If you haven’t guessed from my Instagram flashing at you above, I’m in Sydney at the moment making this my fifth time here for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia. The “Oh, Brit blogger at MBFWA” novelty has well and truly worn off. I hang around asking for long black coffees, can tell if I’m in Redfern or Eveleigh and more to the point, know the lay of the land when it comes to Australian designers. The tired stereotype about Australian fashion is that designers here do resort froth contemporary-categorised clothes well, appropriate for sun, sand and sea. At least, that was the autopilot quote I trotted out when put on the spot by video cameras here and asked about what Australian style means to me.
The truth is, as is normally the case – far more nuanced. They might be exceptions rather than the norm but a few of the designers I’ve seen thus far buck that straightforward Australian style stereotype and yet within their chosen path of eveningwear, still manage to steer their collections towards an unexpected twist that feels idiosyncratic to Australia. They might have ambitions to steer clear of a slubby t-shirt and a pair of silk pyjama bottoms but their take on “dressy” dressing betrays their roots. These clothes can sit poolside and beachside and they can get wet too.
Kym Ellery for example has always pushed her brand towards an aesthetic that is anything but easy breezy. In fact there’s something deliberately difficult about her penchant for sculptural peplums, stiffened flared trousers and weighty satins and silks. Like you need to really have a vaguely daring and brazen attitude to be an Ellery girl. Her show staged in the iconic Icebergs restaurant in Bondi was a focused affirmation of that. As she had already shown what is her A/W 14-5 collection in Paris already, for MBFWA, she proposed “what the Ellery girl might wear on the red carpet.” All hail the moment that someone dons a nose chain, a crinkled pink-topped mullet ponytail and an extra elongated flared-sleeved mesh gown. It’s unlikely to happen but Ellery’s specific proposal for eveningwear definitely makes you wish someone would rebel rebel it up. There was talk of Zoroastrianism, shadows chasing light in the sequence of ensembles and science of life. None of that really matters though when in Kym’s own words, it was about “keeping it cool.” There’s a lot of that c word about in Sydney. It’s inexplicable and yet frequently seen in the models larking around after the shows, gaggles of girls hanging around in Bondi and the fuck-it effortlessness manner of attire. Ellery was naturally tapping into that. The chunky footwear, the in yyour face (literally) jewellery made in collaboration with Henson and the hair of course are all pure styling but together with the deliberately elongated silhouettes, the stiffened fabrics and complex pleats and way evening looks were built up in layers and asymmetric tilts, this was a girl stalking her own stretch of ceremonial carpet – black perhaps.
Later on in the evening, we felt like we were breaking into a public pool on a naughty escapade as we filed in for Karla Spetic‘s show. This night time dip may not strictly speaking be classified as “eveningwear” but Spetic’s affinity with a well-proportioned slip-dress, slippery silk satin and sheer panels might suggest otherwise – or at the least points to a night time pyjama pool party. Spetic has honed in on her shape of choice and this time, her delicate slips and mid-length sheer shifts come adorned with Stepford Wife apron ruffles and circular cut-outs. These pearly iridescent princesses, were augmented by Ryan Storer’s jewellery and worked in strands of pink hair and then fully illustrated by a printed panel of a pearl necklace and a pearl-giving oyster on the finale dresses. It’s almost pretty-pretty to the point of sugar overdose. Until you see the girls stomp at rapid pace in their white Reebok Classics, monogrammed in silver with “K” and “S”. These are dresses made not for standing stiffly sipping a cocktail but for moving about energetically in as the loose-ish shapes and leg-splits suggest. The fact that it was all proposed poolside, immediately made me wish I could jump in wearing one of Spetic’s sheer-panelled slip/shifts. Or the satin patchworked white shirt. Or the pink satin cut-out dress. Which ever piece, it all looks drenched thoroughly. That’s the much-welcome crrep of Spetic’s sun n’ surf surroundings.
Toni Maticevski‘s experience in the Australia fashion game once again shows. His aesthetic also took a slightly surprising rejig, following last year’s collection shown at MBFWA. The oeuvre that he had set himself for last year was further eked out, as he teased out tech-y fabrics into shapes of flowers. Except the shaping looked that bit extra precise, the articulation between sportswear and eveningwear more tightly focused and the fabrics were also well chosen. A supremely thin neoprene-eseque crease-free fabric was used on a lot of the dresses in a deliberate sci-fi twist to contrast with the formation of what Maticevski called “orchid metamorphosis.” The main takeaway though is that Maticevski reigns supreme in getting these wetsuit, toughed out fabrics to drop, scrunch, fold and sculpt beautifully. Black sportswear mesh worked over a floral brocade gown works. A flouncy circle skirt with sweatshirt sleeves incorporated in the front looks natural as opposed to forced. It was my kind of eveningwear as every look pitted surf-derived activewear against Maticevski’s demi-couture sensibility. The accompanying tubular jewellery made in collaboration with Dinosaur Designs suggest chunky headphones or wristbands. As the models emerged in the finalewith orchids adorning their mouths, the rapturous applause at the end was sealed. It was also telling that there was this much love for what is one of the few “WOW” shows on the schedule. Maticevski’s directional comeback moment is resonating abroad too. See the SS14 collection currently on Avenue 32 as their main international stockist. It’s onwards and upwards with this newfound verve.