“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street – fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening around us.” – Coco Chanel.
For years, I have loved the idea of being ‘into fashion’. I’ve been through all the stages; the Piping Hot at Kmart collection that was a must for tweens in 2008; the edging on edgy Dangerfield days where you layered kooky tights with Converse; and the Op shopping stage where my entire wardrobe consisted of eclectic $4 items. I begged for that plated Supré headband that all the girls in my year level seemed to have an abundant supply of, and I saved for that pair of Bardot jeans with the semi circles on the pockets for months. I embraced each trend as it came and went, with a yearly wardrobe cleanout showcasing the ghosts of fashions past.
My most memorable fashion moment, however, was shopping for my Year 10 formal dress. The girls had created the obligatory Facebook page, pre-posting their purchases as to avoid the dreaded double up, and as each screenshot and mirror selfie got added, I remember distinctly judging them on quality, brand, price, cut, shape – how flattering they were on each girl’s particular body type. When it came to choosing my own dress, I dragged my Mum past the classic 16-year-old brands I knew and loved, to the Sass and Bide section of Melbourne Bourke Street Myer. Everything was crisp and white and clean, and the clothes were draped elegantly over the black velvet hangers, each spaced a certain consistent distance apart. The first dress I tried I fell madly in love with – I came out of the changing room, wearing the matching $800 shoes that the shopkeeper told me were “soooo Beyoncé at the Met Gala”, and I could feel the people passing by looking at me. I will not deny that I felt on top of the world. I loved how this dress, with a price tag that I had never before encountered, made me feel – powerful, feminine, mature. It was on sale, so I pooled my savings, took a loan from Mum and made my first monumental designer purchase.
The shop assistant that sold me that dress, which I still wear over three years later, also stuck in my mind. Her hair was highlighted to perfection, she wore a flowing black skirt coupled with a masculine leather jacket, laced ankle boots and some layered gold necklaces. She was the epitome of fashion to me and as she chatted to another lady, and I remember her genuine passion and excitement when she described the new Jimmy Choo heels that her next pay cheque would go towards – I said to my mum, “I can’t believe how happy fashion makes people like her”. My mother, of course, called them shallow and told me to spend money on experiences rather than things, but in the fashion world, the experiences and the things are so intertwined that it has become very difficult to separate one from the other.
When we think of runway shows, do we think of the specific beauty of garment number three, or the iridescent colours of the tote bag being held by the model who closed the show? Or do we rather think, not of each piece individually, but the experience of a runway show as a whole? It starts outside usually, on the streets of a city like Milan, Paris, New York or London, when the models in their street style begin to arrive. It’s hectic; they may have just walked for Givenchy and now need to make the quick change to Chanel. Hair and makeup changes happen in a whirl, millions of dollars of haute couture are placed delicately onto these svelte, angel-like figures, to be showcased on the runway for approximately 20 seconds, before each disappears again backstage. While this goes on, the who’s who of this fashion sub-universe take their seats, with their popularity and influence ranking them row by row.
It is estimated that when one factors in roles such as design, merchandise, distribution, marketing, retailing, advertising, communications, publishing and consulting, the fashion industry employs over 4 million people globally. To put it in perspective, in 2013 the GDP of the entire United Kingdom was 2.678 trillion USD (according to the World Bank), and at the same time, the total value of the global textiles, apparel and luxury goods market (also known as the fashion industry) was 3.049 trillion USD. I’m not writing to discuss the negatives of the industry, as I am well aware of them and believe strongly in the importance of fair trade and labour laws, as well as fostering positive body image and the detriments of a materialistic and consumption-obsessed society. That is a debate I will not delve into in this particular discussion, as it is undeniable that fashion shapes our daily lives, influences our economies and gives us a universal platform of expression. This industry fuels economies the world over and brings people together in a way that no other industry does. ‘Fashion Week’ is no longer just one week of the year where this industry takes the spotlight – in fact, the ‘Big 4’ cities of New York, London, Milan and Paris have a continuous stream of shows that last from January to October. The fashion scene in the 21st century has evolved with the expanding nature of globalisation to include other fashion hubs, with Berlin, Los Angeles, Madrid, Rome, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo hosting notable Fashion Weeks. In Australia, the Melbourne Fashion Week has followed the trend, and even our nation’s capital has undertaken a cultural advancement in the form of Fashfest.
Fashfest is Canberra’s very own ‘Fashion Week’ – a three-day event hosting two shows a night for three nights. I was lucky enough to be sent to Show One on Friday, as part of the Woroni media team, and while it may not have been Milan or Paris, the show featured classic Australian brands like Country Road, Seed, Cue, Veronika Maine, Decjuba, Aquila and Saba. These collections, particularly those of Country Road and Seed, worked effortlessly together to paint the picture of an Australian Summer – there was a mix of bohemian prints and minimalistic cuts, and the use of white lace dresses and leather sandals created a very ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ kind of vibe, both being among my favourite pieces of the collection. Of course, runway shows are not just about the fashions on the runway, as what the spectators are wearing can be just as important. Black heels with wrap around ankle straps were in abundance off the runway, while leather man bags made multiple appearances on the male models. The MC made particular reference to the importance of “fitting the right model to the right outfit”, making the point that the show is as much about creating believable and genuine expression as it is about showcasing the fabrics. Veronika Maine in particular utilised the most diverse range of models, with a variety of ages and body types showcasing looks very appropriate to the Canberra professional market.
So, my final question is – can we really call fashion merely an industry?
I would argue that it, in fact, constitutes the very core of human expression. Not everyone can be an artist, a musician, a sportsman, a writer or an academic – not everyone has found a niche in which to express themselves and say something about the world. But every single one of us has to get up in the morning and put something on our bodies. Whether you are Kate Moss or a Maasai tribesperson, or indeed if you are 14-year-old me proudly donning the pink Supré tote, each of the 7.4 billion of us make conscious decisions about what we wear, what that choice will say to those around us, and how comfortable it will make us. Clothing can indicate social status, can help us to rebel or to conform, and can enable us to try on new versions of ourselves – and ultimately, the trends that we know and love start somewhere on a runway half the world away.