SYDNEY — It might be 9,900 miles from New York, but due to first mover advantage, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia is “owning” the resort season — at least according to one prominent international retailer.
Wrapping up at Sydney’s Carriageworks venue on May 20, MBFWA’s resort 2019 showcase featured more than 90 designer brands from Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and China in 39 solo and group runway shows and presentations, plus the event’s on-site showroom initiative, The Suites, now in its second year, where 35 brands booked booths.
IMG reports that buyer attendance increased 51 percent from 2016-17, following the decision in 2016 to push dates back several weeks to mid May and switch the event’s focus from spring to resort.
According to Net-a-porter fashion director Lisa Aiken, that resort focus marks the event out as unique on the international show circuit — at least for the time being.
“Now that you are owning what is resort — as a fashion week, there’s no other fashion week that speaks purely to resort — I think that shift to resort was just the most crucial factor, previously [MBFWA coming not long] off of Paris it was very tight for us in terms of timing and essentially all of our OTB had been spent” said Aiken, who has attended MBFWA each year since 2016.
Other retailers included Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Browns, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lane Crawford, Shopbop, Matchesfashion.com, the Al Tayer Group and seven first-time attendees: Hudson’s Bay, Debenhams UK, Opening Ceremony, Isetan Japan, Harvey Nichols Doha, The Outnet and Asos. IMG covers airfares and accommodation for most international buyer and media delegates.
In a first for the event, Matchesfashion.com used MBFWA to launch an exclusive-to-Matchesfashion.com see-now-buy-now high summer capsule collection from London-based New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead — using the week’s most spectacular off-site location.
The heritage-listed Wylie’s Baths at Coogee Beach served as an Insta-worthy backdrop for Wickstead’s vintage-inspired, 17-piece cotton, linen and jersey collection in pastels and microflorals, featuring mini and maxidresses, shorts, playsuits and the designer’s first foray into swimwear. The collection was available on Matchesfashion.com 48 hours later.
“I wanted to transport people,” said Wickstead of the Sixties Amalfi Coast vibe of the show, her third retailer capsule collaboration in less than a year, following similar recent initiatives with Net-a-porter and Bodyism.
“I think there’s such a saturation in the market that it’s always exciting to do an extra collection or capsule collection, it shows a point of difference for a designer and it’s constantly reminding the consumer about the brand,” she added.
Australia is in Matchesfashion.com’s top five markets, said the retailer’s fashion and buying director Natalie Kingham.
The MBFWA presentation sparked international interest, she noted.
“We received an incredible response on social media and press in Australia but also internationally — our London stores had calls from customers in the U.K. who had seen the collection online and were interested to find out more,” Kingham said. “The most popular styles have been the linen pieces in the collection, with the Kirk minidress now completely sold out.”
Lisa Aiken flagged Sydney’s fluid silhouettes, pastels and neutrals, also the “minimalist” maxi-length dresses and skirts at brands such as Albus Lumen and Lee Mathews — which Aiken said she sees as an extension of the popular midi trend, which has driven more than 50 percent of Net-a-porter’s sales in skirts and dresses for the past three seasons.
“I think the week’s been really strong,” Aiken said. “Albus Lumen was one of my favorites, they’ve got that sense of ease. Lee Mathews was super strong as well. I thought that was a beautiful collection, it’s pretty but not girlish. At the other end of the spectrum, Double Rainbouu was great. I really like their vibe. They’re doing something very, very different — there is so much very feminine or very bohemian beachwear around and essentially, they’re doing resortwear that’s coverups, but it’s for the young, cool L.A. girl.”
Kelsey Lyle, Saks Fifth Avenue’s fashion director, contemporary, modern, lingerie and swim, described the mood at the event as “bustling” and singled out the Camilla and Marc, Albus Lumen, Double Rainbouu, Romance Was Born and Christopher Esber shows.
“From beautifully flowing to sheer dresses and micro-floral prints to picnic plaids, we saw the continuation of trends from fall into spring via color palettes and uber feminine silhouettes,” Lyle said of the main runway trends.
“Baby soft florals were something we started to see in the pre-[fall] 2018 collections from brands such as Brock Collection and Gucci, which is something I found that continued in the shows by Lee Mathews and Emilia Wickstead,” echoed Kingham. “A trend we are referring to as ‘dynamic duos,’ which are coordinating pieces using the same coloring or print, was also something that I noticed at MBFWA. From Erdem’s matching floral suits to Chloé’s use of pair denim outfits, I loved that Albus Lumen showed this trend with coordinating outfits in baby blues and navy. Headgear was also a major trend.”
While one international department store buyer who declined to be identified said she would have liked to have seen big local brands who show outside Australia, like Ellery and Zimmermann, on schedule in Sydney, Opening Ceremony’s director of merchandising Brigid Andrews said Opening Ceremony sent a representative Down Under for the first time this year specifically to scout new talent — singling out emerging labels Gillian Garde and Chris Ran Lin for special mention.
“This was a research mission for us to see what’s going on in Australia — what’s new, what’s emerging, what’s bubbling,” said Andrews, who revealed that Opening Ceremony cofounders Carol Lim and Humberto Leon have selected Australia/New Zealand for an upcoming edition of their signature “country of the year” focus.
“Obviously we’re in a streetwear moment, so I think from that whole streetwear perspective from Double Rainbouu and Ten Pieces and Song for the Mute…that whole elevated streetwear and monochromatic dressing, that was really interesting to see,” Andrews said. “Then I think the fluidity and romanticism that you saw at Lee Mathews, the beautiful florals and sheer layers [and then the] Grecian detailing in Christopher Esber, I think looked strong. The other collection that I also quite liked that again, we hadn’t heard of, was Macgraw — the kind of romantic, Dior-esque vibe.”
Photographed on everyone from Kaia Gerber to Bella Hadid, Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez since its launch 12 months ago, direct-to-consumer brand I.Am.Gia staged the week’s most controversial presentation: a loud, standing room only show with an Influencer-loaded front row that included names such as Delilah Belle Hamlin and the so-called Australian Kim Kardashian, Tammy Hembrow, who alone boasts an Instagram following of 8.2 million.
The collection, which goes on pre-sale next week, offering delivery in six weeks, showcased music festival-friendly micro bikini tops and thongs paired with low-slung skinny jeans and track pants, catsuits, boiler suits and cropped puffer jackets. It was slammed by some critics as derivative, poorly made and “trashy.”
Vogue Australia happily streamed the show live on Instagram, and CR Fashion Book, among others, shared runway footage on its Instagram Stories. I.Am.Gia’s own Instagram live-stream of the show attracted 65,000 eyeballs, according to the brand’s founder Alana Pallister.
“Fashion week for me was more a way to connect with our Gia fans around the world than an exercise in growing our wholesale business,” said Pallister, who nevertheless raised the brand’s usual sub $200 price points to 400 Australian dollars, or $303, for the runway collection and said she is in discussions with multiple international retailers.
Shopbop will soon be stocking the brand, a Shopbop representative confirmed.
“I think those sorts of [Instagram brand] stories are only going to continue and increase,” Aiken said.
She added, “Consumers are discovering things for themselves on Instagram, which is great, I’m discovering things myself on Instagram — I make no bones about it, I do. I would definitely get more sleep every week if I didn’t have to go through Instagram every night.”