) that whilst may not have been the talk of MBFWA (perhaps they have no wish to be?), are definitely making me yearn for a repeat trip down there sometime soon. 
P.S. For ease of reference, I’ve talked about everyone’s A/W 15 collections â€" which is the current Southern Hemisphere season â€" and they are currently on everyone’s online stores to buy into.

Ah Pageant.  We’ve crossed paths a few times without actually being able to meet in person but in the meantime, their collections have been going from strength to strength, winning them the AUD100,000 at the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival recently.   The duo behind the label Amanda Cumming and Kate Reynolds has diverted their attention solely on womenswear and that has added a steely focus on their collections, especially evident in their A/W 15 collection inspired by Japanese “bosozoku” girls.  It’s an imaginary uniform for female biker gangs adorned with mod-ish check patterns, shiny camouflage and broken up with hues of powder pink.  Streetwear and sportswear still have a place in Pageant’s design vernacular but the experimentation with textiles as well as a fierce theme makes for an interesting turning point for this much-acclaimed Melbourne label.  In fact, they are going to be staging a static presentation during London Fashion Week in September so no doubt the (Pageant)ry will be making its way over to the Northern hemisphere.

Clothes for “the girl who thinks” was how NO Magazine summed up the label Dress Up but that might be an apt description for many of the labels from Melbourne.  The words Dress Up might conjure up something frivolous and whimsical but the clothes are anything but as designer Stephanie Downey plays on narrative and personal memory to invoke clothes that are subtle and essential to a wardrobe.  The current AW15 collection Bien S’Habiller â€" to dress well â€" is less about notions of Parisian chic than twisted familiarity evident in the fitted dungarees of the belted grey marl sweater dress.  Dressing up for Downey, need not mean excess of fussiness.

There’s a consciousness of locality and quality that pervades much of Melbourne’s fashion scene and has resulted in many small scale labels that are not after showy honours or glitzy catwalk shows but instead are growing at their own pace.  Thursday Sunday is one of those labels.  Iris Cuaresma and Mara Tonetti started their brand as a hobby to counteract their 9-5 job and has since found a niche in their highly edited collections of refined shapes in natural fibres.   Their A/W 15 collection is inspired by the artist Koen Van Den Broek’s colour compositions where precise cuts and clean lines make graphic impact.  They claim not to be an “eco” brand but their way of working definitely has conscious thought ingrained in the background, which is an admirable template for any young designer starting out today.

Chorus is another label that follows up design with conscious thought.  Designers Cassandra Wheat and Louise Pannell release their pieces in editions of no more than thirty and they choose to collaborate with different artists every season in order to produce a “chorus” of creation that the final wearer can appreciate.  Their collection ‘Strangers in a Moment’ sees Chorus take a cue from musician Bertie Blackman’s track of the same name as well as her simultaneously masculine and feminine personal style.  It’s an intriguing way of working that is indicative of the sort of fluid and open-minded design process that Melbourne seems to foster.

Out of all the labels featured in this post, Kuwaii is the only one with its own standalone store and with its clean lines and minimal (but not sterile) aesthetic, it’s easy to see why the label has built up a following.  Designer Kristy Barber is fixated with proportions and finishing and seems to have paved the way for other like-minded designers to come about, as the non-frivolous functionality of Kuwaii strikes you as another Melbournian fashion trait .  And in a city where seasons do exist, it’s no wonder that Kuwaii’s oversized sweaters and tactile textures seen here in their AW 15 collection, have been a hit.

Are we beginning to see some common threads here?  Ka-He describes itself as a “low-volume and highly configured” label with a focus on “duality and practicality”.  Designer Kacy Heywood is only one collection in but you get the feeling that adhering to seasons isn’t the point with her “Return Investment” mohair coat designed to do nothing but keep you warm and comfy veg tan shoes with interchangeable straps.  When functionality also incidentally looks cool, that is of course a bonus.

Articles of Clothing designed by Annie Wu is another new-ish label that has more synergy with practises of art than it does with conventional fashion.  And yet another example that in Melbourne, success is not measured by scale.  You commission the item, a conversation ensues and within a few weeks, your garment or object is ready.  That relationship between tailor and wearer was discussed recently when I met up with some conscious CSM students for Fashion Revolution Day.  You can find equivalents of labels like Articles of Clothing all over the world but has the point been hammered home yet; that small can be beautiful too?  It certainly feels that way in Melbourne.

Bucking the notion that Melbourne fashion consists of a lot of black, you have two seasons-old Rouda, by textile designer Megan McNeill.  Her AW 15 collection is literally a Fiesta of Mexican-inspired prints that see cacti and the traditional mixed motif otomi print play havoc on shawls, oversized dresses and culottes.  For the colour shy though, the tonal grey on black printed austere high-necked dress and matching two-piece ensemble ticks that pre-requisite black box.

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