Each year, Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF) captures the attention of fashion lovers Australia wide, showcasing the best and the brightest of the fashion industry. A highlight of the festival’s program, The National Graduate Showcase, introduces 12 emerging designers handpicked from hundreds of applicants and believed to represent the future of Australian fashion. This year the talented pool of finalists were selected from renowned design institutions and universities across the country.
From Melbourne’s RMIT emerges Victoria Bliss, William Thi, Sarah Hope Schofield, and Stephanie Henly who will present their winning graduate collections in their home city. Joining the Victorian cohort is Rochelle Bramich from the Whitehouse Institute of Design. Growing up in a city renowned for its art and culture, it is unsurprising that fashion has been a part of these Melbournian designer’s lives from a young age. From three-year-old Victoria who created runway shows for her parent’s dinner party guests and adorned herself in papier-mâché dresses, to a seven-year-old William, who would secretly use his mother’s industrial sewing machine when she went out, it is evident that these designers’ creative passion is intrinsic to their personality.
Growing into the young adults they are today, their skills have expanded exponentially since their youthful forays into fashion. Victoria has ditched the papier-mâché and is now blending fashion with technology, using laser etching to create unique leather shoes. Stephanie, who spent time in Sweden on exchange, is incorporating Swedish artisanal techniques of weaving, knitting, and dying, to create her own materials and push the boundaries in her couture collections.
Travelling from the picturesque harbor waters of Sydney this year for Melbourne’s VAMFF National Graduate Showcase are seven innovative designers, representing the talented students of the University of Technology Sydney. The list of winners, whose names we can expect to see a lot more of in the future, include Natalie Vladimiroff, Tony Lee, Zhuxuan (Aimee) He, Nehma Vitols, Tara Bailey, Talia Jimenez, and Meredith Bullen.
In an industry where individuality and unique creative expression is something that designers strive for as they seek to distinguish their work, these forward-thinking students find inspiration from a variety of fresh, imaginative sources. Blending the past with the present, the natural Australian landscape and the history of the early settlers influenced Meredith’s collection, while Zhuxuan looked back to her childhood love of pop-up books, blending this 2D-3D concept with the Japanese tradition of origami. Natalie sought inspiration from an unlikely source, citing the taxidermy sculptures of artist Polly Morgan as her collection’s starting point. Talia took a trip to the fish markets, taking photos of and drawing the seafood, before using digital manipulation techniques to transform her illustrations into distinctive prints.
A dream for any aspiring designer, the winners of this coveted opportunity will present their debut capsule collections on Sunday 19 March at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building to an audience of prominent industry leaders. A limited number of tickets are still available online for this event that is not to be missed. For those unable to wait for the show, a photographic exhibition featuring Fashion Journal’s photo shoot of the upcoming collections will be held at the same venue from the 14-19 March.
In the lead-up to the big event, we were fortunate enough to chat with the designers, gaining an insight into their inspirations and their view on the future of fashion, discussing the industries shift towards a new era of technological advancements and greater awareness of the impact of fast fashion and sustainability.
What was the most memorable or exciting experience you’ve had during your studies?
Meredith Bullen: The most memorable and exciting experience I had during my studies, would either be travelling to India for an intensive two-week embroidery workshop with local artisans. Or my honours graduate fashion show, to have all my friends and family come and see what I’d been working on for the past year and to see my designs on the runway made all the hard work, sleepless nights and challenges worth it.
Stephanie Henly: My most memorable experiences have been an exchange at the Swedish School of Textiles in Boras, Sweden. This was an amazing school which taught me to design right from the material stage by weaving, knitting, tufting, dyeing and printing my own fabrics. This was my inspiration for my graduate collection was developed by using a material as a form.
If you could pick anyone from history, (living or deceased, from fiction or reality), who would you most love to see wearing your designs?
Talia Jimenez: Someone loud and crazy and fun, it would be awesome to see a band like Grouplove or Glass Animals wearing my designs. I would definitely like to collaborate more with people in the music industry in the future.
Stephanie Henly: I am well aware the fashion industry has a huge influence within the world from a social and business perspective. I am an avid follower of designers and figures that advocate thoughtful, slow and conscious fashion design. This is encompassed within my design mentality with the preservation of handcraft and considered design. Emma Watson would be my chosen person as she has a global voice within this issue.
Tell us about the collection you are showcasing at the VAMFF National Graduate Runway.
Zhuxuan He: My latest collection was inspired by Tokujin Yoshioka’s work, called ‘honey pop’. In this design project, there is a chair made of sheets of glassine paper that were piled together and cut along specific lines opening up into a honeycomb structure. I was fascinated with the transformation process (from 2D to 3D), which reminded me of my childhood when I played with ‘pop-up’ books.
I started with a collage to determine the shape, and plan the silhouettes. The material plays an important role in my process. I had to choose the right fabric for each look. Origami techniques were used to form the garments that are very flexible and changeable.
What is your design process like? From capturing inspiration to the final design.
Victoria Bliss: I love visiting different landscapes and taking in my surroundings and then researching more about the area or the people who inhabit it and letting that research form the basis of my designs. From there it’s a really organic process – I love interpreting those designs through sketching and then allowing the designs to develop and evolve through the making process.
William Thi: I always start with fabrics, I like to pick out interesting textures and prints. Maybe it’s because I learnt how to sew years before I thought about design. I decide on my designs based on what my fabrics and equipment can do rather than make the fabric conform to my designs.
What would your advice be for the young fashion students, hoping to one day win a place in the VAMFF National Graduate Runway?
Meredith Bullen: Start saving. Be prepared for a lot of hard work and one of the most difficult creative challenges of your design career.
Talia Jimenez: Keep drawing, keep making, keep being creative and pushing your own boundaries. It’s the only way to develop your own style and creative voice.
Stephanie Henly: My mentality for design has only truly developed in the past two years as I have found my niche within the industry. My confidence has grown and I believe I have found my specific technique. This confidence has allowed me to love what I do, spend hours designing, sewing and embroidering – this love is crucial in the long nights! Believe that your skills are unique and harness the confidence. This way others will see what you have to offer is one of a kind.
What is your opinion on blending technology and science with fashion?
Talia Jimenez: Innovation is the future of fashion, it is so important to use science and technology to continue developing new materials and methods of construction for fashion design. I am so excited to see what the future will bring in terms of sustainable production and development of new fibres and more efficient processes.
Where do you see fashion heading in the next few years?
Meredith Bullen: Hopefully towards more sustainable and ethical practices across all areas of the industry.
Natalie Vladimiroff: Given the current fashion climate, it would be good to see a slowing down of the system to allow designers to focus more on collections and return some exclusivity and anticipation to fashion. However, this probably won’t be the case! I think that the growing societal knowledge about the issues surrounding fast fashion will force these brands to take on greater responsibility for their impact.
Stephanie Henly: There will be a big shift in the way we consume, design and wear. I hope the consumer becomes more curious about the origins, design development and process of making clothes they wear, therefore changing the mentality of fast fashion and appreciating high-quality fabrications.
Is there a motto you live by?
Talia Jimenez: If it scares you, go for it. Don’t ever play it safe.
Meredith Bullen: Mistakes are the process.
What is your vision for future?
Natalie Vladimiroff: I am hoping to travel overseas and have the opportunity to pursue fashion on a more international scale, but wherever I end up, I know I will keep creating!
Victoria Bliss: I really hope the industry slows down a bit, less pressure on designers to pump out collections and more emphasis on craftsmanship and bespoke techniques. Which is where I hope to continue with my practice, I want to be able to create and produce pieces that are made with time and care and I hope consumers appreciate that area of the industry more in the future.