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At Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, dressing for joy prevails

IMAGE VIA WYNN HAMLYN
WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

My three days on the ground at Fashion Week.

It’s been a whirlwind few days on the tracks at Carriageworks (and beyond) for Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW). Sydney’s fashion set is out in full force, with dopamine dressing proving marginally brighter here versus Melbourne. 

My all-black suiting feels suddenly jarring, the humidity has got to my hair and I’m doting over the flock of fabulously-dressed humans exhibiting their sublime fashion instincts on the pavement (often puddle-riddled) between galleries. 


Discover more local designers in our Fashion section. 


The open plan nature of Carriageworks – AAFW’s cornucopia – means you can sit and while away a few hours working in the media room, grab a latte and sit outside for some people watching, or drop into a live panel to soak up some educational content. There was a one-on-one with designer Anna Quan and a Lady-brains live talk with Bianca Spender, to name a couple.

But of course, the real magic happens on (and between) the runways. I’ve attended approximately four shows in the last two and a half days, and spent my fair share of time observing all the well-dressed humans on those Carrriageworks rail lines. I tell you what, there’s been some absolute bangers of ensembles, sets and audiences, all testament to Sydney’s sheer magnitude of production. 

More than ever, many opportunities emerged to experiment and develop one’s own personal style. When you’re really in awe of someone flitting around Fashion Week, it’s usually not a matter of what they’re wearing being ‘out’ or ‘in’ vogue, but about the way they express themselves through cornerstone pieces collected over time. 

Monday evening was all eyes on the sexy power dressing of Melbourne label Aaizél, followed by low-fi beachy vibes at Sydney-based Matteau on Tuesday (with a dreamy score of ‘Kokomo’). New Zealand label Wynn Hamlyn took us to Haymarket for an underground (and incredibly cool) runway in a literal tunnel after dark, and Aje made moving artwork on the apt backdrop of the Musuem of Contemporary Art for an early morning Wednesday exhibition. 

What a time. Spotting all the fashion girlies, the clothes, the makeup, the styling, the music, the constant sensory overload – it’s been a riot. But let’s get down to business and dive into the takeaway moments, feelings and observations of the week so far, as seen through my subjective eyes. 

Primary colours

We all know parakeet green (and Bottega green) is all the rage, but the sheer quantity of primary colours people and labels favoured this fashion week was staggering. And I’m here for it. Aaizél set the tone with bright reds, loud blues and lurid greens, pared-back with black and white underlays or corsetry. Wynn Hamlyn followed suit with out-there outerwear, dresses and tailoring checking off all quadrants in the four-primary colour wheel. I’m getting serious Wiggles energy, and it feels good. 

Rewear

Despite all the fashion playfulness I saw, and feeling a little displaced as a Melburnian, I felt good about the versatility and constant reliability of my impeccable E Nolan suit. It really reinforced the importance of buying what I love and feel myself in, to wear again and again for festivals of the future.

The art of rewearing was omnipresent, from spotting writer and podcaster Isabelle Truman in a knockout $2 thrifted strapless black dress with a Balenciaga bag (a flawless combination) on stylist Chloe Hill’s Instagram story, to our very own Senior Industry Columnist, Bianca O’Neill, who vowed to only don clothing she already owns and adores this week.

Textural tapestries

Aje really went to town on the texture, with no fabric unturned. I’m talking glittering, ritzy bag straps, opulent dresses, signature ruching on balloon sleeves and insanely intricate ruffles. The same goes for Wynn Hamlyn, with Wynn Crawshaw’s unmissable macramé (a sort of fisherman’s rope-like vibe) netting models to reveal ample splices of skin. Matteau desperately made me want to wear a pair of cargo pants with slinky bathers, and I never thought I’d write that sentence.

Another highlight that was packed full of texture was the Indigenous Fashion Projects runway. The show, which featured FJ favourites like Ngali and Maara Collective, took place on a red earth textured floor, and saw the four sets of models divided into distinct categories: ‘desert earth kids’, ‘freshwater kids’, ‘saltwater kids’ and ‘bush kids’. Featuring crochet, tassles and sumptuous silks, it was, by all accounts, a true celebration of country and a representation of the breadth of Indigenous textile and fashion design talent in this country (and it even featured a performance from Jessica Mauboy herself).

Overlay play

I noticed so many pants-under-skirts, dresses overhanging trousers and corsets hugging baggy shirts in Aaizél’s collection. This mix of structure and loose layering radiates nonchalant energy and allows us to rethink dressing norms. And I particularly loved some new shapes from Wynn Hamlyn that helped the trend prevail. The label had excruciatingly-good meshy and pleated dresses with pants worked in.

It’s sort of giving skort energy but in long-line form. As a pants devotee, I am in favour. Layering as a styling technique for winter is something a lot of us probably have the ability to shop our own wardrobes for – you can dip your toes in the water by trying a fitted black top or bustier over a crisp linen shirt.

One for all

Photography by Stefan Gosatti for Getty Images

I truly commend the designers for championing such vast diversity on the runways I was lucky to attend. Aje put together a lightweight suiting outfit complete with a hijab for beautiful modest wear, while Aaizél canvassed a broad spectrum of bodies, curves, busts and ethnicities. It was a joy to see.

I even sat beside the divine model Sophia Brenn at Wynn Hamlyn (who was watching a friend walk), and I commended her on how great her strut was at Aaizél’s show. She said it was incredibly fun to be part of. Erik Yvon was another label that delivered on this front – while I wasn’t present, seeing the coverage on social media and hearing about it from attendees at AAFW confirmed that it was a joyously inclusive experience.

Auditory details

This was a fun one. You could genuinely hear the sound of the clothing on a few of the runways, namely Wynn Hamlyn and Aje. From the whooshing of low-slung, baggy cargo pants and rattling, magnificent bead-work from Wynn, to the fantastic bottom of a figure-hugging orange dress from Aje, it was an auditory delight.

That one Aje garment had some real volume to it, and its delightful movement with long, tassel-like fronds felt reminiscent of going through a carwash (like, in the best possible way). It’s worth noting Aje is available on Rentr, so you can keep an eye out for these pieces to loan when they hit the mainstream. After all, there are only so many occasions for one to wear a bow-tail fuchsia mini dress before you pass on the baton.

Tropicool

One word: hibiscus. The tropicana floral motif was everywhere, from first commanding my attention at Matteau to later recurring in men’s and womenswear for Wynn Hamlyn. Matteau’s signature laissez-faire, holiday vibe was further perpetuated through the hibiscus print, while Wynn utilised the symbol as the only recurring pattern of the collection. I’ve always been relatively print-averse, but maybe it’s time to drop tonal dressing for an injection of relaxed, holiday flavour.

As fashion is cyclical, much of what we saw on (and off) the runway can be found in op shops, on Depop, or in consignment stores, if you’re willing to hunt. This ‘tropicool’ energy is one to mine Australia’s expertly curated vintage online stores for.

Splice is nice

Backless designs were prolific at Aje (as expected), but in playful reimaginings – think big, extravagant bows attached to the lower neck that trail all the way down to the ground, despite an uber-short dress hemline. Very cool. Then Aaizél served all sorts of slashes and cutouts, layering with shirts underneath bodycon dresses that your grandma would definitely ask “Where is the rest of your dress?” in response to.

Skin-baring was big, while still leaving things to the imagination through clever design. If you’re keen to replicate this one at home, a trip to some brilliant local op-shops followed by an appointment with your local tailor is a shortcut to mastering the spliced effect. Perhaps they could crop an entire suit jacket, or turn an old dress into a mini skirt. The options are endless.

Genevieve Phelan is Fashion Journal’s Lifestyle & Careers Columnist. Her writing fuses introspection with investigation, calling on her own personal anecdotes and the advice of admired experts in the realms of intimacy, money, friendship, careers and love. You can find her here and here.

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