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canberra’s biggest fashion event supports local designers and encourages diversity

Image: Hijab House

Image: Hijab House


Hijabhouse_MG_2419It all started with a question: ‘Why?’

Why didn’t Canberra have its own major fashion event?

The capital had come into its own as a thriving mini-metropolis of culture and fashion, an inspirational place exploding with eclectic, imaginative minds harking from every corner of Australia and all over the world. For its size, Canberra is packed with creative talent. Andrea Hutchinson, a former international model from Switzerland, and Clint Hutchinson, who manages one of the city’s largest advertising agencies, made the decision to correct above’s pressing question and to provide a serious, stylish platform for the amazing talent operating throughout the city. Thus, Fashfest was born.

Fashfest is a four-day, red-carpet fashion event shining the spotlight on local design. Launched in 2013, during Canberra’s Centenary, the event exceeded all expectations- selling out well before opening night and having to release standing room only to meet demand. This year the event is bigger and better and Fashfest remains committed to local design and on doing things its own way.

Fashfest 2014 started with the official model call. Organisers were proactive and advertised for diversity—models of different ages, sizes, heights, nationalities and personalities. Steve Wright, the event’s producer and a senior lecturer in fashion design at CIT says:

‘We did it in part for the overall message…but just as importantly we did it out of respect for our designers who want their clothes to look like their clothes should look—on real people.’

The model call ended up being the biggest ever for a single fashion event in the capital, with more than 160 auditioning for a panel of judges that included international model Belinda Riding—the Face of Fashfest 2014—who now calls Canberra home. With only 70 models selected, the competition was tough.

‘It’s a healthy line-up and more racially inclusive than some of the world’s most well-established fashion events,’ says Steve. ‘Countries of origin include Ethiopia, Croatia, Japan and China, as well as Indigenous Australia—adding sparkle to the catwalk.’

True to the event’s aim of appealing to a diverse audience, for the first time in Australia in a ‘mainstream’ fashion event, Sydney-based design label Hijab House will participate. This label designs stylish, modest clothing for young Muslim women- however a quick look at their designs will show that these clothes will be lusted by anyone who craves beautiful clothes that aren’t too revealing. The company’s head designer, Sophie Loader, grew up in Canberra and studied fashion at the Canberra Institute of Technology.

As well as encouraging diversity among its models, age is also something Fashfest does not fear, with the oldest model in 2014 well over 70 years of age. More mature models are a perfect fit for designers like Holly Squair of label Character. Holly designs for women of ‘character’ up to 85 years of age who don’t like wearing boring, polyester clothing—fashion-conscious style icons with a high-disposable income. So, in line with making clothes people want to wear, why not have the demographic wearing the clothing on the catwalk?

The designers behind labels like 4 Minutes 33, Karen Lee, Pure Pod, Hanny-D Creations and Audrey Blue agree. They target women with real or changing body shapes. Karen Lee says it only makes sense to have her garments on the types of women who are meant to, well, wear them. And it’s more rewarding for her as a designer to see that on the catwalk.

Hanna Parri, of Audrey Blue,  creates affordable, eco-friendly, ethical clothing and even has a section of her website on how to pick her garments depending on body shape—hourglass, ruler, pear and apple.

Fashfest is more of an event than it is a mainstream fashion parade. This year’s four themes—one on show every night—are the Artist, Scientist, Visionary and Philosopher and are brought to life with the help of talented live musician, set designers, hair stylists, makeup artists, models and, of course, the fantastic designers themselves.

‘This is all local talent,’ says Andrea. ‘Many of our designers are ethical in their approach to fashion, which we’re proud of. Some use zero waste pattern making, others upcycle and recycle, others have made the decision to source fabrics from suppliers who are environmentally conscious … the list goes on.’

Fashfest will be held at the Canberra Airport, 30 April to 3 May, in a beautifully designed space, with a massive atrium, stunning architectural elements and a modern industrial look. Tickets are available exclusively from the Fashfest website, and are fast selling out so get a move on, have a great night and support local and home-grown fashion talent!


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