Quirkiness in fashion

By Camille Gower.

On any given day in Melbourne, amid an urban landscape swarming with conservative sartorial ventures, there darts the occasional splash of eccentric flair which catches the casual observer’s eye.

A metallic Baroque-era cape; a top hat; a Devo-esque cone-bra – a Derelicte ensemble that would put Will Ferrell’s Mugatu to shame – these flashes of sartorial inspiration are the splash of gin in the Melbourne tonic, the quirky fashion statements which break the oft-parochial metropolitan mould.

Fashion is an intrinsic part of every person’s daily life; regardless of whether this fact is embraced by the wearer. Even those saggy old floral print leggings from the bargain bin at Best & Less had their initial creative seed sown in the sprouting mind of a fashion-forward designer.


In recent years, Australian designers on the whole have been criticised for flying under the radar and playing it “safe” when it comes to groundbreaking design. Certainly, the need for financial return in fashion, as in any industry, means that innovation can be replaced with ease of manufacturing and mainstream appeal. Creative licence is thus sacrificed for sales, reinforcing the commercial aspect of fashion, and discounting the artistic and creative elements of design.

Perfect balance is required in order to meet the challenge of achieving commercial viability while also delivering innovative design that will make a sartorial difference. Although the line between a successful quirky design and unprecedented financial disaster seems thin, the reward for truly innovative design can outweigh the risks.

This is the case for legendary designer Georgio Armani, who recently celebrated the last two decades of his superlative design-work in a retrospective exhibition in Milan. “Eccentrico” pays tribute to the variety and originality of Armani’s designs, displaying such creative and disparate garments as a silk taffeta jacket embroidered with pineapples and a hat made of woven fans.


Australian fashion design celebrity Jenny Bannister says that in Australia, there needs to be more innovation in design.

“The Australian fashion landscape is a total mess… It’s getting harder to distinguish Scanlon and Theodore from Lisa Ho for instance.”

She says that the increased cost for higher quality design work can stymie the production of truly innovative clothing.

“Fashion with a point of difference or quirk is always admired, but there is only a small market for it here, as it usually costs more,” she explains.

“And not everyone wants to stand out and look amazing!” she adds.

Craig Braybrook, runner up of Australia’s Project Runway 2011 agrees that innovative design can be hindered by commercial considerations.

“With ready-to-wear clothing, commercial viability has to be paramount if you want to survive. As much as I admire avante-garde design it unfortunately doesn’t sell in the Australian market, and if it does it’s a small demographic,” he says.

“It’s sad because having to think commercially does stifle design.”

Fashion guru Billie Whitehouse of Australia’s Whitehouse Institute of Design agrees that there is huge emphasis placed on the commercial aspect of clothing design, but notes there are designers who are standing out from the pack in this regard.

“Designers such as Song for the Mute, House of Snowball, Isaac Vivier and Serpent and the Swan have honesty and integrity attached to their style and designs,” she says.

“They are using new fibres, adventurous pattern-making techniques, and unique accessories to set them apart from the industry heavy weights.”

Innovative design techniques like up-cycling and working with locally sourced fabrics are a new way in which many Australian designers are seeking to make their stamp on the industry.

Bannister notes, however, that innovative techniques can increase production costs, which diminishes the mainstream appeal.

“Sustainable and up cycling and recycling all sound buzzy, but it’s not all saving the planet,” she says.

“Some of the up cycling clothes are highly labour intensive, which means a high price tag, which not everyone can afford to pay.”
Bannister commends designers including Di$count Universe, Romance Was Born and Therese Rawsthorne for their fun and innovative design work.

Jenny Bannister

Australian-based designer Dion Lee is also being heralded for his innovative and next-level approach. Named as one of Refinery 29’s Top 10 designers for 2012, this year he received the International Woolmark Prize for his designs, which play with distorted silhouettes and 3D laser printing.

Whitehouse notes that it is most important for young designers, to stay true to their creative ambition.

“One of the great joys is seeing a designer stick to their avant-garde aesthetic and not being afraid of commerciality,” she says.

Braybrook says there is a bright future ahead for Australian designers in this respect.

“We have moved past thinking we are perhaps not on equal footing with the rest of the world, to thinking we can compete on equal footing.

“You only have to look at the RMIT graduation shows to realise what an exciting future the industry and design world here has. Their work is truly world class.”

The next time you spot the exotic hummingbird flitting in and out of foot-traffic on Melbourne’s busy streets, think about the designer behind the creation and applaud the sartorial savoire-faire that has brought it to fruition.


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