Kiwi designers put on a show in Melbourne

SARAH MACKENZIE AND SARAH CATHERALL
Last updated 11:20 26/03/2014
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Lucas Dawson

ON THE CATWALK: Designs from Kate Sylvester's 'Two Birds' collection and Trelise Cooper's Autumn/Winter collection on show at the Melbourne Fashion Festival.

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Kate Sylvester and Trelise Cooper injected a taste of Kiwi fashion to a group runway show at the Virgin Australian Melbourne Fashion Festival recently.

One of the largest consumer-focused fashion events in the world, the Festival comprises runway shows, film, business seminars and graduate showcases.

We take a look behind the scenes as the Kiwi designers do us proud...

While the VIPs sip champagne and enjoy bite-sized canapés in a cordoned-off nightclub space, just next door the mood is decidedly more frenetic.  

PR assistants, photographers and a huge team of Elnett-wielding stylists battle for space amongst the dozen or so long-limbed models.

'Five minutes to go, people', someone yells over the hum of hair-dryers, and immediately the throng of make-up artists hit fast-forward.

Lips are stained, brows are primped and last-minute illuminator is applied in a whirr of non-stop activity. And it's no wonder; the second show of the night is scheduled to begin within the half hour and the models are far from runway ready.

Decked out in regulation off-duty garb, ie stovepipe jeans, leather jackets and beaten-up boots, they hustle to the garment area, ready for the most important part of their transformation. There isn't a second to spare.

Beyond the curtain, a sea of well-heeled females surges into the main space of the Central Pier.

Pushed on by a common sense of anticipation, they gaze around the darkened room taking in the big screens, the elaborate wall of hanging candles and of course, the stark, white runway.

Upon reaching their seats and discovering the goodie bags and complimentary glossy mags, excitable chatter reaches fever pitch.

The countdown is well and truly on now, but unsurprisingly the front two rows remain all but empty - the style set don't have a term coined in honour of their tardiness for nothing, you see - fashionably late is right on the money.

Finally, the reviewers, bloggers and general people in the know totter in, stopping to gossip with contacts and pose for photos while making their way down the runway to the much-coveted front-row seats.

While the show starts about half an hour after schedule, no one seems to notice - this, after all, is why people attend fashion shows. It's as much about soaking in the unique sights and sounds at the event as the actual clothes.

The rhythmic beat of the music begins and the lights go up, following the first model as she storms down the runway kicking off the show in vivid prints from Australian designer, Easton Pearson.  

Right from the get go the vibe is lighter and more playful than the moody, monochromatic show earlier in the evening.

Kate Sylvester's collection, Two Friends, comes next and is full of her trademark demure, yet chic pieces.

Vibrant red contrasts with muted browns, greys and pinks making for a truly wearable and accessible collection.

The more casual, less fussy pieces appear to resonate with show-goers, hundreds of iPhones are raised to snap shots as the models parade past.

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Appropriately quirky accessories add a playful edge - think geek-chic glasses adorned with sprays of fresh florals as well as school-girl reminiscent socks paired with wedges.

Without even seeing her name on the screen, Trelise Cooper's design aesthetic is a dead give-away right from the first look in her collection.

The textured, multi-panel green shift dress opens a parade of theatrical outfits, each one different from the last.

The standout look - a gold mini-dress paired with a red, military-inspired jacket really got people talking, with some emphasising how 'refreshing' it was to see colour and drama portrayed on the runway.

Feather and floral headpieces, glitzy earrings and jelly heels added to the opulent feel of the collection.

Her autumn/winter collection includes rock royalty jacquards, blackened silks accentuated with colourful blanket weaves, and roomy coats.

Trelise Cooper's hourglass shapes come with rounded shoulders, nipped-in waists, hugging bodices and tulip shapes and structure. Cooper says daywear is enjoying time in the spotlight.

''There's courageous volume and daring cuts that Sasha Fierce (Beyonce's alter ego) would be proud of,'' says Cooper.

Kate Sylvester's collection, Two Friends, is a nod to the designer's love of the 1950s era, and her reputation for understated femininity.

Showing alongside Trelise Cooper, and established Australian labels like Aurelio Costarella and Hardwick, Sylvester was unable to attend the Melbourne catwalk show, as she's currently in the midst of selling her summer 14/15 collections.

However, her clothes stand out from Australian designers across the Tasman, says Sylvester, where she is known for classic tailoring.

''A lot of Australian brands are harder, and tougher and they have a more aggressive attitude. Our clothes there are known for their real femininity, and there's also an understatedness that really stands out."

Her collection, Two Friends, is based on the friendship between two girls in 1950s New York. Bohemians at heart, their boyfriends are jazz musicians, and they pose for life drawing classes. The fictional story is based on two characters in an Irving Penn 1950s photo, and Sylvester says: ''I've always loved their bohemian coutere spirit''.

In Kate Sylvester outlets here and in Australia, silhouettes and fabrications are very mid-century with beautifully sculpted shapes in wool coating and cloque.  

Full skirts in embroidered organza and tweed swing tops are paired with skinny skirts. Sylvester has played with extremes of volume, pairing a shrunken jumper worn with oversize pleat trousers.

The two friends pet birds are embroidered on to silk georgette and a classic LBD's beautiful beading turns out to be the glittering bugs from their decrepit kitchen.Colours are all shades of grey, a neutral bohemian palate with softer taupe shades.

Pops of red blazed on the catwalk too, and Sylvester says that red is a signature colour for her brand.

Sylvester says that while other designers often hark back to the twenties or eighties in their designs, she has always been drawn to the fifties.

''It's an era that I really love. The style of dress really resonates with me. It was a really exciting time culturally in the world too.''

The swan appears in this collection, along with others, and she says: ''I love the aesthetic of the swan. Ever since I was a teenager, I became fixated on Truman Capote and his society friends who he called The Swans. If ever I'm walking along, I will think, straighten up and stretch your neck like a swan.''

Cooper, invested as a dame on Friday, was in the front row of the show.

"We have a store here in Melbourne, and a lot of loyal customers, so it really makes sense to show at a consumer-driven event like this one.

"People want to be able to see something and buy it straight away, and I want to be part of that."

- The Dominion Post

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