Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fashion Down Under (Why It’s On Top)

“The assumption that Australia is a season behind is no longer relevant,” says Dion Lee,
one of several Australian designers taking the country's fashion global.

Australia is known for many things, most of them rooted in the natural world – koalas, kangaroos, kookaburras and Crocodile Dundee types strutting across the Outback when not surfing the waves of the country’s incredible beaches. Fashion has never been one.

But that perception is changing thanks to a growing number of Aussie designers turning Down Under into a top player in the global apparel industry. The past year has seen a greater number of Australian fashion brands leap from relative obscurity to international cachet, led by such trailblazers as Zimmermann. The flirty swim and ready-to-wear label has 25 boutiques across Australia and another eight internationally, including a first in London’s prestigious Mayfair district and East Hampton in Long Island. In Canada, the brand is sold through Holt Renfrew.

“We’re not trying to be like anyone else,” says Simone Zimmermann, who founded the namesake brand with her designer sister Nicky Zimmermann in Sydney in 1991. “We are always trying to be the best at what we do, and that’s made us different.”

More Aussies are set to open stand-alone stores in foreign markets in the coming months, building on Australia’s growing status as one of the most compelling and fastest growing centres of fashion innovation and creativity in the world today.

“News of Aussie designers just keeps getting louder,” observes Natasha Silva-Jelly, an Australian-born features editor at Harper’s BAZAAR in New York. “We’ve shaken off our Crocodile Dundee roots and emerged as a fashion/culture epicentre that’s home to great food, stylish people and a host of innovation.”

Over the years, several Aussie fashion brands, among them cult denim label Ksubi, and former CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Tome, have established solid footholds in New York and Los Angeles, cities where Australian fashion is hotter than hot, coveted by celebrities like Beyoncé, Kate Hudson, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Oprah, Taylor Swift and more.

Now comes a new crop of designers cementing Australia’s reputation as the next Paris by the sea.

They include the Australian high-end womenswear label, Manning Cartell, which in June inked a two-year distribution deal with Barneys New York for seven stores across the U.S. They include the Madison Ave. and Chelsea district flagships along with locations in Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Philadelphia.

Also on the rise, internationally, is Australian designer Alice McCall, who created the floral-meets-fringe skirt and top which actress Jenny Slate (subject of a recent Vanity Fair profile) wore to the L.A. premiere of Despicable Me 3. The look has since topped several online red-carpet best-dressed lists.

Male fashion from Australia is similarly making waves as evidenced by the seven designers from Melbourne and Sydney who appeared in April at the Pitti Uomo menswear fair in Florence on a global platform showcasing emerging talent from around the world.

Making the case is the Australian Fashion Chamber, a government initiative, which since 2015 has been hosting fashion previews and parties for international press and buyers in hopes of wooing more North American consumers. In a short period it has produced great results.

“Australian fashion is on the rise internationally and developing rapidly,” says AFC general manager Miriam Gilroy. “There are now more Australian designers in stores in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. than ever before. We believe the Australian export has a unique offering for consumers.”

Zimmermann founders, Simone Zimmermann and Nicky Zimmermann. (Photo: Sarah Thomas)

Ensuring Australian fashion stays in the headlines are twice-yearly fashion weeks held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane that attract editors and retailers from across the globe. Added to the mix are international fashion bloggers like Alexa Chung and Chiara Ferragni, stylish young women whose influence rivals Vogue’s right now, who also have Australia on their style radars, helping to spread the word.

“The perception that Australian fashion is a season behind is no longer relevant,” says Dion Lee, whose eponymous label occupies eight boutiques across Australia and, as of a year ago, a design studio in New York’s TriBeCa neighbourhood. “I think the larger industry is welcoming the fresh perspective that Australian designers bring to their collections. Australian style is influenced by our lifestyle. There’s a real sense of effortlessness and ease.”

Mr. Lee moved to New York after showing on the NYFW schedule for a few seasons. “We were starting to build momentum with buyers and press,” he elaborates. “It felt like an important time to be more present in the U.S., not just flying in and out for short amounts of time.

Also looking to stake roots in the U.S. is the prominent Australian designer Gary Theodore, whose 30-year old Scanlan Theodore women's-wear label has 18 boutiques in major cities across Australia and an e-commerce site that ships internationally, including to Canada. With an eye to building his brand over the next 10 years, in January Mr. Theodore will open his first international location, in New York’s Flatiron district, followed by two additional locations still to be announced.

“Australia is a vast country with designers in regions with different climates and lifestyles so it’s always changing and growing,” says the award-winning designer. “This is the new frontier here, and a lot of young people see it as a place of opportunity. They want to create and make a difference with their designs.”

Among them is Kym Ellery, whose Ellery label is shown on the Paris runway, and Jacqueline Hunt and Lisa ‘Jack’ Dempsey, the duo behind luxury knitwear business Jac + Jack, who have had a retail presence in London since 2015.

Romance Was Born, the label headed by Sydney-based fashion designers Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales, offers a compelling mix of seduction and theatricality favoured by the likes of Cate Blanchett, Tavi Gevinson and Miley Cyrus. Saks Fifth Avenue sells the brand in North America as part of its contemporary apparel collection.

Hoping to follow in their footsteps are nascent ready-to-wear labels Albus Lumen, AJE, and Macgraw, contemporary jewellery company Sarah & Sebastian and accessories brands Pared Eyewear and State of Escape, all of whom recently showed highlights from their 2018 Resort collections in New York as part of the AFC’s inaugural showcase of emerging Australian design talent.

“Our international showrooms are meant to help Australian designers gain on this exposure in order to cultivate relationships and a broader market,” Ms. Gilroy says.

Fashion is not just dressing up the national brand. It represents a sizeable chunk of the Australian economy, observes the country’s politicians. “Beyond the glitz and glamour, fashion is a powerhouse industry,” says Adam Marshall, Minister for Tourism and Major Events for New South Wales, who also observes that fashion generates annual retail sales of around $8.7 billion (AUD) and employs some 71,000 people across the state’s design, manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing sectors.

With that kind of economic impact, fashion is poised to challenge bouncing marsupials as the country’s biggest tourism draw. For Simone Zimmermann, it’s just a matter of time. “Definitely people are coming to Australia for the whole package,” Ms. Zimmermann says. “It's a great lifestyle, and the fashion reflects that.”

Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic and style writer. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York, the Dance Gazette in London, and NUVO in Vancouver, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press) and AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds (Vintage Books). A staff writer at The Globe and Mail for the last 32 years, she was her newspaper's award-winning dance critic, from 1985 until 2001, before transitioning to the Style section as its senior fashion reporter in Milan, Paris, New York and cities across Canada. Her other accomplishments at Canada's paper of record include stints as an investigative reporter in the visual arts with a focus on art crime, a weekly lifestyle columnist covering the Toronto International Film Festival and celebrities, rock critic, business writer and cultural bureau chief in Montreal covering the arts in Quebec and Eastern Canada. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she has also written for a wide range of international titles, including Marie Claire in London, Elle in New York and Vogue Australia. Recipient of the 2014 Nathan Cohen Award for Excellence in Theatre Criticism (Long Form Category), Canada's most important arts writing prize, she is presently at work on her next book, an examination of The Beatles and their style.

1 comment:

  1. Australian fashion has always been outstanding....glad the message is finally out!