SYDNEY — Great weather, Insta-friendly show locations and a slew of new faces delivered the buzz at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, whose resort 2024 collections showcase wrapped on Friday at Sydney’s Carriageworks venue.
A total of 43 shows featured some 54 designers, not including the #WeWearAustralian finale, which showcased 88 brands. The public purchased tickets for seven shows through organiser IMG’s two-year-old consumer initiative AAFW: The Experience.
A number of participating brands are celebrating milestones: midmarket retailer Cue, 55 years in business; Aje, 15 years, and Michael Lo Sordo and Anna Quan, both a decade. However, the schedule was heaving with new names, 10 of them leapfrogging over the event’s traditional entry-level group shows to make their solo runway debuts.
They included Alémais, which was accorded the prestigious opening slot. Launched during lockdown in 2020 by Lesleigh Jermanus, Zimmermann’s former longtime head designer, the brand boasts almost 200 stockists in roughly 30 markets. Noted for her bohemian print day dresses and separates, for resort 2024 Jermanus ventured into colorful eveningwear for the first time.
“It was the first show, and I was like ‘Woo-hoo!’” said Nathalie Constanty, a London-based consultant for Le Bon Marché, who scouted Alémais in a London showroom and introduced the brand to the retailer, which currently has a Paris department store exclusive on it.
“It’s been a magic week to be here and discover more about the feminine ready-to-wear trends and Sydney,” she added. “I’ve been very pleased with the shows in general. I think it’s because of the lifestyle here, the nice weather, the nature. People are more relaxed than we are in northern Europe, so the style goes with that. This understated luxury…also, I’ve noticed all the tailoring, how they do it in a very informal way. Because we are more used to formal. That’s really cool. And also the brands are louder with prints.”
Le Bon Marché stocks a half-dozen Australian labels, including Zimmermann, Oroton, Sir the Label and Blanca, the latter a shirting specialist which made its fashion week debut with a collection of fluid tailoring and daytime pajama sets. Constanty also liked Bondi Born, which showed maillots, crop tops and voluminous smocks and tent dresses in bright colors at The Coal Loader at Waverton, a repurposed industrial waterfront location. Additionally, Joslin, which showed at Clovelly Beach at sunset and New Zealand’s Maggie Marilyn, who showed a sport luxe capsule down at the Royal Australian Naval Sailing Association’s The Navy Bear café overlooking Rushcutters Bay.
Constanty particularly liked the so-called “beach to bar” aesthetic for which Australian brands are renowned (there are 100 beaches in Sydney alone). “The brands we have in Europe are more about dressing around the swimming pool, but not [about making] that transition [from the beach to dinner] — and dressy. It’s a very interesting trend for us.”
Michael Lo Sordo was both the favorite collection and show of Net-a-porter market director Libby Page. To show his signature minimalist evening looks and unveil his first menswear collection, Lo Sordo staged a presentation reminiscent of a supper club. It featured small tables in place of a front row and a photogenic orchestra seated in a single line down the center of the runway, conducted by Sydney musical director and composer Dan Fontaine.
“I love that [Lo Sordo] has managed to create such a signature DNA with a simple item — the slipdress is what he is known for, it’s such a simple wardrobe staple but he has given it an iconic makeover,” said Page, who also liked Bondi Born, Joslin and Maggie Marilyn. “The locations that embrace the Australian features really put the clothes into context. The collections feel inspired by nature, enhanced by little details like rope, waist bands and sheer fabrications, together with lots of linens and neutral color palettes that exude a relaxed feeling.”
She added, “The effortless sensibility is a key element coming through. We have also seen a lot of layering which Australian designers do very well, whether that’s wide-leg pants over swimwear or long tunics over pants. Designers are really thinking about versatility, so they can layer up and de-layer due to the climate here and bring swimwear to life by styling it with rtw items to create a full look. It’s about comfort and wearability, even more so than what we’ve been seeing coming through internationally. The fabric they use is much lighter, airier and breezy. Even the tailoring offers slouchy suiting and wide-leg oversize pants.”
Browns buying manager Holly Tenser liked Alémais, St Agni, Aje, Albus Lumen, Blanca, Michael Lo Sordo and Christian Kimber, a menswear brand from Melbourne which also made its AAFW debut. “We really enjoyed the diversity of shows this season,” said Tenser. “There were lots of new designers to discover from contemporary, to party-focused, ‘NextGen’ emerging, and supporting the Indigenous designers and models. We loved seeing how designers transformed the Carriageworks space and made it their own through set designs, lighting and music, which was a focus for brands such as Michael Lo Sordo with the incredibly beautiful violinists, through to the live band [Don West] at Christian Kimber. There was also some incredible styling this season, and we really loved to see each designer take on layering and accessorizing, with Blanca doing an incredible job of this with their shirting, and Christian Kimber also showing sophisticated cool layering for menswear.”
She added, ”There was a strong emphasis on sheer, whether it be completely sheer dresses at Michael Lo Sordo, embellished sheer dresses at Anna Quan or playful layers of sheer detailing at Mariam Seddiq. We particularly loved the sheer layering at Bondi Born and Albus Lumen. It was chic, fluid and layered in an incredibly wearable way for those not wanting to bare it all. Tailoring was everywhere and all-white looks dominated nearly every show. On the flip side, the contrast of strong pops of color seen with pinks, citruses and blues at Bondi Born, Yousef Akbar, Asiyam and Alemais.”
Moda Operandi buyer for rtw Kelsey Lyle liked Alémais, St Agni, Albus Lumen, Bondi Born and Joslin. “Sydney Fashion Week showcased a continued emphasis on elevated draping, strapless columns gowns, sheer fabrications and gender-fluid fashion,” she said. “The use of earthy tones, clean lines and refreshed styling at St. Agni created a cohesive and harmonious collection that epitomized contemporary elegance. Albus Lumen’s collection exuded a sense of relaxed sophistication and refined simplicity with a blend of natural textures and fluid silhouettes. It felt like a calming breath of fresh air during the busy week.”
Other AAFW debutantes included the avant-garde labels Youkhana, Wackie Ju and Nicol & Ford. All couture specialists, they created fashion moments with their beautifully curated theatrical productions. The much buzzed-about Caroline Reznik, meanwhile, a former professional ballerina who graduated from the University of Technology Sydney in 2020, presented her third collection inside one of AAFW’s biggest venues. Reznik’s signature embellished body-con looks have attracted the attention of the stylists of Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Rosalía and Kendall Jenner, who she has dressed for music videos and festivals. The resort 2024 collection is her first time offering wholesale.
Approximately one dozen Australian Indigenous brands were featured — fewer than in recent years, due to the absence of the First Nations Fashion & Design collective, which is focusing on a new incubator program with Australia’s largest fashion e-commerce player The Iconic. However, Northern Territory-based Aboriginal arts collective Ikuntji Artists and Melbourne-based Ngali, which previously showed in group shows staged by FNFD and Indigenous Fashion Projects, respectively, graduated to their own solo shows this year. IFP is an Indigenous business accelerator program conducted in collaboration with the David Jones department store chain.
David Jones general manager for womenswear, footwear and accessories Bridget Veals singled out Alémais, Michael Lo Sordo, Ngali, IFP alumnus Liandra Swim and Haulier. Haulier was launched in Sydney in November 2020 by Jeremy Hershan, the former creative director of R.M. Williams and previously a designer at Aquascutum, Alfred Dunhill and Gieves & Hawkes in London. Launching the brand as a collection of utility totes in canvas and suede, Hershan recently expanded into unisex rtw with a preppy edge.
“It’s good to see some creativity for the week,” said Veals of all the new names on the schedule. “Some people were maybe disappointed about the fact that some of the more established names weren’t on there. But overall we thought it was a good fashion week, a good atmosphere, almost celebratory. And, rightly or wrongly, I felt there were less influencers and more people just getting on with the job of doing fashion week.”