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Telstra Perth Fashion Festival

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The Telstra Perth Fashion Festival is back from next Wednesday, September 17, until Monday, September 22. BOB GORDON checks in with founder/director, Mariella Harvey-Hanrahan.

It’s the eve of the fashion. The Telstra Perth Fashion Festival is about to begin and founder/director, Mariella Harvey-Hanrahan, has the perfect word to describe the state of play.

“Frenetic,” she states, “13-hour days, dresses from one end of the office to the other, non-stop meetings, constantly trying to do what I have to do. People think that this job is so glamorous, but nothing could be further from the truth (laughs). And I’ve got one ear on listening to all the music with the project managers – because I am a presentation Nazi I always want to be across every little bit of it.”

It’s a lot to take on, constantly, right up to the staging of the festival each year and continuing into it. Though Harvey-Hanrahan wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t think so,” she says, “because it’s kind of like my baby. When we feature such a vast array of WA designers I want to make sure that we celebrate what is uniquely WA. That’s my whole mantra.

“Like this year, even if you look at the campaign we shot with gorgeous Caitlin Lomax – who’s not even based here anymore – I love that, then teaming up with Richard Woldendorp, we’ve used all his Australian landscapes, it’s just beautiful. He’s a leader in landscape photography and Caitlin is one of our leading WA models.

“It’s shaping up to be the most inspiring and engaging fashion experience to date.”

A key element in Harvey-Hanrahan’s passion for the Telstra Perth Fashion Festival, now in its 16th year, is forging more paths forward for WA creatives. It’s not only about exposure, but opportunity.

“It is important to celebrate these people and recognise their outstanding talent” she notes, “to understand and know that we do have innovation and business success for WA creatives and we need to keep harnessing that.”

“We’ve got lots of Australian designers and indeed international designers showing this year. We want an inspiring line-up and a new breed of fashion-forward and globally relevant designers all showing their collections at the Telstra Perth Fashion Festival. I think that helps, because I’ve stayed true to our vision to be uniquely WA, first and foremost, but we have to do something different.

“I’m so excited about Opening Night (International Runway – Beyond Imagination) as the gateway to Asia (WA label Ae’lkemi will be featured, along with two of FIDé Fashion Week’s leading Asian couture and high-fashion designers, Sebastian Gunawan and Michael Cinco), because that’s really where the growth is for the future. And I do believe if we get that aspect of it right we will have more and more Australian designers wanting to show in Perth.”

Harvey-Hanrahan agrees that Perth has, in general, become more of a confident city in terms of identity and culture. It’s a confidence reflected in the WA fashion industry.

“I definitely think that the confidence of the local industry has increased. We’ve produced more and more design stars and we show that we do have diversity in the creative sector and yes, mainly it’s in the creative arts, but fashion is recognised as an artistically inspired way for people to express themselves. Even as a city, we’re changing.”

Clearly (and importantly)  Harvey-Hanrahan’s vision for the Telstra Perth Fashion Festival has evolved over the years as both the industry and the festival itself has grown.

“Just like fashion designers review, renew and revamp their range each year or season, so do we at the festival,” she explains. “This is why we’ve changed the venue (Fashion Paramount, Perth Concert Hall), because I think you have to keep it fresh, dynamic and vibrant. And I love that; I love the fact that we can take Perth fashion across all these different destinations which will be abuzz with style and activity, I think that’s really cool.

“Certainly when I founded the festival I wasn’t looking to go international immediately. Whereas now, I know that if you want to make it, you cannot discount doing business in the Asia Pacific region. Being the gateway to Asia is very important.

“There’s lots of challenges, but with that comes opportunity. In the ideal world we would have  more money so we could have more staff (laughs). But we’re getting there; this is the biggest team we’ve ever had in the history of the festival. I think that because we’re getting bigger and we are recognised as a leader in our industry, we are the leading fashion event for the state – with that comes more pressure. You’ve got to do it bigger and better. You’ve got to keep on topping your highest track record.”

This year’s festival will feature a recollection and celebration of the life and work of Ruth Tarvydas, who tragically passed away in May.

Tarvydas is today remembered as a WA icon beyond the fashion industry which adored her so much. Ruth Tarvydas – A Celebration will take place on Friday, September 19, at Ascot Racecourse.

“Look, you know, it’s bittersweet,” Harvey-Hanrahan ponders about the remembrance planned for her friend and colleague. “It’s fantastic that we will be doing Ruth’s journey about showstopping dresses. There were many (laughs)… she designed hundreds of really amazing  gowns that have graced red carpet premieres, school balls and glittery parties and it will be nice to see some of them, like the Opera House she designed for Rachel Finch (2009 Miss Australia), certainly fabulous things that you’ll see on the runway and we’re doing an exhibition of her iconic dresses way back to the vintage… but you know, it’s going to be a tough and emotional evening.

“But I would have it any other way. There’s no way I wouldn’t have a component of the Telstra Perth Fashion Festival that is dedicated to Ruth, because she was such a giver. She gave so much. I think it’s really important to celebrate and recognise her beautiful, artistic contributions.”

In the midst of the maelstrom, Harvey-Hanrahan is looking forwarf to not only the week of fashion ahead, but what that week can do in terms of the future of WA fashion.

“I think we have an inspiring line-up of Australia’s new breed of fashion-forward designers and indeed global designers. I hope that that translates to what the public thinks when they come and see it. I hope that translates to what people like yourself think of the showcase, what will be the industry commentary. I hope we generate sales for industry. I hope we absolutely make the cash registers ring for retail, the much-needed support that the retailers need. I want to tick all those boxes.

“I hope, most of all, that around the world they will be seeing lots of fantastic WA fashion photos. Having Telstra on board is fantastic, as it will allow us to grow our audience. That’ll help elevate the profile of the festival and also hopefully increase visitation, both locally and nationally.”

For full details head to telstraperthfashionfestival.com.au