NB: some of these lessons were learned the hard way.

Words by

Amy Campbell

I remember my first fashion festival. 

I was 16 and starry eyed. I had chosen my outfit weeks in advance: wedge booties, a button-up blouse and some bright green pants I’d rather forget. With an entourage of Mum and my best friend, I was ready to witness my first real runway. Gaping in awe from the back row, it was then I realised fashion festivals are thrilling yet chaotic places to be. 

But amid the paparazzi and endless flow of industry extraordinaire, it’s hard to know where to fit in. Sure, you’ve got your golden ticket, you’re dressed to impress and your pals are at either elbow. But the pre-show pandemonium can be rather overwhelming – wait, did Jen Hawkins just walk by?

With the 2016 Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival fast approaching, we thought we’d compile some fashion week tips for first-time festival goers. Shows fly by in what feels like minutes, and celebrities whisk themselves from frow to AP quicker than you can say ‘runway.’ But don’t worry, as seasoned fashion week folk, we’re here to make sure you maximise your first festival foray. 

1. Take a camera. People will think you’re a photographer and pose for you

If you saunter in with a camera in hand, we guarantee the herd of aspiring bloggers will stop mid-convo and strike a pose. Whether it’s the one-leg-in-front-of-the-other, the wind-in-hair-walk-by or the “I’m #hashtagging! ... But take a photo anyway.” Whatever unexpected scenarios you and your SLR encounter, we suggest making the most of them. You’ll return home with a bevvy of awesome photographs, and some new fashionable friends. 

2. Wear the thing in your wardrobe you won’t wear anywhere else

Fashion festivals are very good places to push the boundaries of your own style. We all have that jacket, jumpsuit or misunderstood pair of pants lurking in the back of our closets, waiting patiently to make their cameo. Can’t wear it to class or on a dinner date? Make it this year’s fash fest façade. You’ll find the finest fashion statements are made away from the runway. 

3. But don’t look like you’re about to go clubbing

VERY important. It’s all well and good to look fab, but at fashion week less is not best. Especially in Melbourne, where our conservative-cool vibe tends to favour long lengths and oversized styles. Guaranteed, most of the fashion crowd will be wearing sneakers and slouchy silhouettes anyway. And speaking from experience, you’ll have to do some serious perambulating to get to and from the venue, so walkability and wearability is key. Save tight and bright for later in the night. 

5. Arrive first, leave last

If you want to maximise your moments at fashion week and see more than the ten-minute show, channel both the early bird and last-to-leave. Arrive an hour before the show begins and (with camera in hand) go for a stroll, observe the pre-show energy and click away at the crowds rolling in. And afterwards, lurk for as long as feels non-stalker-y, because this is when the people behind the production materialise and mingle. The runway show is a spectacle, but pre and post show is the real parade. 

6. Take friends. Or your mum. Just don’t take a first date

In every frow, at every fashion festival, sits some sort of ‘squad.’ Karl’s got his, and Gigi’s got hers. And there’s no reason yours shouldn’t be #onpoint, too. Best friends make ultimate fashion week escorts, but mums, sisters and work pals will also do the trick. We’d shy away from taking a first date – unless they are a fellow fashion fanatic. And maybe leave your pooch at home, too. That’s a guest only Cara Delevingne at front-row Chanel can do.  

7. Don’t watch the entire runway show from behind your iPhone

This is a mistake I made over and over again, before realising the runway looks a hell of a lot better in real time. As tempting as it is to Snapchat the entire show and give your pals some serious FOMO, you’ll leave wishing you watched it with your own eyes. You can find professional snaps on the Internet the following day. Some of the most magical things can’t be seen from behind a screen.

8. Volunteer!

Although volunteer applications for the upcoming festival closed long ago, if you’re an aspiring designer, photographer or runway producer, we suggest signing up for the next fashion fest as soon as entries roll ’round. It’s the best way to watch the nitty gritty of backstage unfold. Whether you’re helping models into heels or showing VIPs to seats, it’s a tangible fashion week experience that’s hard to beat.  

9. Read up, get educated

There’s nothing more rewarding than attending a runway show knowing a fact or two about the designers presenting. A simple Google search will tell you all you need to know. And if you happen to find yourself seated next to an industry insider, you’ll have a pretty sweet selection of conversation starters. We guarantee they’ll be impressed by your wisdom.   

10. Be inspired

Approach the fashion festival like a real-life Pinterest board. Take mental notes of the trends you see, write about them, post photos on your blog, copy the looks you love. You never know who might read the review you’ve written, or request to use your photographs. There’s no inspo like the here and now. Be thirsty; soak it up. 

Illustration by Twylamae, who also makes tank tops of Elaine Benes dancing to 'Sorry' just like this one.

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