next generation designers stole the runway at Australian fashion week

A crowd of eager onlookers turned out to witness the future of Australian fashion on Tuesday evening. Parents, friends and some of the school’s most notable alumni, including Akira Isogawa, joined an audience of editors, stylists and influencers at Tafe’s Fashion Design Studio (FDS) New South Wales graduate runway show – a regular event at Australian fashion week, Bianca Spender and Nicky Zimmermann.

The event, called “The Innovators”, has been running at Australian fashion week since 1998 and features some of Australia’s most successful designers. At this event, four graduates from the class of 2023 – Samara Darling, Sara Marta, Renee Henderson and Isabella Hoyle Davies – presented 12 looks: a mix of voluminous sleeves, stunning sheer dresses, bubble skirts, tassels, embellished denim and layers upon layers. of tulle.


To commemorate the show’s 25th anniversary, the graduate collections followed a parade of garments designed by prominent FDS alumni Christopher Esber, Dion Lee, Romance Was Born and Karla Spetic, as well as appearances by Isogawa, Spender and Zimmerman. In a challenging climate for independent designers, the depth and breadth of homegrown talent was welcomed.

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Australian Fashion Week managing director Natalie Xenita said the runway was an opportunity for graduates to “engage with the voices and visions of the representatives who shape the design, style and aesthetics of tomorrow”.

Nathan McGuire, founder of Mob in Fashion, agreed: “It’s nice to see that fresh perspective. All of the students [have] individual style; the potential is great.”

Before the show we spoke to the four graduates about their designs and plans for the future.

Samara Darling, Sydney

Label: Who U

Samara Darling created her collection while composing music. The Sydney-based graduate is an avid musician and as she designed, collaborated with other musicians on a song. “Every time music was added to the track, it would inform design decisions in terms of shape and textures,” she says.

On Tuesday night, three musicians performed the track live as Darling sent her white, black, gray and pastel outfits down the runway. The sculptural look was still soft: wide-legged pants in stiff cotton drill with exaggerated cargo pockets paired with a high-neck, bib-front blouse with billowy sleeves made of sheer organza.

Darling’s creative output is also ecologically conscious. She uses scrap upholstery fabric, swatch cards and cutouts alongside a bio-based material derived from algae and combined with glycerin. She describes using the material as an experiment: the mixture was poured over scraps of silk and molded into the shape of a bodice.

“I want Who Am U to be a part of exploring and expanding fashion culture and the connection our clothes have to who we are,” she says. “I hope to see a little more fun and playfulness in the Australian fashion landscape going forward.”

Sarah Martha, Sydney

Label: Marta Design

“I love art. For me the beauty of fashion comes from the people who make it,” says Sara Marta of Marta Design. “I grew up watching YouTube videos of the Dior atelier where they show all the makers doing the lace appliqué and all the little details. I’m just inspired by craft.”

This love of detail was evident in the looks Marta sent down the runway, including an ankle-length pale-pink slip dress with beaded marigold leaves attached to swirling red vines. And a white organza top with cap sleeves, embroidered with soft green leaves and orange and pink flowers, paired with a shimmering pink satin floor-length skirt.

Marta collaborated on the comic and the intricate embroidery with textile artisans in India. She communicated with makers via WhatsApp, sharing diagrams and references to transform them into final designs. Most of this work was done on polyester tulle that could be stretched across the body for its form-fitting designs.

While studying, Marta worked in retail for womenswear label Zimmermann (who sold her business for A$1.5bn last year) and often looked to the brand for inspiration. Now that she has graduated, Marta plans to move to London to broaden her experience.

“I don’t see myself ever leaving Australia; I definitely want to come back and build my own brand here,” she says. “But I want to work somewhere where there are more resources and innovations.”

Isabella Hoyle Davies, Sydney/Orange

Label: Bella Davies

“To start a brand, I feel you have to find a community of people who really love and enjoy your clothes,” says Isabella Hoyle Davies of the Bella Davies label. The idea of ​​personal space and the distance between the wearer and their surroundings inspired the graduates’ collection, entitled Keep Space. “Kind of using clothes as armor, but not being armor,” she says. “My collection is very feminine so it’s done through the use of shapes and silhouettes.”

Her look included a pink and red sleeveless top with a matching mini skirt made of velvet that was so tight, it sat tight on the body. The upper sleeves had an exaggerated cuff that covered the model’s arm – although this was offset by a ruffle that ran along the collarbones.

Davies likes to use fabrics that are rich in texture including silk organza, chiffon, leather, cotton, linen and remnant upholstery fabrics. Craftsmanship practices such as painting on fabric, beading and hand-dyeing make each piece feel handmade.

One of the most timeless pieces in the collection was a light blue polyester dress that was ruched and draped on a mannequin, then set into shape with a heat gun to melt and set the synthetic material. Worn on the runway with a matching sheer veil, the heather draping effect gave the dress a wet look, while the asymmetric flowing skirt created a feminine line through the waist.

Renee Henderson, Wollongong

Label: Lychee Alkira

“My great-grandmother was a seamstress, so it runs in my blood,” says Wiradjuri woman Renee Henderson of Lychee Alkira.

Indigenous knowledge and storytelling informed the designs in her graduate collection. She collaborated with Bayley Mifsud, a Peek Whurrong artist of the Maar nation, to create a red and white print made of circles and lines that appeared on high-waisted flared pants and a matching knee-length coat. “She painted directly on some canvas fabric and sent it back to me in Sydney and I was able to turn her design into a screen print,” says Henderson.

As well as screen prints, Henderson works with eco dyes of eucalyptus, geranium and rose petals. The dye work could be seen in the green and red speckled organza used in the first looks she sent down the runway: a floaty maxidress with diagonal, ruched lines; and a flirty mini skirt and top, rued with red ribbon to create shape through the torso and hips. Both outfits had a commercial ease that graduate shows usually avoid.

Henderson is building an online store that will feature some pieces from her graduate collection. And she hopes to continue collaborating with Aboriginal designers and creatives. “Even now in the show we have a lot of Aboriginal models too, which is really cool,” she says. “That’s what I see in Australian life going forward.”

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