As the land of sun and surf, Australia is better known for pretty sundresses and swimsuits than for anything approaching European-style suiting.
It was all the more astounding then, that the breakout star of this year’s Australian Fashion Week was not only a mere 24 years of age, but a master with the tailor’s chalk to boot. Dion Lee wowed the audience at his show at the Sydney Opera House with a collection that, in his words, played with “the tension between something controlled and something subconscious.” The brief sounded a little airy-fairy, but it was easy to understand once we saw the clothes, which juxtaposed rigorous and highly structured tailoring with soft knots, pleating and draping. Lee slashed and spliced the shoulders and elbows of body-contouring jackets to incorporate cut-outs which breathed air into his tailoring, while Rorschach inkblot prints appeared on minidresses, with the same print used on a particularly beguiling miniskirt worn by pillow-lipped Aboriginal model Samantha Harris.
Fellow Sydney designer Therese Rawsthorne found inspiration in a road trip through the Nevada desert, utilizing a spiky desert print in shifts and tops, and a bleached-out palette of platinum, nude, and white to create soft-washed silk dresses and blazers that were both easy-wearing and chic. The buyer-friendly range was one of clothes real women will want to wear, unlike much else on show at AFW.
Jade Sarita Arnott is another young Sydney designer to watch, as she demonstrated with her Arnsdorf label which channeled the minimalism and structure of Calvin Klein but all the while maintained her own design signature. She cleverly used neoprene to sculpt bell sleeves and skirts, and intricate origami folds to enliven silk skirts and dresses in an understated palette of olive, ivory, and a print of pinks and murky browns.
Given the relaxed Australian lifestyle, it’s no wonder casualwear is the country’s strength. The two standout labels in this respect were Flannel, a Perth-based operation, and Bassike, from Sydney. The shirting and caramel leather skirts and tops in Flannel’s “Catch My Drift” collection had a whiff of Phoebe Philo at Celine, but the brand’s soft trousers, T-shirt dresses and playsuits successfully gave an Aussie twist to the American sportswear tradition. Bassike also used leathers–in this case pastel suedes–but supplemented them with plenty of cotton and jersey harem pants, mini-dresses, and tops that will easily go the distance from beach to bar.
Cult Australian denim brand Ksubi put on its strongest show in years, indeed its only show in years. The brand went into voluntary administration in January owing more than $9 million to creditors, and was subsequently acquired by some of its founders and a new consortium for a reported $5 million. So the pressure was on to deliver a comeback, which Ksubi designers George Gorrow and Dan Single did with a well-edited denim range that incorporated eclectic washes and fraying and distressing techniques. The collection bodes well for the brand’s next outing at New York Fashion Week in September.
And what of those sundresses and swimsuits? They were present and correct at Anna & Boy, a young Sydney label founded by two former Australian Voguettes, whose retro-influenced range of sliding triangle bikinis, one pieces, and carnation-print caftans channeled Palm Springs glamor in the ’70s, and Seventh Wonderland, which played with wet-look fabrics using draping and ruching.
Zimmermann incorporated graphic and overblown floral prints in draped and maxi-dresses, and teamed high-waisted bottoms with corset-style structured bandeaus. Coincidentally, Sydney sisters Simone and Nicky Zimmermann have just opened a store in Soho, New York, bringing a very tangible bite of Sydney style to the Big Apple.