Sydney Fashion Week delivers modesty in spades

Words by Bianca O'Neill

Image via Getty Images/Stefan Gosatti

Throwing back to a bygone era.

The vision of femininity from many designers showing resort collections at MBFWA this year was that of buttoned-up, rose-coloured modesty. So many collections harked back to a bygone era of high-necked, long-skirted womanhood that they could have formed a set wardrobe for Picnic at Hanging Rock.

In fact, one designer even referenced the original book in their show notes.

macgraw delivered a series of flowing, floral housecoats, nightgowns and croquet wear that any lady of the manor would deem appropriate to wear as she sashayed around the grounds of her extensive estate. Fittingly, the collection was presented amongst the gardens of Swifts, a heritage-listed mansion at Darling Point.

Backstage ahead of the MacGraw show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Resort 19 Collections at the Swifts (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Albus Lumen’s woman was more pastoral sister-wife than heiress, but still entirely covered up. Models made their way around stacked terracotta pots as they presented a vision of homeliness and discretion wrapped up in plain, quiet, ankle-length sheaths paired with kerchiefs and bucket hats.

(Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images at Albus Lumen)

Meanwhile, at Wiley’s Baths in Coogee, Emilia Wickstead stayed true to form with an exclusive collection (via retailer MatchesFashion) of pretty floral swimsuits that referenced vintage ’60s photos from a bygone European summer. Long skirts and hair scarfs completed the retro look, conveying a longing for feminine silhouettes of the past.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images at Emilia Wickstead)

Lee Matthews’ interpretation of resort was supposedly inspired by modernist icons like Eames and Lloyd Wright, and minimalist artist Donald Judd – interesting, considering clashing gingham and floral prints played a large part of the mostly oversized, billowing maxidresses. The feminine form was not a focus here.

(Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images at Lee Mathews)

We Are Kindred drew inspiration from 19th century Art Noveau – another collection heavy on the floral prints. Wide-brimmed hats and high-necked gowns walked alongside tiered and ruffled creations (one even with a pseudo-bustle) that, although beautiful, certainly weren’t about sex appeal.

(Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images at We Are Kindred)

Finally, Thurley presented a very Thurley collection that directly referenced the aforementioned countryside novel in the show notes. Interspersed among the Thurley lace were a few disco looks that were more Studio 54 than Picnic at Hanging Rock – but retro nonetheless. They occasionally ventured off-piste with a non-lace look or two that could have sat comfortably within the macgraw collection.

In true Thurley form, the tiny playsuits and spring racing-style lace with cutouts could never be deemed overly modest – but it was interesting in itself that this literary reference popped up among a year of vintage-loving collections.

(Photo by Brook Mitchell/Getty Images at Thurley)

Curious, then, that after Bianca Spender’s fluid interpretation of future-focussed femininity, most other designers were looking back for inspiration. Particularly within the context of a #MeToo era. 

Buttoned up as they may have been, they were of course pretty all the same. But is pretty enough these days? According to the Instagram influencers and magazine editors frothing at the very Instagrammable presentation of the Emilia Wickstead collection, it seems it may just be.

Follow Bianca’s MBFWA journey over at @_thesecondrow

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