• Elaine George was the first Aboriginal model to feature on a Vogue cover - 20 years later she's taking to the runway once again. (NITV )Source: NITV
Part of this year's Brisbane Festival, the First Nations Fashion and Design Show catwalk will be a celebration of inclusion, diversity, storytelling, and connection to Country.
Keira Jenkins

3 Sep 2021 - 3:07 PM  UPDATED 3 Sep 2021 - 3:07 PM

In 1993 Elaine George was the first Aboriginal model to feature on the cover of Vogue.

Now, 20 years after retiring from modelling, the Bundjalung and Arakwal woman will once again grace the catwalk.

She’s one of 20 models who are part of the First Nations Fashion and Design show ‘Walking in Two Worlds’, taking place in Meanjin on Sunday September 5 as part of Brisbane Festival.

“I just thought I was going to be an ambassador and just support the models,” Ms George told NITV News.

“Until Grace and TJ (from First Nations Fashion and Design) told me I was actually modelling again, which was quite a surprise.

“But you actually don’t forget it, it’s like riding a bicycle.”

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Ms George, who has also been mentoring the up-and-coming models who are part of Walking in Two Worlds, said that she’s blown away by the talent, and the camaraderie between the models.

“They have just got so much passion."

Being one of the only First Nations models when she started her career, she said that the experience was “isolating” for her, and she wishes she’d been able to participate in events like ‘Walking in Two Worlds’ while she was modelling.

“It’s not about being shame when you come here, it’s about learning, it’s about asking questions.” Ms George said.

Quaden’s dream

One of the up and coming models involved in ‘Walking in Two Worlds’ is Quaden Bayles.

In 2020, an emotional video of the 10-year-old, who was born with Achondroplasia, went viral.

The video exposed the impact of school on him, sparking international attention.

First Nations Fashion and Design (FNFD) founder Grace Lillian Lee,  said she’s excited to have the young Murri boy lead the show.

“He’s taking us through a journey of a dream of his out on Country,” the Meriam woman said.

“And it’s not just for Quaden, it’s for all of us to be able to relate to about our community coming to surround us, and supporting us and walking alongside us and backing us."

“I think it’s going to be a really beautiful presentation, not only because of the storyline and the narrative that’s been created with Quaden and the performers who are dancing."

“It’s going to be a tear-jerker, but also a special moment for Brisbane mob to be part of.”

For Ms Lee and FNFD chief executive, TJ Cowlishaw, the diversity of models is key to fostering the a safe atmosphere among their ranks.

“I think we’re creating a culturally-rich space, not just culturally safe, culturally rich,” the Nyikina woman with connections to the Bardi and Nyul Nyul people said.

“A place where mob feel so safe to be who they are, be proud of where they come from."

“Seeing their heads held high, that’s what I love.”

Continuing legacy

But Ms Cowlishaw said it’s also about acknowledging those who have paved the way for them in the fashion industry.

“We’ve had our Elders do this before and now it’s just us continuing on the legacy,” she said.

Elverina Johnson is a Gurugulu and Indinji Gimuy woman from Yarrabah. She’s one of 11 designers whose work will be featured in the ‘Walking in Two Worlds’ show.

She’s a well-respected artist with decades of experience behind her.

For Ms Johnson, carrying on a legacy in the fashion world is all about storytelling.

“The designs I have in this show, Walking in Two Worlds here in Meanjin are all about my story and where I come from,” she said.

“A lot of my artwork depicts the rainforest and the ocean - the reef, because Yarrabah sits between the rainforest and the reef."

“We’re rainforest people as well as saltwater people, so a lot of my work is about the rainforest and the ocean.”

'Telling our stories'

It’s something unique to First Nations design, and Ms Johnson said the fashion industry has “missed out on a lot” by not including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers for so long.

But the story doesn’t stop with the designers. Ms Johnson said the models also have a role to play in bringing a story to life, and that’s what she loves most about fashion design.

“They’re not just models, they’re the people that’s going to carry our stories and present it to the audience,” she said.

“Everything that they do in their strides, their movement and their facial expressions is all going to be part of that storytelling."

“I think that’s something that people tend to miss, this is not just about fashion, it’s about telling our stories.”

This is something not lost on Grace Lillian Lee - even the name of the fashion show tells a story that mob can relate to.

“Walking in Two Worlds is about something for us that we all have to go through every day, but we’re just putting it into the context of a fashion performance,” she said.

“We’re really showcasing how important it is for us to have connection to Country, and maintain our cultural integrity and knowledge and preserve our storylines.”

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