Dusk is a Fijian-Australian fashion and travel photographer and writer based in Sydney. She is also the Publicist of ‘choice for Pacific fashion creative’. She was the recipient of the Visual Arts award at the 2016 NSW Pacific Awards. Dusk was also Lead Photographer & Publicist for Pacific Runway 2016, and for PNG’s Runway 2016, helping make both events commercial and industry successes. Her main aim with all that she does is to make diversity and equality the norm and to convince people she is a Jedi. “May The Fierce Be With You.”
Fashion isn’t just about the labels you wear or how the New Black” is a trend. The fact is - there are no new trends. I proved this last year when I photographed Australian Fashion Week 2016. Nothing I was wearing was new. Either vintage, op-shopped and/or with me for over 10 years, but all were the trends to be seen for 2016.
That's the thing about fashion. It never really goes out of fashion…
Fashion is a map or a mask. It is a materialization (see what I did there?) of who we are, who we would like to be. Our clothing pieces, the way we dress to face the world, those choices aren’t arbitrary. Our wardrobes reflect our personalities and moods. You may not think you’re interested in fashion but even “anti-fashion” is a form of fashion.
To use a popular trope, fashion is life… and it wouldn’t be what it is without the influence of global Indigenous cultures. Everything we wear today is a culmination of centuries of integration and frankly, hefty appropriation. Eastern methods and styles have been used from when the day trade began… details like frog fastening to collars and silks pyjamas being an Indian invention. Western Fashion has ‘borrowed’ heavily from the world and although as a collective, we are the better for it, we – the ethnic ‘minority’- continue to be stripped bare of our right to be seen.
Have you ever wondered about what we wear and why we wear it? Not just items of clothing but representation. Why do we wear ‘western’ clothing? Why aren’t we wearing what is considered –and please feel free to join me in raising eyebrows/rolling eyes/groaning here- ‘ethnic’ garb? Why do we consider it “exotic” (another groan inducing word) and in some cases, “daring”, when we see people wear garments of their countries (eg. Sarees, dashikis, áo dài, sulu jaba, kilts too!)?
In a world of “ethnic” majority… why is fashion still a western world directive? Australians are girt by fashion parades, big prestigious pre-season ‘industry only’ shows or preview shows for the consumers, shopping centre shows, bridal shows but very few of these shows reflect the truth of what Australia’s population looks like.
Australia’s multi-culturalism means not just the ‘face’, but the style of Australia has diversified. Yet events like Australian Bridal fashion Week neglect to feature designers/collections that appeal to multicultural Australia despite the audience it attracts. The gowns may be predominantly white but the audience is hue-manity.
Although the fashion industry and media are slow to reflect this, I will admit that there seems to be progress and representation via ads, TV presenters and occasional glimpses of racial diversity on runways (although fashion industry height and size demands are rigid regardless of race), but this is still tokenism* and is a whole other story.
I LIVE for the day when I see a group of four models in an Australian brand’s fashion campaign and only one is white. THAT is multi-cultural norm. That is our reality. We need to see the ‘us’ in Australia.
The three standout collections at Singapore Fashion Week 2016 that were wonderfully and proudly modern-cultural were also the three stars. Famed Indo-American designer (and Michelle Obama’s favourite) Naeem Khan, Chinese couture artisan Guo Pei and Singaporean designer Ong Shunmugam.
I wonder if Australian Fashion Week would ever dare acknowledge its multicultural audience, comprised of global buyers, world media and trending Asian bloggers by showcasing Naeem Khan’s elaborate, beautiful Indian influenced collections or Guo Pei’s fantastic, works of Chinese wearable art or Ong Shunmugam’s modern cheongsams?
Australian designers love basing their collections on their exotic Instagram-worthy sojourns to India and Indonesia and Africa, Morocco and China but their collections are not actually for Australians of those ancestral backgrounds. They cite “buyers’ market” as their reasons but fail to actually look at who their buyers are. The Australian fashion industry is too scared of designing for its population and too lazy to feature diverse collections, resting on the laurels of “urbanism.”
It is no longer the case that young Australians of global origins are ‘ashamed’ of wearing their cultural heritage. Consumers do not think of ‘ethnic’ wear as old-fashioned; ask Tree of Life and their festival going clientele. More and more people of all ages are celebrating their cultural heritage and ‘daring to wear’ traditional cultural wear. What is also fantastic is that traditional wear designers are designing fusion collections to represent their clientele. Modern Australians of global origins who are proud of where they came from and proud of who they are. Modern Australians.
Yet, some of these designers are ignored by the Australian fashion industry, and what’s worse, some Indigenous Australian designers are not even acknowledged. It is disappointing that Australian Indigenous Fashion Week was a separate event from Australian Fashion Week (why do Spectrum Australians always have to explain their Australianness? Indo-Australian. Asian-Australia. INDIGENOUS Australian.)
What an incredible platform this could have been to nurture Indigenous fashion designers, models, designs and all fashion associated creatives. What an opportunity for everyone, Indigenous and new Australians to discover the talents of untapped skills.
Australian Fashion Week will spend ridiculous amounts of money to import international designers, models, bloggers, media, with considerable help from the NSW government, yet Australian Indigenous Fashion Week struggled to secure funding and government help, to create a legacy. Alas, 2014 saw the last of AIFW, it fell victim to its deliberate lack of wider support.
In a coup for one demographic, Pacific Runway, Australia’s most prestigious platform for designers of Pacific origin is now on the official calendar for Carriageworks, which is a big deal when it comes to industry recognition. Carriageworks is the home of Australian Fashion Week and Pacific Runway has been held there for the last two years as a featured event. Now it is part of the program.
Pacific Runway’s designers are from all over the Pacific, not just Australian based, and demonstrating again the Australian Fashion Industry’s insular viewpoint. The Australian Fashion Chamber still insists on shopping Australian designers to Paris and this lack of big picture awareness is embarrassing. The Pacific is ripe with design talent. So many of its countries have fashion weeks and established fashion industries and brands, yet undiscovered by its biggest neighbour.
Pacific Runway was started by Jannike Seiuli in 2012 to address this ignorance. Her mission was to create a bridge between Pacific design talent and Australian style connoisseurs. Although Pacific Runway is currently a consumer driven event, it is attended by Australian fashion industry personnel, which means wider reach for Pacific designers. 2016 was a sold out event and promotional success for the participating designers.
The event’s triumph and official acknowledgement proves that Australia is ready to experiment with style and that Australia’s style is not defined by fashion. It is determined by people.
REPRESENTATION matters. But we shouldn’t rely on others to tell us what that representation looks like. Seize it. Wear it. Own it. Diversity isn’t a trend; it was our gift from evolution. The New Black is you.
Family Rules airs tonight - Monday 9 January, 7.30pm on NITV Ch. 34