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Melbourne’s Fashion Festival needs fantasy and novelty in the face of a tough market


April 5, 2012/4.22

L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival is a consumer fashion event held at the barren Docklands (and sometimes at more interesting off-site venues) annually. I went into the festival weary and probably over-critical, thus I have struggled to report on what I saw. Sometimes I find fashion difficult. I would argue that many fashion lovers do. It’s not so much the actual fashion design that’s tricky to reconcile. The spectacle that accompanies fashion seems to be a breeding ground for insecurities and waste. But is there is art with no audience? A discussion for another day.
   It’s been a rough year for retail in Australia and local labels are finding stiff competition with global megastores. Zara and Topshop both opened in Melbourne in the last year and had queues of customers outside their doors for days. Consumer events are increasingly important to remind consumers of the value in locally designed (and manufactured if you are lucky) mid-market and high-end fashion products.
   At LMFF, the audience is comprised of fashion fans who pay their own money for their seat and goodie bags. Although I know the event is not designed for buyers, stylists or magazine editors, I still find the lack of “fashion fantasy” a little disappointing. The production on the main runway events was a little lacklustre, the set up a little too standardized. The garments paraded at LMFF are looks that have likely been available in stores for weeks and many of the labels have already held their own collection launches. Many of the patrons, given they are clued-up fashion followers, will have seen the runway looks on the labels’ websites or in editorial.
   Shouldn’t there be an additional reward for the ticket purchaser; an exceptional, immersive fantasy experience perhaps? What the LMFF attendee seems to be buying into is the “scene”. Attending shows surrounded by hundreds of severely self-conscious people (myself included) I have to wonder why. If fantasy and newness are stripped from the fashion experience then what’s the point? The consumer needs to be reminded of their love for the wonderful whimsy of fashion now more than ever.
   I hope this doesn’t come across too gloomy. There were certainly some fashion highs over the festival. I experienced the festival from several vantage-points this time around. I was a genuine enthusiast and fan attending collection launches as part of the cultural programme. The cultural programme, I believe, is the Festival’s crown jewel, with films and fashion-related exhibitions scheduled not just for the week but for the whole month of March. Next year I will attend as many of these events as possible to ensure maximum inspiration.
   New label Tettmann Doust showed its début collection off-site at Thousand Pound Bends warehouse bar, out the back of its low-key CBD café. Naomi Tettmann, Elke Doust and their dedicated and talented team put on an impressive presentation in collaboration with acclaimed projection artist Yandell Walton. Early on, they kept the punters occupied with custom cocktails served in jam jars. The showing of their modestly sized collection was successfully stretched out over 20 minutes. The models walking in slow-mo were surprisingly good actresses. The projections and soundscape built a swarming forest in the warehouse. Tettmann Doust designs are clever and desirable: original digital prints made up in dresses and tunics. Inspired by birds and insects, the print of butterfly wings, feathery plumage and bumpy bird skin were all mashed together and made pretty, if scarcely recognizable. The harder garments echoed an exoskeleton—body con leather with extraordinary beaded lace. This collection was a conceptual treat.
   My favourite LMFF group show, not surprisingly given my birthplace bias, was the one including Kiwi golden girls, Karen and Kate.
   Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester seem to produce collections that stand apart from the other designers of the show (Arthur Galan, Carl Kapp, Ginger & Smart, Manning Cartell and Nicola Finetti). They have an inherent dorky-ness which seems cooler than the overly slick that I saw so much of down the runway. But the two shouldn’t be grouped together because they stand alone in their distinctiveness. Karen’s custom prints become her icon season after season. This time they were musky and minty and oh-so-sweet. A generous helping of burgundy, mustard and navy kept the collection collegiate cool.
   Kate Sylvester’s girl came out sans pants, strutting along in tribute to Whitney with ‘How Will I Know?’ blasting out of the sound system. She was buttoned-up and prim with splashes of sexy and a bit of dynasty glitz. My highlight of the collection was the chiffon-tasselled long sleeve dress. The tassels sprouted out of the fabric in a manner that resembled hair plugs. I couldn’t help but smile.
   Overall, it can be deduced that coats and jackets will replace the chunky knitwear of last season—a designer favourite being the leather sleeve style. Almost every collection had one.
   I am looking forward to next year. The Australian fashion industry is changing and 2013’s LMFF product will surely be different. I look forward to some new innovations and hope to hear loud trumpeting of the cultural programme and more support given to the smaller players in the industry.—Devin Winter, Melbourne correspondent

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Filed by Devin Winter

One thought on ‘Melbourne’s Fashion Festival needs fantasy and novelty in the face of a tough market

  1. A bit rough calling the Docklands “BARREN” do you actually go down their, and if so how often, I work there and although it can be a bit quite during the working week, during the holidays its rockin’ I suggest you maybe need to look/visit again sometime.

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