Kirrily Johnston's flamboyant frocks.
DESIGNER Kirrily Johnston has let her imagination rip in the run-up to Australian Fashion week, a flashy 53-show trade-only event starting in Sydney on Monday.
''It's the creative pinnacle of the year for us,'' she says. ''I've got a bit of a 'Sicilian gypsy' thing going on for my show that's turned into a kind of 'Sister Bertrille' from The Flying Nun thing. Do you think I've gone too far?''
It's a rhetorical question. Nothing has yet been ''too far'' in the 17-year history of the event officially called Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia. From skeletal models to live pythons, fountains of free money and one memorable swarm of rats, designers use a ''carte blanche'' of catwalk tricks to get attention.
Toni Maticevski showed his couture collection on Thursday. Photo: Simon Schluter
''Yeah, we've got a few surprises lined up,'' confirms Glen Coleman, of the Melbourne streetwear brand Nana Judy. ''We're the closing show so hoping we might be able to mess things up a bit.''
It's the bulls-eye streetwear brand's first solo outing after stints in the New Generation show and a group runway that scored David Jones as one of many stockists. Now, Coleman wants to expand his 200 stockists internationally, and fashion week is the most logical springboard.
In recent years, social media has exploded and audiences swelled from the 200 to 650 seated in fashion week's physical venues, to many millions worldwide. ''It's instant marketing,'' says Johnston. ''My stockists use the material from our show on their own blogs and Twitter and Facebook; social media's just gone off on its own planet.''
Glen Thompson's Nana Judy streetwear brand will close Fashion Week.
According to Jarrad Clark, director of global productions for the event's owner, IMG Fashion, it's not going to stop, either.
''Australia fits into our global portfolio of fashion weeks with New York, Berlin, Miami,'' he says. ''Everything's connected so the audiences are in the millions and will keep increasing.'' The allure of global domination even lured one small menswear brand, toughing out the aftermath of the GFC in Melbourne, back to the catwalk.
''We skipped winter,'' says Alex Britten, partner with his brother Tim in From Britten. ''Now we're thinking internationally and launching an online store.''
Kirrily Johnston's stiffly structured frocks.
From Britten will show in the week's only menswear group on Wednesday. Clarke says Australian fashion is unique, with a ''kind of unpretentiousness'' that appeals to top online and bricks-and-mortar boutiques.
''When it hits the stores, the sell-through is very, very good,'' he say, ''That's why we've got more online retailers than ever, coming this year.''
Dozens of top local and international fashion bloggers, including Susie Bubble and Bryanboy are also expected to work their social media magic to globalise the Australian fashion message. ''Especially for emerging designers,'' Clark says, ''They're the ones we play especially close to our heart.''
Social media platforms are already busy sharing images from established designers, including Flannel, Carla Zampatti, LifeWithBird and Toni Maticevski couture, who cashed in on the hype surrounding this year's event by presenting their own spring-summer shows independently during the past two weeks.
Fashion week will always be in a state of flux, according to Clark, including its constant and often controversial line-up of designers as they opt in and out of the schedule according to their commitments as their stars rise and fall in the industry.
''The thing is, it doesn't matter who's not showing,'' Clark says. ''Because we've got such a depth of talent that is.''