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How Country to Couture grew from a grassroots show to a main event on the Australian fashion calendar

IMAGE VIA DUNJIBA FASHIONS

WORDS BY HANNAH COHEN AND IZZY WIGHT

Celebrating the marriage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporary art and high-end fashion.

In August of 2016, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) launched the first edition of what would become one of Australia’s key fashion attractions – the Country to Couture designer showcase. Teaming up with experienced fashion designers, First Nations creatives put together the first edition of the collaborative runway show.

While Darwin wasn’t widely known as a coveted fashion destination, the launch of Country to Couture opened the country to the stunning world of First Nations design. “There’s so much work that goes into it, there are so many stories… it’s really where fashion’s moving to. We want more stories in our fashion.” explained the show’s creative director, Mehali Tsangaris.


Discover more local designers in our Fashion section. 


And Mehali was right. As the Country to Couture showcase moves into its sixth year, Australia’s creative community will be tuning in to celebrate the marriage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporary art and high-end fashion. Still running alongside DAAF as part of its Indigenous Fashion Projects (IFP), the vibrant runway will be held tonight on Larrakia Country – this time supported by iconic Australian lifestyle brand, Country Road.

From its humble beginnings to the media mainstage, the showcase has given a valuable creative platform to textile designers in remote Indigenous communities. As DAAF executive director Claire told Ragtrader in 2015, “Country to Couture celebrates contemporary fashion and textiles from Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and designers, and recognises collaborations where Indigenous agency is at the forefront.”

Weaving timeless stories into beautifully modern, wearable creations, this year’s lineup is an eclectic mix of pioneering collections from Indigenous designers, well-known labels and new artists from across Australia. Promising a spectacular display of culture and creativity, the runway will feature the best in First Nations-led textile and accessory design.

If you’re unable to get to tonight’s event, ease your FOMO with a broadcast of 2020 runway here and keep up with BTS snaps and highlights on the DAAF Instagram. In the meantime, let us introduce you to the featured designers and artists set to hit the DAAFF runway. 

Anindilyakwa Arts

Anindilyakwa Arts is a flourishing creative centre that commissions the work of over 100 local Indigenous artists. Based in Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, with a focus on empowering home-grown talent, the hub’s artists merge contemporary and historical techniques to create works that include boldly hued woven baskets, bush tie-dyed tees and earthy-toned satin silk scarves. 

anindilyakwaarts.com

Deadly Denim

Deadly Denim takes recycled denim staples and customises each piece by embossing designs from First Nations Artists from a number of remote Aboriginal art centres. With the purchase of these upcycled garments (available to buy on Etsy), a portion of the profits is donated to Rhodanthe Lipsett Indigenous Midwifery Charitable Fund, a project which aims to sustain the 40,000-year tradition of birthing on country.

deadlydenim.com

Dunjiba Fashions from Dunjiba Community Artists supported by Ku Arts 

A contemporary capsule of sportswear and bush skirts, these pieces are designed by and for the community. Featuring vibrant textile patterns created by artists within Ku Arts, the Dunjiba Fashions project is about using the medium of textiles and fashion design to realise community ambitions.

anangukuarts.com

Gillawarra Arts

These handmade prints and jewellery pieces created by Worimi woman Krystal Hurst are intricately crafted and “speak of the sky, land, rivers and sea”. Hurst’s creations are an ode to the freedom of expression and her connection to her ancestors. 

gillawarraarts.com

Ihraa Swim

Ihraa Swim recently released its first collection, entering the market with a vibrant range of swimwear made from recycled plastics. All its designs are printed with eco-ink, which, unlike regular ink, doesn’t contain the nasty solvents that evaporate and release VOCs, which are harmful to the environment.

@ihraaswim

Jaru Girl

Artist Bianco Long draws inspiration from vast, lush environments in various corners of the country. Jaru Girl marks her foray into jewellery, poeticising her connection to areas in the Kimberley region, especially Djaru County where she grew up. Features of the line include jewel-toned resins and sterling silver pendants. 

jarugirl.com

Yinjaa-Barni Art

A collective of artists predominantly of the Yindjibarndi language group, the creators at Yinjaa-Barni Art draw on their collective memory to curate impressions of their homeland’s form. Think intricate canvas depictions of ever-flowing rivers, stoic landscapes and vibrant wildflowers.

yinjaa-barni.com

Lady’JPau

Founded by Torres Strait Islander woman Jeanette Paul, Lady’JPau’s designs are all anchored by a cultural headdress, the dhari. Jeanette has worked to integrate the dhari into contemporary designs for the every day, as a way to signal her passion for, and to encourage others to engage with, her culture. 

ladyjpau.com

Marrawuddi Art Centre and Injalak Art Centre collaboration with North Home Textiles

A triple threat collaboration if we ever saw one! The coming together of these three collectives will see eye-catching works inspired by the culture of their local environments. North’s collection weaves the stories of its talented Indigenous artists through its textiles, so expect those sentimental touches to shine through.

marrawuddi.com

injalak.com

northhome.org

Moydra Designs

Featuring hand- and screen-printed textiles, Moydra Designs is no stranger to the DAAFF fashion showcase, appearing in the 2018 show. Through her work, designer Yvonne Odegaard seeks to portray what it means to her to be a Saltwater woman.

@yvonneodegaard

Ngali

Ngali is all about celebrating Indigenous creativity, using scarves, silk and sheath dresses and knitted vests to highlight the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Despite the intricate works they often showcase, designer Denni Ngali’s pieces are versatile and suited for everyday wear. This year, you’ll see adaptations from the work of Lindsay Malay.

ngali.com.au

Papulankutja Artists collaboration with Black Cat Couture

Celebrated for meticulous carvings into local wood and ingenious fibre work, Papulankutja Artists is a collective telling traditional stories through works produced on-site in Central Australia. The centre facilitates visual art production across a range of mediums while fostering professional development and employment for arts workers. At this year’s DAAFF fashion showcase, artworks from Papulankutja Artists will be used in Black Cat Couture’s designs, injecting the slow fashion advocate’s vintage patterns into the mix. 

papulankutja.com.au

Tiwi Design collaboration with Ossum

Tiwi Design prides itself on being one of the most long-standing and artistically diverse art centres in the country. Revered for its ochre paintings and old-style carvings, the art centre will be collaborating with women’s clothing brand Ossum for the Country to Couture showcase. We’re anticipating a collision of quintessential Tiwi designs on Ossum’s natural and upcycled fabrics. 

tiwidesigns.com

ossom.com.au

Waringarri Aboriginal Arts

Rejoicing in the cultural identity of Miriwoong country, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts supports more than 100 Aboriginal Artists in their pursuit of printmaking, woodcarving, boab engraving, painting and more. The artists specialise in ochre paintings with each piece accompanied by an origin statement and personal reflections from the artists.

waringarriarts.com

Find more info on the featured designers here

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