Telstra Perth Fashion Festival’s WA Designer Installation on September 21, complementing the Runway on Saturday, used stark lights, tableaux of models and sudden mood-changes, giving some of WA’s most conceptual labels the opportunity to present outfits as artworks. ZOE KILBOURN reports.
Walking the thin line between fashion and art – sometimes toppling right over it – eight WA designers manage to be both expressive and functional.
Monster Alphabets, for the most part, presented a gently goth collection: elegant, low-cut evening dresses, with the odd torn stockings, opened-toed boots, impractical bags. They also delivered the night’s first dose of kook: a heavy mourning kaftan capped off with a bulbous black veil. Think Kathy Bates in American Horror Story during her high school Korn phase. Next to a perfectly sober turquoise number (paired with sandals – decidedly ungoth), it was a deliciously nose-thumbing inclusion in an otherwise restrained set.
As their stark visual set up made clear, Bhalo (as in Bengali for “good”, not as in “setting the”) pride themselves on their ethics and minimalism. Although, as it turns out, they’re based in Bangladesh, their collection felt like a 1950s Anglo-Africa. What my co-attendee described as “housewife chic” was probably closer to the elegant functionality of English expats in Wah-Wah or The African Queen – the pastels, big geometric prints and collared shirts of a society girl prepared (or so she thinks) to roll up her sleeves and hop in a jeep. This selection even featured chunky shell necklaces that looked roughly like the African continent.
Right from their ear-crunching audio-visual set up, Apate announced their Dadaist spoofery very, very loudly. Accompanied by the sound of a washing machine tumble-drying what must’ve been a brick, the Ghosts of Parties Past filed through. A pair of onesies adorned with lonely, face-obscuring pink streamers; a cotton balaclava modelled on the Scream slasher; visible bikinis; a perfectly trendy leather jacket (“What’s the joke?“) The label’s actually the work of visual artists, who approach their pieces “structurally” (and take their collective name from the spirit of deceit).
As every runway must, the Installation included labels that oozed all-out lush glamour. Katherine Dunmill’s collection Chanel suit efficiency with straight-up sensuality. Prim dresses that turned out to be two pieces, with sharply-cut crop-tops that only occasionally, depending on the whims of the models, showed midriff; an excessively modest pink business shirt that, in the right light, turned out to be breathtakingly brazen – a low-cut floaty midpiece, with skin exposed up to the disconnected diamonte collar. Dunmill was well-met by Catini – evening gowns in lilac, tulip, and chrysanthemum colours, accompanied by Rebecca Ferguson crooning about the days of wine and roses. Tindale’s work was artfully apocalyptic – a Handmaid’s Tale as told by the ruling class. The rich colours and fabrics – as windswept as the TPFF tent’s roofing – were reminscent of that cinematic Wolf Blass ad. Artfully torn clothes, an industrial-orchestral soundtrack, dresses elegantly lashed together.
Convict ‘s bags and accessories were the most explicitly WA of the Installation – teamed with plain white dresses, the label’s cowhide handbags and enormous flower crowns (dried wattles, bottlebrushes, and bougainvilleas) scream “Pilbara“. The huge swathe of leathers and woods in these pieces felt simultaneously glamorous, rugged and utilitarian – Baz Lurhmann’s Australia plus the utility. Think Missy Higgins.
As Convict is to the Outback, Emily Muco is to Cottesloe (somewhere in a hazy polaroid ’60s). Inspired by the natural world as filtered through a child’s dreamscape, Muco prints feature watercolour gorillas, birds and foxes. There were oversized ribbons and boyleg bikinis, enormous banana earrings, and lorikeet-shaped handbags, all in washed-out primaries. The collection felt as playful as the Australian beach ought to feel.