The Australian Dream

Top fashion from down under

Text by Imogen van Zaane

Photography by Nik Hartley

Styling by Sara Gilmour

In 2003, Camilla and Marc caused a stir with a high-profile launch at Australian Fashion Week and made history as the first domestic brand to be stocked by a big local department store (Myers) in its first 12 months. This year the brother and sister duo celebrate their 10th anniversary with a womenswear collection that juxtaposes crisp black or white with bold geometric prints or gold brocade fabrics. Today, Camilla and Marc are stocked by leading e-tailers Net-a-Porter and Shopbop – no mean feat for a relatively young brand operating from the only western country located in the southern hemisphere.

Australian fashion has come a long way. Until 1996, Australian Fashion Week didn’t exist and locally based international high-fashion brands could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Before the ’90s, Australia was a relatively closed-off country, thanks to its location and border policies. The government protected local manufacturing and regulated prices, and the policies in place often favoured larger fashion enterprises. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, trade was liberalised to make room for more choice, price competition and opportunities for export, creating the unique trading environment that still exists today. A country of only 23 million people is now a key marketplace for fast-fashion and e-commerce conglomerates operating from Europe and the US. ASOS flies nearly four planes a day to Australia; Zara sold 80 per cent of its stock in the three minutes after opening its Westfield store in April 2011; Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter, Shopbop and Macy’s all increasingly offer free shipping there.

While more fashion is flying in, many of the buyer-savvy local designers have also gained recognition overseas. Embodied by Aussie it girls like Abbey Lee Kershaw, Miranda Kerr, Candice Lake, Julia Nobis and Ruby Jean Wilson, the Australian aesthetic has gained a loyal following; some of the most popular international bloggers on Instagram, such as Gary Pepper Girl’s Nicole Warne and Jessica Stein of Tuula Vintage, also hail from down under. Sydney and Melbourne have become fertile breeding grounds for designers. Dion Lee’s name is now synonymous with superior technique in draping, cutting and constructing garments out of innovative fabrics, while Josh Goot is known for his bold, accessible prints and designs. Sass & Bide sell edge and denim all year round and both Zimmermann and We Are Handsome have built a successful swimwear business by romancing women with their version of the Australian Dream. Ellery is known for sculpting contemporary pieces against a ’90s grunge backdrop, while Romance Was Born and Emma Mulholland immerse their fans in the fantasy world that inspired their collections in the first place. Then there are the award winners and ones to watch: Christopher Esber, Michael Lo Sordo, Lui Hon and From Britten (menswear) are four technically strong designers, each with a distinctive vision and contemporary style. Jewellery designers like Ryan Storer and Estelle Dévé Jewellery are there to provide the finishing touch.

Today, the number of international high-fashion brands based in Australia is increasing rapidly. But it’s not all fun and games. Emerging designers operate under extremely challenging conditions: seasons out of sync with the northern hemisphere, virtually no local manufacturers, a soaring Australian dollar, a small population, a domestic preference for international brands and increasing competition from overseas. Fortunately, the growing industry and influx of new talent has prompted welcome initiatives from the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia (TFIA) and the Export Council of Australia (ECA) to support and nurture new designers through training and funding. That won’t be enough, though. It is likely that the real key to success will lie in e-commerce. So far, the many logistical challenges involved have got the better of the country’s biggest department stores and fashion movers. Big players like David Jones and Myers are now trying to fend off international competition by campaigning instead for a Goods and Services Tax amendment to discourage imports – but that has proved both impractical and extremely unpopular. Perhaps it’s time for an Australian Net-a-Porter to step up and save the day? §

Thanks to IMG

  • The Australian Dream