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After five years designing in Europe, Grant sees Australian style as cross-cultural. “It’s got so many references from all over, which is what makes up Australia anyway,” says the 29-year-old, who for his own work takes antique materials found in Paris flea markets and transforms them into things of beauty. Sexy and unstructured is Pilcher’s assessment of local fashion: “We have a different approach and it it has to do with An our lives, being outside, at the beach and thinking about the way that our bodies look and being fit.”
Australia’s time in the sun is still to come. Certainly eyes are more pinned to the future than the present. “What we are hoping to find out is whether there is a niche that Australian fashion fills,” says April Glassborow, a buyer from the London department store Harvey Nichols. Some say that is swimwear, a highlight of the recent shows; others point to the recent success of surf-culture outfitters Mambo, whose new Covent Garden store in London is booming. “I think we can be world leaders,” says Pilcher. Then there’s the beckoning call of Asia, whose summer -all-year-round climes are a natural market. Still, “Australian designers should not hold out for the holy grail of export,” warned Marion Hume, fashion writer for London’s Financial Times, during Fashion Week. “You have to prove yourself in the Australian market. You have to be good in your own country.”
For this to happen, Australian critics could look closer–and harder–at what these days passes as fashion. “You can’t just say, `You’re fabulous, you’re wonderful.’ You’ve got to look at it critically, because that’s what they do in Europe,’ says Paris-based Grant, whose clothes are sold at Liberty of London.”I think that’s what makes people develop, makes things interesting.” Certainly the dominating influence of Prada and Gucci –international harbingers of all things mod, shiny and slick–wasn’t lost on commentators during the recent Australian shows. “You know, it’s a whole knockoff industry. I consider fashion to be adaptation,” says Ward, who took part in Fashion Week’s group show of evening wear. “You can’t tell me that Chanel just decided that she was going to do classic shapes. She just knocked off men’s shapes.”
If you look close enough, 3 you can see the seams of art 3 within the folds of commerce and hype. With her signature chantilly lace creations, as delicate as cobwebs in muted greens and pinks, Dinnigan, 30, is perhaps the closest Australia has to a couture star. The New Zealand-raised designer, who started out making special -order lingerie and, until recently, dyed her fabric over a stove, now has a staff of 11, and her clothes are sold at Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Barney’s. “I think to begin with it is about art,” she says. “And then you have to totally turn around and make it a business.” Hopefully for Australian fashion in the years ahead, there will be the inspiration to let the clothes steal the show.
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