Old name, new tricks: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2012

RWB catwalk_2

In 2012, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia got its name and key sponsor back. For a six-year period, the event was known as Rosemount Australian Fashion Week (after the winery). The five-day event that’s staged at the Overseas Passenger Terminal and at locations around Sydney, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Maritime Museum, a warehouse in Rosebery) is quite different from the Australian Fashion Week that Simon Lock started in 1995 at Fox Studios.

Style bloggers like Susie Lau of Style Bubble, Tommy Ton of Jak & Jil and Phil Oh from Street Peeper sit in the front row. E-commerce buyers from Wisconsin-based Shopbop and Taylor Tomasi-Hill, artistic director of Moda Operandi are a draw at shows over traditional department store buyers. And the presentations are live-streamed on various websites.

D*Hub speaks with Glynis Jones, curator of fashion and dress at the Powerhouse Museum.

Before we start speaking about Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, tell us about Frock Stars – the Powerhouse Museum exhibition that documents the birth of Australian Fashion Week.

We developed Frock Stars in 2010, which is now touring regional centres [see Lake Macquarie Art Gallery from September 1]. Simon Lock who founded Fashion Week very kindly donated the earlier archives to the museum. We hold footage and photographs. We also had good background material as we were collecting selected items every year from Fashion Week, like the Zimmermann swimsuit from 1996 to Dion Lee’s knot-pleated dress from 2010.

The Powerhouse Museum has quite a collection of Jenny Kee – is that right?

We’ve acquired the archives of Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson because they’re two really significant designers who encapsulate the ’80s in Australia: very distinctive, creative signatures. They are very Australian but also global in their outlook – both of them have travelled extensively. Linda had gone through Papua New Guinea and Asia and Jenny had been in London at the height of the swinging ’60s.

What do you think of the return of Jenny Kee at MBFWA in 2012?

Very relevant. When she was doing her original prints in the ’80s, they were really complex prints; she couldn’t get them done in Australia. There wasn’t sophisticated technology, so she was sending them off to Milan to get them printed in Italy– the guy who was printing them also did prints for Lagerfeld. He told Lagerfeld about Jenny’s prints. When he did his first collection for Chanel he used Jenny Kee’s black opal print in his collection. It was very difficult to produce those but now Jenny can work with local, digital printers.

At MBFWA we saw a real connection between Romance Was Born and Jenny Kee. Jenny sat front row at the Romance Was Born show, while Romance Was Born styled the Jenny Kee presentation.

They’re kind of mentoring each other, which is really interesting.  There’s the creative imperative and the commercial imperative. Jenny and Linda were highly creative but work has to translate into the market. Romance Was Born had a really strong collection that is totally wearable in all sorts of ways. Nailing that is really wonderful.

One of the strongest expressions of Australian fashion is colour. Everyone did colour this year – Romance Was Born, Alice McCall, Gary Bigeni. Do you see that in your archives?

Yes, it’s certainly something that comes through. In 1989 we did an exhibition, Australian Fashion: The Contemporary Art and it travelled to the Victoria & Albert Museum and Mariwa Art Museum, Tokyo and that was the thing that they picked up – wow, colour!

What we’re trying to capture in the collection, if someone is working with a particular strength, we try to document that particular signature. I guess that’s coming through more than big trends. In the ’90s we were looking at big trends and I think we are now shifting to individual styles.

'Kee Collage' silk, Jenny Kee/ Rainbow Fabrics. Australia / Italy, 1980

‘Kee Collage’ silk, Jenny Kee/ Rainbow Fabrics. Australia / Italy, 1980

Do you think the idea of trends is over in an Internet age?

I don’t think it’s completely over. Certainly if you look through the collections, I think you still see trends like colour-blocking.

At MBFWA the presence of online shopping was felt with buyers from Shopbop and Moda Operandi. In years past designers would tap-dance in front of the department store buyers. Now they want to be noticed by e-commerce editors.

RWB & Jenny Kee

Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales from Romance Was Born with Jenny Kee

That was so interesting about doing the Frock Stars exhibition – that kind of encapsulates something that is changing. In the exhibition we’ve got pictures of the front row. Now your front row will be quite different – all those bloggers having an opinion. They’re starting to live-stream and you can buy things from the catwalk – the impact that can have on the designer and the market… You’re losing that person in between because it was a closed shop. The fashion editors and the fashion buyers would select what they thought you should have and now everyone can have a view to buy. The consumer can say ‘I love this piece’ and the designer can see who loves what. The retailers can see what the public like. That’s a really strange change. It will be interesting to see what happens out of that change.