Daily Life


Fashfest model is a formula with ambitious flair

Canberra will be in the fashion spotlight with a bigger event for 2014, writes Emma Macdonald.

They do it for love, not money. And as this year's Fashfest draws closer, starting on April 30, the small and close-knit team behind the design showcase of all things Canberra are spending every waking minute together. Collectively, they are haunted by the phrase "one-hit wonder".

Clint and Andrea Hutchinson risked their professional reputations, not to mention their credit rating, to launch last year's local version of Sydney and Melbourne fashion weeks.

They invested a huge amount of their own cash in setting up the event and will do so again this year.

The inaugural Fashfest was bigger than they had ever hoped for - selling out and requiring last-minute standing-room-only.

But rather than coast into the second year's event, the couple are under more pressure than ever.

"There's no one with more skin in the game when it comes to the success or fail of the event than me, Andrea and the core team," says Clint.


"We put everything on the line last year … and now we have it all on the line again, only we have set the bar that much higher. And we have to deliver on those high expectations created last year. This year needs to be different, bigger, and definitely better than last. It keeps us on our toes, let me tell you."

Part of setting the bar higher, means making Fashfest bigger - 400 extra seats a night over the four-night event, more models, more designers, behind-the-scenes VIP tours, pop-up events, fashion installations, a Moet et Chandon champagne bar and photo shoots among the assembled crowds prior to the catwalk lighting up.

Ultimately, the aim is to build the event over three years. ''We're working on securing a naming-rights partner, just as the big fashion weeks operate interstate,'' says Clint.

Working in Team Fashfest's favour is the buzz and excitement generated by last year's event, the fact it has whet the city's appetite for a good show, along with steady interest from national and some international media.

Indeed, FashionOneTV ran several segments on Fashfest and will be back again this year - broadcasting Canberra designers to an estimated 500-million strong international cable-TV audience.

Launched amid Canberra's "very big" centenary year, Fashfest also managed to distinguish itself among a flood of the other landmark local celebrations - being voted in the top five attractions and events for the OutinCanberra People's Choice Awards. Many Canberrans, meanwhile, were just grateful to see four nights of unmitigated glamour in this very serious city of ours.

Ticket sales this year have been strong - VIP "frow" seating sold out quickly and platinum are virtually gone - although the extra seating has created extra pressure to sell out like last year and there will be a strong advertising push during the coming weeks.

Clint and Andrea want people to come for a night of entertainment, music, fashion, crowds, champagne and a showcase of Canberra talent.

"Even if you have never been to a fashion show before, we think we have made it such a big event it moves beyond what takes place on the catwalk. It's exciting, it is entertaining, it is hugely fun and there is nothing else like it here," says Andrea.

As she and Clint posed for the press on the red carpet at last year's event, it was clear that Fashfest was very much their baby. Nobody knew that Andrea was pregnant at the time.

The couple's photogenic son, Noah, has spent the first few months of his life in the company of Canberra's fashion set as his parents juggle their work commitments - Clint as the managing director of Zoo advertising and Andrea as managing director of HAUS models - with the countless hours involved in pulling Fashfest 2014 together. Now Andrea is even thinking about incorporating a children's collection in future Fashfests.

The producer, Steve Wright, co-ordinates the fine detail of the catwalk choreography, while the co-producer, Nick Ellis, orchestrates the chaos that is backstage to a major fashion show.

"It can be pretty crazy on the night. I tend to be the one putting out the fires, providing roving counselling duties and calming models with stage fright," says Ellis.

Wright, as a senior fashion lecturer at the Canberra Institute of Technology, is used to dealing with the artistic sensibilities of designers. The huge scale of Fashfest means he must find the balance between displaying a piece to satisfy the designer's eye, while making it look spectacular and engaging for the audience.

"Sometimes I have to walk a fine line combining both," Wright admits.

Wright's height and Ellis's distinctive cowboy hat, distinguish the lads from the milling crowds. As do the headsets they are constantly speaking into and the fact they dart from A to B rather than walk.

Michael Liu is the music director, responsible for co-ordinating one of the most compelling aspects of Fashfest - the fact it is set to live music, all of which is local.

Last year's line-up included electronic indie group Safia - before they were officially "unearthed" by Triple J - as well as Shotgun Cubs and Doppel.

Mr Michael - his stage name - treated attendees to electronic violin on closing night. Setting the musicians opposite the catwalk gave the parade a theatrical edge.

But the ANU commerce student admits that setting a 45-minute catwalk show to live music is a logistical feat not for the faint-of-heart.

"It's a huge thing to do. But you know, it gives the audience that chill factor, you're not just cueing some iPod. There is something to look at and really, for the ticket price, you are getting a concert as well."

This year's line-up includes the '80s synth-pop overtones of Magnifik, house and techno duo Radar and Weston, along with hip hop duo Coda Conduct. Mr Michael and Monfory Horrors will close the show with an energetic electronic mix.

Liu says the exposure these groups get through Fashfest is every bit as valuable for the local music scene as it is for the fashion scene.

Wendy Johnson has the mammoth task of managing public relations for the event. Her meticulous organisational skills come to the fore when she compiles dossiers of information and photographs for each of the 50 designers to promote them across print and television media in the lead-up to the event.

"You know there was quite a media appetite nationally for what was coming out of Canberra last year. I guess people were curious to see what we could produce," she says.

"Now the sense is, this is a legitimate undertaking and we need to keep feeding that hunger for details."

Currently, SBS is filming a Fashfest piece while Hijab House has been profiled in an Indonesian newspaper.

Johnson combines promotion of the designers with a mentoring role. She provides media and social media training sessions, so they are prepared to make that leap from unknown designer to a label.

"I always tell them I can't promote something nobody knows about. So it is up to them to get out there and sell themselves, which can also be a bit baffling for some of the designers," she says.

And providing a constant show reel of arresting images to feed the media and promote the event, is photographer Leighton Hutchinson.

Leighton, Clint's brother, is the official Fashfest photographer. A big part of his job is to showcase each "face" of Fashfest and set the aesthetic tone for the event.

Last year it was international model and Canberra girl Anneliese Seubert, whose feline features made her a favourite on the catwalks of Paris and on the covers of the top glossies in the 1990s.

This year it is the turn of Canberra's other successful modelling export Belinda Riding, who also rode the international modelling circuit during the late 1980s and 1990s - basing herself in New York with her fashion hairdresser husband Alan White - before returning to Canberra to raise a family.

Leighton says it has been a privilege to shoot such professional models, which he fits in and around his commitments as a freelance and commercial photographer.

"These women are both incredible and they have been so professional to work with. Their experience is obvious and it makes my job so much easier."

At the other end of the spectrum, Leighton also directs the novice models who get their big break in Fashfest.

"In that sense I need to provide the younger models with quite a lot of training and direction when we shoot. Because how they work in front of the camera, can set them up for a successful career or not."

Challenges for this year include bringing a new drama and edge to the promotional shots. "I have to evolve and bring a fresh eye to this year. So while Anneliese's shots were soft and romantic, Belinda's shots are dramatic and really pop."

The fact that Riding is posing beside a large plane on the runway of Canberra Airport certainly adds impact to the shoot.

Meanwhile, a fashion show is ultimately judged on its look and feel - making hair and make-up as vital a part of the parade as the clothes themselves.

Karen Mathias is director of make-up. With experience across the commercial, editorial and film sectors through her M Artistry company, Mathias oversees a team of 30 qualified make-up artists. They pump out everything from the perfect winged eyeliner to graphic face-painted geometric designs, on dozens of models each night.

Mathias designs the make-up looks to co-ordinate best with the clothes and provides quality-control checks before the models hit the runway.

"There will be a major dramatic look on one night, I love pushing the boundaries, but there will also be a place for a really classic look too."

She nominates lipstick as the most important make-up item of the event. "Lipstick is vital, it is the most changeable item. But we also focus on eye design. So we need hundreds of false lashes and then mascara too [last year they churned through 160 mascara wands]. Oh, and foundation, we use tonnes of foundation."

Describing herself as part make-up artist and part mother hen to the models and designers, Mathias says the friendship of the core team has played an important part in keeping the stress and dramas of the event to a minimum.

"Somehow I manage to stay really calm while it all goes on around me. At the end of the day we are all volunteering our time and our passion to make it work. Plus, it's just a massive buzz to be part of."

Form Haircutters' Wayne Friend is director of hair and is perhaps the most laidback of all the Fashfest team.

He relishes the week of Fashfest as a chance to break out of the constraints of commercial hairstyling and says he always has complete faith on the night that, "it all comes together exactly as it should".

The tough bit is translating the designer's vision into a hairstyle - a challenge exacerbated if a model has to walk for two different designers on the one night and requires a lightning-fast style change.

Preparation and rehearsal are key - as are big sheets stuck near each model with a drawing of hair and make-up to cut down on any last-minute confusion.

Hairspray and hairpieces are also apparently key, with Friend noting well in excess of 100 cans of strong-hold spray were pumped into the atmosphere above Brindabella Park in the name of dramatic hair last year.

"We have some great styles to create for this year. Fashfest gives us so much creative licence. And all the stylists who volunteer from the different salons around the city really enjoy that freedom."

Friend believes last year's models showcased far more dramatic and forward-thinking hair styling than at Sydney or Melbourne fashion weeks.

"I mean, how boring are centre partings and fishtails that you see on every other catwalk? The calibre of styling in Fashfest would not have looked out of place on any international catwalk and yet we did it all out of Canberra."

■ Fashfest runs from April 30 to May 3. Tickets from fashfest.com.au.