October 17, 2016
Pause a tick, dear reader, because the Voxfrockers have a delicious post-parisian treat just for you; renowned photographer Philip Castle’s pictorial essay of Aussie fashionistocrats taking on the world at Paris Fashion Week.Scroll down for a word or six about the fashionable life in Paris by Philip himself, then click back later for a full sweep of spring/summer 2017 trends. This story first published by Fairfax Media
Words: Janice Breen Burns
In a glossy sunlit showroom overlooking Paris’s leafy Place des Vosges, Melbourne designer Megan Park is chuffed to see the delicate jewellery pieces and patterned frocks in her spring-summer 2017 collection are a hit with buyers from Japan. “They like it very pretty,” she says. “Whereas the Italians….”
The Italians make a beeline for Park’s sheath dresses in bolder, bolshier patterns and colours; cobalts, golds, corals. And Park’s US buyers are fickly different again, ordering heavily across a gauzy white cotton story with tracery of blue fairy-stitch embroidery; “Light, cottony and breathable,” she says of American tastes; “And a more hippie-boho sort of vibe.”
Megan Park is one of eight brands – a mix of gifted newish and genuine legends-in-the-bud – picked for last week’s Australian Fashion Chamber (AFC) showcase in Paris. It’s the fourth hosted by AFC chair and Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Edwina McCann, and it’s a bona fide honeypot for international buyers because, frankly, Downunder designers are so hot right now.
“Oh yes, they most definitely are, more than ever,” McCann says. ” Australia is perceived as an exciting place, a safe place that people, I think, envy. We also can’t underestimate the power of our talent; the Nicole Kidmans and Cate Blanchetts, Naomi Watts and Mia Wasikowska. They’ve put our best fashion foot forward to the world; it’s understood we’re a market where men and women have a very sophisticated fashion sense.”
From across Asia, the US, Europe and parts of the Middle East, boutique buyers and international media who flock to Paris, invariably book a look into Australian designers’ shows and showrooms for what McCann says is their “youthful and confident” take on trends, their grasp of modern fashion worries such as ethical supply, and price points pitched well luxury global brands.
“There are so many successes now, it’s hard to list them,” McCann says. “Well you know (Kym) Ellery is doing exceptionally well in Paris. And Dion Lee goes from success to success; he’ll continue to show in New York. Zimmermann is expanding into the US and at the same time, running a brilliant market back home. Seafolly, also in the US. Then there’s Bassike; just opened a store in the US. Jac and Jack; opened in the UK. Scanlan Theodore are back in Lane Crawford (mega fashion retailer; Hong Kong and China) and, you know, they weren’t going to. They really just wanted to focus on their domestic market but they were persuaded! And then there’s R.M.Williams. What a story! Re-invested in their factories, brought in Italians to retrain with traditional shoe-making skill-set and, what luxury. Hand made boots. Australian hand made luxury boots.”
Today in Paris, proof of all that Aussie hotness is in the buzz above the Place des Vosges. A few high-heel clicks across the showroom from Park’s racks, throngs of buyers, booked morming to night for the week, are milling around collections by Romance Was Born, P.E. Nation, Tome, Macgraw, Christopher Esber, Sarah & Sebastian and – an AFC showroom first – accessory brand, Pared Eyewear.
“The response to us is phenomenal,” says Claire Tregoning of P.E. Nation. She and partner Pip Edwards, both former creatives at Sass & Bide, launched the meteoric Sydney based activewear brand in March. Barely six months, and they already stock Net-a-Porter, Lane Crawford and a mind boggling brace of other picky global retailers. Tregoning is blushingly pleased: “Buyers have said to us; “You know we stock Givenchy, Prada…but we’re looking for a sportswear brand and this’ll fit in really well”, so, we’re like; “Aaaah, oookaaay; well, that’s amazing..”
Their boxer-esque shorts and trackies, spliced stripe hoodies and cross-strapped stretch and looser sloppy gym tops are bullseye realisations of NOW activewear but Tregoning and Edwards have also plugged in a few hybrid street items to chime with frontline fashion, including the trend to excessive volume. Their giant sports pants, for example, are designed to spill a slop of fabric on the ground around your shoes, and to split open along a P.E.Nation logo and snap-fastened side seams. “They’re going crazy; everybody wants them!” Tregoning says. “They’re a bit tomboy, but there’s a sexiness too…” (The pants launch online for $180 with the rest of P.E.Nation Paris spring-summer offering in early 2017.)
Meanwhile, in a chic bolthole a stone’s throw from Sacre Coeur in the ninth arondissment, iconic Japanese-Australian designer Akira Isogawa is amused to hear his collection is ticking a stack of boxes on international fashion’s spring 2017 trend list. (See boxed list.) Lavish volumes, for instance; tick. Gossamer sheer layers, assymetry, extravagant feature prints, tick tick, tick, and a particularly luscious corpuscle red that’s been popping up across Paris catwalks all week; triple tick.
The designer, renowned for his artisan aesthetic and not giving a toss about trends, now giggles delightedly; “I somehow caught this right moment without even trying hard!” Isogawa is a Paris veteran. He’s shown his eponymous Akira brand twice yearly at fashion weeks for almost two decades, has loyalists around the world but, like Melbourne designer Toni Maticevski, another Paris veteran now hosting a showroom on the Rue Vielle du Temple in the Marais district, has been more intrigued than usual recently, to find his collections fit like jigsaw into a middle east niche.
Kuwait is about as sophisticated as a retail fashion marketplace gets. Its buyers curate premium and luxury brands and have a particular taste for Australians: Maticevski’s lush feminine silhouettes (his volumes accentuate, rather than mask the figure) in technical materials, for starters, and Akira’s slippery liquid silks in elegant sheaths and trouser and tunic sets, with handpainted features and original art print patterns for spring 2017.
“(Kuwaiti stores) are eager to buy whatever is current,” Akira says. “And there’s a large population of women who wouldn’t have to think about money. They (buyers) buy the layering looks from us; a little bit 1990s this time is coming back. It requires a lightweight, sheerness of textile easy to layer and that’s what we did.”
For Megan Park, who is based in Melbourne but manufactures in India and supplies 30 boutiques across Europe and the US as well as her own at home, the latest gush of Australian fashion success isn’t new but, it is different. “It’s like the way we were looked at 20 years ago. We were idealised then too; like a desirable place that people dreamed of visiting, where everyone’s happy. Now, we’re not seen as an outpost anymore. We’re here.”
Right here, in Paris, across Europe, Asia, the US and Middle East. Everywhere.
Philip Castle has photographed Aussies at Paris Fashion Week for 20 years. They’re sprinkled across the city, booking buyers, hosting showlets, counting their blessings in elegant little boltholes, romantic hotel suites and sometimes, classic Parisien salons that overlook some of the most beautiful views in the world.
Castle nimbly criss-crosses the city (he is at one with le Metro), back and forth, to their showrooms to shows. Kym Ellery is the only Aussie officially on the fashion week schedule: he shoots backstage and front of house at her show in the edgy art museum Palais de Tokyo, then nips along to the next Aussie.
Last week, he told Voxfrock, the Paris crowds felt thicker than ever, the fashion precincts more heavily guarded. “Police and military in assault vests with machine guns everywhere.” The models, with their current penchant for glossy, straightened hair were easy to spot; “Like seventies rock-stars; the wind in their hair and the sun in their faces above the throng.”
For a moment on Tuesday, he lost directions to Kym Ellery’s show; “But it wasn’t a problem; I just followed the models to the machine guns. It was easier than Apple maps.”
As you can see, Castle shoots beautiful pictures. What you can’t see, is how deftly he does it, against what odds, often grabbing tired models on a breather between appointments, posing them in nearby cobbled streets, leafy boulevards and arcs of lovely Parisian architecture.
He juggles variables: light, weather, crowds, curious tourists, competing photographers, cancellations and “smart-arse kids who make sport out of photobombing fashion shoots.”
Last week in the Place des Vosges, a particularly creative young rabble stomped up a dust storm to drift over his shoot. “When we yelled at them in English, they responded calmly in French: “You’re not French; you can’t tell us what to do.” Castle was impressed.
The dust cleared. The shot got done. On to the next. (Main photograph, top: Romance Was Born, spring 2017)
Janice Breen Burns, firstname.lastname@example.org