destination styleFriday, April 16, 2021

Street-style at Australian Fashion Week: why we love it


Blame it on the close-to-constant sunshine, breathtaking beaches or devil-may-care attitude of the attendees, but street-style at Australian Fashion Week is as effervescent, expressive and eclectic as the event's guest lists. 

Yes, MBFWA’s first outing in 1996 was, heartbreakingly, dubbed “Fashion Weak” by British fashion writer Susan Owens, but in the 20 years since it launched it has undeniably gone from strength to strength. Firmly establishing Sydney, where it’s held each year, as a global fashion capital, MBFWA has become a hotbed of emerging and established Antipodean talent, and a good deal of this is revealed in Australian Fashion Week street-style.


Like Paris, Milan, London and New York before it, street-style at Australian Fashion Week is always just as fascinating as what’s on the catwalk. What the front row wore has become a major talking point for keen-eyed observers each season, with Australia’s fashion pack delivering some of the most boundary-pushing ensembles witnessed across the globe.


Avant-garde Australia


Anyone looking for proof of MBFWA’s irreverent spirit need look no further than the hundreds of live rats streetwear label Ksubi (then Tsubi) once released down the catwalk. Then there was ever-creative Romance Was Born’s vividly rendered take on Australiana, complete with models dressed as the country’s beloved coconut and jam biscuits, Iced Vovos.


Australian Fashion Week street-style is equally adventurous, with locals like accessory designer Poppy Lissiman fronting up in outfits as loud as her label’s signature aesthetic. Enveloped in an oversized, oriental-influenced bomber jacket bedecked with red tassels, gold fringing and coils of candy-cane striped rope, with a graphic P.E Nation sweater underneath and jet black trousers below, Lissiman let her creative flag fly.


Christian Wilkins, son of entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins, used a custom-made white silk cape to turns heads, just one of his memorable street-style moments at MBFWA 2016. For Oscar de la Renta’s show that year, Christian appropriated the popular female accessory trend – the choker – to complete his dapper look of a three-piece suit in Prince of Wales check.


It isn’t all eye-catching extravagance that defines the Mercedes-Benz fashion week style, however. Labels like Ellery prove Australian designers can also be beautifully restrained. Ellery, which opened MBFWA 2015 with a show that sent ballerinas from the esteemed Australian Ballet pirouetting down the catwalk, has achieved such global recognition that Chloë Sevigny, Elle Fanning and Rihanna have been spotted in the label’s flared trousers and voluminous sleeves.


Forward-thinking minimalism


Sydney-sider Sara Donaldson of fashion website Harper and Harley, whose impeccably refined wardrobe of only grey, black and white has garnered her an obsessive 506k+ Instagram following, is one of the strongest examples of standout street-style at Australian Fashion Week. Current yet classic, her looks meld highly directional cuts with quality fabrics. Australian Fashion week style for Donaldson means wearing a contemporary update on the white shirt care of KitX or a shapely black Christopher Esber dress punctuated by tortoiseshell buttons. Unsurprisingly, Donaldson favours local labels that have an international following, like Tome and Dion Lee.


There are always plenty of perfectly tailored men at MBFWA as well. Stylist Donny Galella, for example, wore a classic outfit of ochre-toned suit and black tie at Australian Fashion Week 2016, completing his look with sleek sunglasses and a leather holdall, such as those from Smythson Menswear


Urban edge


Look past the minimalist-attired crowd and Australian Fashion Week street-style delivers unpredictable pairings and outfits that reveal the unabashedly exuberant spirit of its participants, underscored by urbane grit. Local style icons Elle Ferguson and Tash Sefton of fashion blog They All Hate Us can be relied upon for head-turning accessories and an inspired fusion of high fashion and high street. In Ferguson’s case, you can almost always be assured that her now-famous denim cut-offs will make an appearance, no matter what the season (we don’t know how she does it – even Sydney winters are never that balmy).


The sun definitely did shine on Manning Cartell’s last MBFWA show, held right under the Harbour Bridge overlooking the sparkling water of Sydney Harbour. Sending out silk satin bias-cut dresses in molten red and gold, the show’s colour-soaked collection was rivalled only by the street-style on display. Fashion influencer Carmen Hamilton epitomises Australia’s emerging cosmopolitan dress code: at 2016 MBFWA, one of her strongest ensembles saw her pair bright red boots and red Gucci bag with a black varsity-style Tommy Hilfiger tee worn over a crisp white shirt. Round-rimmed shades and a black midi skirt with a thigh-high split completed Hamilton’s lesson in layering.


And so, thanks to Hamilton’s layering, Donaldson’s paring back and Wilkins dramatic cape crusades, it looks like minimalism and maximalism both have their place under our glittering sun when it comes to Australian Fashion Week street-style. Combine this with the exciting creations sent down the catwalk and the anticipation of what theatrics will define each show and it’s no wonder we love this time of year.

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