When fashion doesn’t quite fit

14 September 2009

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Red spotlights illuminate the exposed beams of the high factory roof.  Thick chains are wrapped casually around the beams and a sign read ‘max working load 5 ton’.  The sound of an invisible monk humming would be eerie were it not amplified and backed by a rhythmically thumping bass that vibrated around the cavernous room.

It might sound like a scene out of a David Lynch film; but in reality, this was Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, which was held over the first few days of September.

To my left, a black Cuban-healed boot tapped in time to the music. It was connected to a girl wearing sequins and oversized, tortoise shell-rimmed spectacles. She was talking about astrology; she’s Sagittarius.

I watched a man in the front row wearing knee-high black boots, pale jodhpurs and a black equestrian jacket. He was talking animatedly with the girl (or was it a guy?)  next to him with zebra print leggings and loosely laced Doc Marten boots. The dim, red light accentuated their androgyny.

Like at most fashion events in Melbourne, almost everyone was wearing black.  Hundreds of leather jackets shimmied through the crowd and silhouettes were tall and slim, giving few clues about their owner’s gender.  In this fickle world of trends and fads, it’s nice to see skinny jeans still reigning after five years.

My eyes roamed the room once more, eagerly searching for someone to spy on.  I admired a girl with a black tassel bag.  A long fringe grazed her brow and big glasses accentuate her doe-eyes.  Her forest green cardigan reminded me of one my grandfather had when I was a child, and shiny black leggings disappear into red studded ankle boots.  I liked her outfit and admired her self-confidence as she trots across to the other side of the runway, squealing an excited greeting to a friend.

I love fashion in Melbourne.  Rarely do I walk through the city without seeing something unusual – sometimes even crazy – being worn with absolute assurance.

Here, thick-rimmed Buddy Holly-style glass glinted in the dark, and sequins sparkled, catching the red light. Girls with monstrously high heels clacked around the concrete floor, air-kissing those they knew.

Finally, 200 people were seated on hard metal benches in ordered rows. We were like a black-uniformed army waiting to be instructed, waiting for the spectacle.

While we chatted impatiently, we were being plied with free beer and designer sacks full of goodies. Lotions and potions, shaving cream, hair products and a shot-sized Red Bull, which would come in handy at the after party.

As the lights faded, the music got louder until the crowd fell silent.  In an explosion of white light the first model appeared.  As he passed me I notice his shoulder-length hair.  I count his ribs. He is draped in flowing white fabric, gathered and manipulated into an almost wearable garment. His eyes are smeared with ethereal white makeup.

Other models follow wearing the same shapeless clothes floating in the air behind them, some black and some white. As they slope down the runway in a moody, monochromatic blur I lose interest. I begin to watch the crowd again and amongst the sea of black I notice a hot pink pair of boots, a black sequined bolero, a frilly red blouse and leather pants that I want.  I must add those items to this season’s shopping list.

Fashion week is about selling clothes, but it’s not always the models that are the best advertisements.

Ironically, the models in this show have been street cast. They have been plucked from the streets of Melbourne, hand- picked by the designers. I have no doubt that the short, female model with a snow-white bowl cut has eccentric taste in clothes. So too would the skinny male model with the mohawk and skull tattoo on his shoulder. However, overzealous styling has stripped them of any individuality, causing me to be, well, bored.

As my eyes wandered, I realised that I wasn’t the the only one who has all but given up on the show. Equestrian boy and zebra leggings have resumed their animated conversation and spectacle lenses are winking at me as their owner’s heads swivel around the room, obviously not focusing on the runway. My friend nudges me and whispers that she can’t wait to get to the bar.

As the music built to a frenzied crescendo, the models retreated, finally, and two young men step onto the stage. After their bow, as they return to the depths of backstage chaos, I realise that these designers are wearing their own designs. Considering that these garments are the shapeless sacks I found so monotonous, I am surprised that they look spot-on on these guys. My friend thinks the same.

My epiphany hit me like a sack of free hair-care products. Fashion only works when an outfit exudes the individuality of the wearer. The models were looking boring because they were stripped of their eccentricity and poured into someone else’s style. The designers looked good because they had created their clothes for themselves, epitomizing their own style anyway.

As for the crowd, they were Melburnians. Melbourne style is our own, and that’s why it’s so interesting.

Kelly Theobald is a final-year Journalism student at La Trobe University. Her previous piece for upstart was Hearing the pop, crackle and hiss.