This city boasts many wonderful bridges; here Sydney Harbour Bridge.

OZ Stylewatch: Australia Fashion Week

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia celebrated its 20th anniversary season this month in Sydney with some of the most path-breaking runway shows seen in two decades in this magnificent port city

From a truly epic Romance Was Born show in the New South Wales Gallery – that referenced Bushwhacker Goddesses and Ireland’s greatest rover, Ned Kelly – and Ellery’s voluminous Southern Hemisphere Chic;

Now that’s an outfit!
Now that’s an outfit! (Romance was Born)

to the moody metallic fantasies of Toni Maticevski to a brilliantly staged Attica courtyard in a drained Bondi Beach pool show by Ten Pieces.

Tremendously cool setting at Bondi Beach.
Cool setting at Bondi Beach (Ten Pieces)

It was also a memorable tour of Sydney’s funky Victorian, colonial grandiosity, decayed industrial spaces and beachside charm that all make this city one of the world’s most beautiful. Above all, it was a season where Australian designers expressed a new fashion vernacular – using volume; high tech fabrics and dramatic prints to suggest an arty take on summer dressing.

Sydney designers like volume…(Michael Lo Sordo)
…and strong prints.
…and strong prints (Romance was Born)

The main action was in Carriageworks, a revamped train repair station made for a great nerve center. Though some of the best ideas were discovered at quiet presentations by talents such as Josh Goot and Christopher Esber.

Refined optical panels make the dress.
Refined optical panels make the dress (Josh Goot)

Opening the action was Ellery, whose evening show debuted with a performance by Australian Ballet inside an immense, opened sided railway shed in Carriageworks. Presenting open back tops and flowing blouses, in a show starring Gemma Ward – in a return to the catwalk –, Kym Ellery underlined that she is very much a designer and brand with a future. Plus, all the local It Gals dashed about in her signature fluted flared pants – making it the item of the season. It being rambunctious Sydney, an angry neighbor even stormed the runway while Kym took her bow in protest at the noise.

A ballet moment on the catwalk.
A ballet moment on the catwalk (Ellery)

The following morning, Tome duo Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin used bold plaids, fine techy cottons and silk plissé in a Sylvia Plath inspired collection to create an elegant wardrobe that used volume with elegant practicality. These 2013 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund are definitely ones to watch. A second design duo Strateas.Carlucci riffed with great jacquard modernist zoot suits for guys and gals, shown along with twirling woolen coats and great long-sleeved sweaters. Another brand with real promise.

Straight off the looks board…
Straight off the looks board…(Tome)
Layered looks for men.
Layered looks for men (Strateas.Carlucci)
And fancy jacquard suit for the gals.
And fancy jacquard suit for the gals (Strateas.Carlucci)

A memorable moment was the dramatic, sampled theatrics and clothes of Akira, who also celebrated his 20th anniversary. He has not any self-editing function; so at times the sheer number of ideas did overwhelm. But when Akira got it right, there were grand ensemble coats and dresses decorated with great wit with Kanji lettering, chiffon scraps, real hydrangeas, erratic sequins and bold florals.

Comme des Akira Part 1.
Comme des Akria Part 1 (Akria)
Part 2.
Part 2 (Akria)

Armani alumnus Michael Lo Sordo also had a swish show of flowing mono-color dresses in arty ancient Athens silhouettes.

In Sydney, the ladies like a gown.
In Sydney, the ladies like a gown (Michael Lo Sordo)

However, a tad too many shows – like Ginger & Smart, Haryono Setiadi and Cooper St – were largely commercial merchandise; the type of collection that would grace a trade show in Europe, never an official schedule.

One definite new star is Esber, recently chosen for Italian Vogue editrix Franca Sozzani’s next young talent event in Milan. Mingling Memphis colors and grid graphics with stripy toweling made for an intriguingly fresh look for cruise. Heightened by the cool styling, the clothes were elegant yet always suggested ease and assurance.

Christopher Esber and model.
Christopher Esber and model

We also made it to Redfern, the funky Aboriginal neighborhood. Its old wrought and balconied houses are now being gentrified –mid large walls painted with the great red, black and yellow Aboriginal flags. And checked out a tented protest camp fighting property speculators who want to barge in with glass apartment blocks. It’s also where Josh Goot has his industrial space headquarters. One had to admire his high-tech floral and computer seascape print nylon sportswear – another fresh take on the athletic cool that is the heart of Australian style.

Our Editor in Chief on the road.  
Our Editor in Chief on the road

Our fave retail and art excursion trip was to Five Ways in Paddington; our tour guide the charming Eva Galambos, whose Parlour X style emporium has a great edit of Western chic and ballsy local talent. It stands two doors from Camilla and Marc, and their fab new Minimalist Victorian boutique. Round the corner there was a brilliant installation by Shaun Gladwell, entitled The Lacrima Chair, in art center SCAF.

Eva Galambos in her store Parlour X.
Eva Galambos in her store Parlour X
Storefront of Camilla and Marc.
Storefront of Camilla and Marc

IMG have been frequently criticized for their over commercialization of the New York season, in particular for how they turned the ambience in Lincoln Center into a cheap trade show. The result: practically every important show in New York moved their shows elsewhere. However, one could not much fault IMG’s management in Sydney. Carriageworks, with its funky industrial setting, cool cafés, smooth staging and classic Mercedes cars, was an admirable setting. Moreover, they flew in a slew of happening trend photographers and bloggers – from Tommy Ton to Leaf Greener – resulting in plenty of striking social media churn and Instagram action. A fleet of limousines and 4x4s and courteous drivers ferried us “delegates” to scores of destinations – from hipster boutiques and art galleries to trendy restaurants and funky after parties.

The final day featured two shows of great dash. First, in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Romance Was Born totally rocked as Ned Kelly met Pacific Island goddesses; Outback Renaissance queens preceded harlequin fantasies in a wonderful display of modern myth-making that underlined the pride and joy the design duo of Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett take in the bizarre juxtaposition of the rollicking and the gentile in the unique culture that is Australia. Someone should give this pair a Paris couture house to run; the results would be spectacular.

This looks like serious fashion.
This looks like serious fashion (Romance was Born)

We then all headed to the justly legendary Bondi Beach – Anglo architecture, fabulous strand, beautiful people and scores of surfers combating light-exploding silvery swells. There, one had to love Ten Pieces, a snappy and hip collection by Maurice Terzini – a dandy, Rick Owens-loving restaurant entrepreneur and owner of beach bistro, Icebergs – and Lucy Hinckfuss. Composed of just ten garments – singlets, hoodies, track pants and shorts – made in stipe-trimmed cottons. Staged in Icebergs pool, drained for the day – and shot by a hovering drone flying above the models heads as they marched by a brilliant sky –, this was Oz insouciance and sporty panache at its best.