As someone who considers themselves a part of the fashion industry with a capital F, I have certain expectations of a national fashion week. What I experienced at the recent Melbourne version was less about fashion and more about fun; with a capital F.
Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF) is just that; a festival with a fashion theme. In many ways it was exactly the same as Melbourneâ€™s other fun events â€“ the F1, Spring Carnival, food festival â€“ only with fashion.
Although when I say â€˜fashionâ€™ what I really mean are clothes.
There wasnâ€™t anything at all fashion forward or that exciting at the multiple runway shows, there were lots of group shows â€“ like you get at the mall â€“ with only one single brand show for Carla Zampatti, one of Australiaâ€™s longest running retail brands.
The quality of the shows was basic, the lighting a bit off, no information about the brands was available except the commercial option to â€˜shop the runwayâ€™ for a few pieces per show.
However none of that mattered to the audience. They werenâ€™t there to have a fashion experience; they were there to have a good time. To get dressed up, have some drinks, get their hair done and take heaps of selfies with their mates.
Not that all that was a bad thing, after all VAMFF is clearly entitled a â€˜festival â€˜.
One of the most impressive parts of VAMFF, apart from having a gorgeous site â€“ the Royal Exhibition Building is an outstanding venue â€“ was the inclusivity of the runways. There were a large number of Models of Colour, a hijabi model of colour, various sizes and ages, and Ashley Graham. Even the event staffers from security to ushers and promo people were examples of Australiaâ€™s wide spectrum of ethnicities.
The public runway shows also supported a lot of local talent â€“ the menswear labels Chris Ran-Lin and Mndatory were particularly strong.
More interesting than the fun festival side of VAMFF, however, was the launch of the inaugural Australian Fashion Summit. Definitely designed for the industry, there were a number of interesting speakers focusing on the issues bedevilling the global fashion industry and Australiaâ€™s industry in particular.
Opening with an impassioned acknowledgement of the Aboriginal Elders by RMIT graduate textile artist Taylah AimÃ©e, the Summit included the whoâ€™s who of Australiaâ€™s fashion industry from Martin Foley, the Victorian Minister for the Creative Industries, to a panel on sustainable fashion with Vogue Australiaâ€™s Sustainability Editor Clare Press, an interview with Yasmin Sewell, and on to retail experts, the Chinese fashion market, and then to the star of the day.
The highlight of the summit had to be the appearance of international fashion icon, body activist and businesswoman Ashley Graham. The only speaker to get a standing ovation, and have her discussion interrupted with spontaneous applause, Graham had the whole room in love with her within minutes.
Her positive outlook, empowering attitude towards diversity in fashion and body positivity, made an impact with the audience, many of whom were obviously fans. Grahamâ€™s energy saw the conversation move from koalaâ€™s ticklish feet to the best curvy designers, how happy she is that she can make a difference in womenâ€™s lives, and how important it is to make positive affirmations to yourself in the mirror.
â€œI am bold; I am brilliant; I am beautiful; I am worth of all; I love you,â€ said Graham. Shouting to the crowd: â€œAffirmations are huge!â€ and â€œItâ€™s OK to love your body!â€
She also said she wanted to â€œeat my way through Melbourneâ€. I a newly converted fan.
Alongside the main events there were also a host of independent events from talks on sustainability to fabulous art exhibitions around Melbourne in a variety of fabulous buildings and spaces â€“ perfect for your travel selfies!
If you love clothes and are looking for a reason to visit Melbourne in March, arranging to attend next yearâ€™s VAMFF is not a bad option.
Niki Bruce attended VAMFF as part of its Writerâ€™s Programme. For more information about VAMFF, go to vamff.com.au.