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Bespoke Summit Debuts in Sydney

Organized by The Australian Financial Review Magazine, the theme of the inaugural business- and luxury-focused seminar was creative collaboration.

SYDNEY — Indigenous Australian design, Sub-Saharan African outsourcing and six-star Sydney were among topics covered at the Bespoke Summit at the Sydney Opera House.

Organized by The Australian Financial Review Magazine, the theme of the inaugural business- and luxury-focused seminar in mid-May was creative collaboration. International speakers included J Brand Jeans chief executive officer Jeff Rudes; Cire Trudon ceo Ramdane Touhami; Coco Rocha and her filmmaker husband James Conran; Saturdays Surf NYC cofounders Colin Tunstall, Josh Rosen and Morgan Collett, and Jeremy Langmead, editor in chief of Net-a-porter’s men’s wear site Mr Porter.

Already Net-a-porter’s third-largest market, within 24 hours of Mr Porter going live in February 2011, Langmead said that Australia accounted for 20 percent of the site’s sales.

The event was moderated by the AFR Magazine’s London-based international fashion editor, Marion Hume.

“We might not be Paris, but we are the source,” said Hume, name-checking a rollcall of luxury brands from Ermenegildo Zegna to Hermès and Graff that use Australian raw materials such as superfine merino wool, crocodile skins and Argyle Pink Diamonds. The latter was a cosponsor of the event, along with Crown Resorts, which is currently seeking development approval for its 1.5 billion Australian dollar, or $1.45 billion at current exchange, Crown Sydney six-star resort hotel and casino in the new Barangaroo precinct on Sydney Harbour.

“We are in the business of trying to attract the top end with this property, there’s no doubt about that,” said Crown Resorts chairman James Packer, comparing the proposed development to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa.

“If you want to be a cutting-edge, first-world, great city in this day and age, you have to have retail that’s comparable with other great cities, and you have to have hotels that are comparable with other great cities — if you look at Sydney compared with the last seven years, it’s like night and day,” he added, noting the spate of recent luxury brand flagship refurbishments and openings in the city — and Tourism Australia’s projection that Chinese tourism, already Australia’s most lucrative tourism market, will grow to between 7.4 billion and 9 billion Australian dollars, or $7.14 to $9.17 billion, in total expenditure by the end of the decade.

Talking up the challenges — and advantages — of running a global fashion business from Australasia were Sydney-based designers Nicky Zimmermann, Josh Goot, Sass & Bide’s Heidi Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke, Oroton creative director Ana Maria Escobar and Auckland, New Zealand-based Karen Walker.

“Australia doesn’t have an international fashion heritage — not like the French, who go to the U.S. and sell fashion,” said Zimmermann, who noted, nonetheless, that being able to say her ready-to-wear and swimwear hail from Sydney has always provided “cut-through” with international buyers.

“If you don’t have a good idea, no amount of social media feeding or p.r. dark arts will help you,” said Walker, whose presentation focused on her successful eight-year-old sunglasses range, which Mikhail Gherman, Walker’s husband and the creative director of the Karen Walker brand, later told WWD now accounts for 20 percent of the company’s turnover. According to Gherman, the eyewear was designed originally to look like “cheap toys that come out of a cornflakes box,” hence the acid bright colors, kooky novelty styles and witty marketing campaigns featuring dictators, vampires, aliens and octogenarians.

Aboriginal model Samantha Harris, ambassador for the newly minted Australian Indigenous Fashion Week, revealed that the inaugural event — which is due to take place in Sydney in April 2014 — will showcase the work of 18 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers and artists.

Simone Cipriani, chief technical adviser of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, earned a standing ovation for his presentation on how to make fashion more fair. “Fashion should never, ever be to die for,” noted Cipriani, who helps connect some 7,000 “micro artisans” in countries such as Kenya, Ghana and Haiti to the fashion sector with ethical work rates and conditions. The initiative counts Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Fendi, United Arrows, Macy’s and Sass & Bide among his collaborators.

Cipriani was flanked on stage by Sass & Bide ceo David Briskin, Middleton and Clarke, who commenced outsourcing the production of some accessories to Nairobi late last year.

“These collaborations attract attention and make business sense; they benefit people, the planet and profits,” said Cipriani. “It is not charity. It’s just work.”