The words ‘Canberra’ and ‘Fashion’ are not typically associated synonymously – but after the city’s first 4 day fashion event FASHFEST came to a seamless conclusion last week – the standard local and inter-state presumption of trench-coats-suits-and-briefcases looks set to be finally turned on its proverbial head.

Saturday marked the final evening of the event and the atmosphere was buzzing with anticipation from the moment the doors opened. The raw, unfinished industrial space allowed conversation to flow freely and provided ample opportunity to observe (and perhaps envy) the immaculate total looks of hundreds of fashion-savvy attendees.

A media opportunity wall occupied one corner near the entrance where curious onlookers and dedicated fans could watch designers and VIP guests arrive and smile for the cameras. With Faces such as Corr Blimey design duo Steve Wright and Louisa de Smet, Aperiodic’s Stephanie Cooper, A.Concept’s Anthony Capon, Designer and Style Blogger Steph Tallos, Materialbyproduct’s Susan Dimasi and interstate onlookers such as Lisa Wilkinson and Peter Fitzsimons – it’s little wonder the space attracted many in the know.

A lolly buffet courtesy of Westfield occupied another slice of the open space and was an unexpected but warmly welcomed attraction, proving very popular for pre-show entertainment. After locating the bar along the back wall and eyeing off the lustrous gold magnum bottles of Moet, we weaved back through the designer crowd of immaculately presented bodies, fashion shoots, models, designers and jars of jellybeans, finding our brilliantly positioned seats at the end of the runway. Front-row seaters quickly streamed in along the rows of pristine white chairs, followed by eager second and third row ticket holders. There was no delay, no drama and definitely no dawdle – everyone in that space was excited to see the show.
Things kicked off with fast facts and numbers on the catwalk screens – an amazing 1600 tickets sold over the 4 nights – and a short contextual montage of Canberra’s fashionable past courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive. The lights dimmed briefly and the crowd chatter became a soft murmur as the first of the designers logos appeared down the flanking walls of the runway.

Corr Blimey were the first out with their villa-nahka collection and set the innovation, conceptual and quality benchmark as high as it could go. Statement seams, organic shapes, visibly natural materials, closures and structural aesthetic, along with a cohesive total look was something to inspire even the most fashion blasé.

Aperiodic followed and showcased a collection of minimalist pieces inspired by Japanese and Scandinavian design processes. The collection featured brilliant whites, scarlet hues and nude tones, along with asymmetrically balanced architectural accents adorning the shoulder and back of some pieces, providing a very important lesson that the back of a garment is just as important as the front.

Serenaded energetically by a live and exuberant violinist, U.L.E by Morgan Hubbard stepped out next and was a tribute to sustainability in fashion. Hand dyed fabrics of varying transparency were transformed with cut outs, peel backs, structural and deliberate darting and emanated a total look of natural, environmental beauty.

Ready-to-wear label Mec and the Maid by Sarah Poguet displayed luxury fabrics styled to enhance and define the female form. The women’s wear collection was raw, sheer, kinetic, sparkly and sexy with red lips packing the ultimate punch. For the lads – Suspenders are blissfully back (but if you’re a real gentleman they never really went anywhere), as are material contrasts and natural, comfortable fabrics.

Designer and personal style blogger Steph Tallos utilises strong, contrasting blocks of colour inspired by autumn in her Scarlette label. She has created comfortable, statement wardrobe pieces which provide endless visual excitement yet balance perfectly because of her innovative graphic style.

SheKudo followed with a fusion of African Fashion, vintage prints and edgy cut-outs, whilst Mont and BAKU collaborated to bring us new season swimwear juxtaposed beneath some very bright puffer jackets a tad more appropriate for the sub-zero season fast approaching.

Closing the show was the highly anticipated collection from internationally renowned and award winning label Materialbyproduct. The music tempo changed from urban to classic, models were mature and elegant, audience interaction was utilised to reinforce the connection between wearer and garment and, the final piece of the collection was paraded with graceful ballet-inspired choreography.

The 50 minutes we sat there flew by in a thoroughly enjoyable flurry of innovation, sustainability, quality, fun and pride. The local designers exhibiting at FASHFEST are clearly proud of their Canberra roots and are not afraid to show it to the world. This event was something completely different to Sydney and Melbourne Fashion Weeks, as it should be. Live music, industrial spaces, designers mingling with the crowd, pride of place, an exhilarating atmosphere and a crowd dressed not in Carl Lagerfeld’s latest creation, but wearing the latest in sustainable, local threads. It is high time someone stepped up the mark in Canberra and stopped pretending to be a city we are not. There are some brilliant designers and thinkers here who are forging the unchartered path to actually creating the identity of this truly unique city and the young and young-at-heart who will shape the future of the Nation’s Capital. I can’t wait to see what 2014 FASHFEST will produce.

Watch this space.

Photography by Martin Ollman Click Here

and Brianna Williams