Why Australian Fashion Week is set to steal London’s creative crown

Looking like an upturned kaleidoscope in his garish suit, designer Jordan Gogos is the abstract embodiment of Australian fashion’s increasing status as art.

Along with Anna Plunkett from Romance Was Born, wearing an impressionistic shirt that captures the beauty of a sunset more vividly than most paintings, Gogos’s brand Iordane Spyridon Gogos, and First Nations Fashion and Design, are shifting the focus of Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, which begins on Monday.

Designer Jordan Gogos from Iordanes Spyridon Gogos, Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales from Romance Was Born, Grace Lilian Lee from First Nations Fashion and proud Yuwi person and model mentor Perry Mooney at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.Credit:Brook Mitchell

The commercial emphasis of past programs, similar to New York Fashion Week, is giving way to the creativity that once characterised London Fashion Week with the groundbreaking work of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. Attention previously given to brands such as PE Nation, Ginger & Smart and international labels Jonathan Simkhai and Emilia Wickstead at AAFW, has shifted to the collective of designers who actively incorporate art into their work, supported with residency programs at the Powerhouse Museum.

“It isn’t always just art,” Gogos says. “Fashion is political, cultural, social. There are so many ways to engage with it.”

To produce the first show to be held at the Powerhouse Museum in its 142-year history, Gogos has enlisted 56 collaborators. For AAFW veterans Romance Was Born, individual artists such as Kathryn Del Barton, Lara Merrett and Jenny Kee have kept them at the sharpest point of Australia’s cutting edge.

“Fashion is political, cultural, social. There are so many ways to engage with it.”

“There is a new breadth of energy with each collaboration,” says Luke Sales, Plunkett’s partner in Romance Was Born. “People having a visceral response to what we are trying to communicate is what defines success for me. There is definitely a feeling that we try to communicate and if people pick up on that we have done our job.”

In previous shows Romance Was Born have taken over the Art Gallery of New South Wales, commissioned paper engineer Benja Harney to create Pop Art-inspired sets and last year installed a carousel inside Carriageworks. Next week the duo will show their Resort collection at Ken Done’s gallery, curating a selection of the artist’s larger pieces as backdrops to their potential, wearable masterpieces.

For Perry Mooney, ambassador for First Nations Fashion and Design which debuted at AAFW last year with a show including work from Grace Lillian Lee, Amber Days, Sown in Time and Clair Helen, fashion is also about more than what the models are wearing.

Debate surrounding whether Kim Kardashian should have been allowed to wear the Jean Louis dress Marilyn Monroe wore to sing “Happy Birthday” to JFK in 1962 has pushed fashion further into the terrain of art.Credit:AP

“It’s expression,” Mooney says. “I think it gives us a platform and a way to convey our feelings, our culture and knowledge in a way for people to understand, which is the runway. Even if it’s not always in a way that they expect.”

The treatment of fashion as art was at the white-hot centre of the debate surrounding whether a Florida museum should have loaned Kim Kardashian a dress worn by Marilyn Monroe for The Met Gala in New York this week.

“It’s interesting to have that intersection of debate between museums and fashion,” says Lisa Havilah, chief executive of the Powerhouse Museum. “These hierarchies around art, creativity and design, these silos, continue to break down and that’s where the art is.”

“I think that it’s creativity that drives new ideas and new ways of working forward, through collaboration. All three of the designers in our residency program, their whole practice is very collaborative and that’s what the Powerhouse is.”

That extent of that collaboration will be present in Gogos’s show where materials used in the backdrops for the museum’s retrospective Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson: Step Into Paradise will be repurposed.

So what about selling the clothes?

With established stores Romance Was Born has a solid sales strategy and First Nations Fashion and Design is working with The Iconic on a mentoring program for their designers to guide future production, but rushing to meet with a portion of his 56 collaborators, Gogos is less concerned about sales.

“People do want to know what the ready to wear will eventually look like,” Gogos says. “I don’t know if it’s as relevant anymore. Not to me anyway.”

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