An Outsider’s Field Guide To Australian Fashion Week

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia kicked off today in Sydney. Have you Instagrammed a photo of your lanyard yet?

I am not a fashion-conscious person. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love clothes and enjoy talking and writing about them. But ‘fashion’ isn’t the same as ‘clothes’. And when it comes to fashion, I’m standing on the outside looking in.

So, as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia (hereafter MBFWA; also known as Australian Fashion Week) kicks off in Sydney, I’ve pressed my nose to the glass to offer some outsider observations you might not find in the usual fashion media.

Fashion Week wants us out, but still lets us in:

Fashion is an industrial cycle, which constantly renews itself to drive demand for new garments. The international calendar of Fashion Weeks exists to broker commercial or in-kind deals between labels, their backers, retailers, and the journalists who chronicle the whole merry-go-round. Seasonal runway shows are staged for a select, influential coterie of insiders – retail buyers, media, invited VIPs and other mavens.

Fashion Weeks are deliberately not accessible to – or even interested in – normal people. An exquisite way to insult a collection is to call it ‘wearable’, as a synonym for ‘boring’. And fashion journalists have viciously defended their turf from encroaching bloggers; amateur outsiders trying to muscle their way in. Yet thanks to the internet – streaming video from the shows, blurry Instagram snaps; six-second Vines, and tweeted assessments of the clothes – we outsiders now know more than ever about what’s happening at Fashion Week, as it happens.

Pop culture has also lent Fashion Week a powerful aura of glamour and excess. Writers, filmmakers and street-style snappers endlessly chronicle the atmosphere inside and between shows. David Rakoff’s bemused account of Paris Fashion Week for Harper’s Bazaar, ‘I Can’t Get It For You Wholesale’, is one of the greatest and most hilarious works in this genre. I also heartily recommend the bitchy, anonymously researched Fashion Babylon.

So we already sort-of-know the ambience of Fashion Week, even though we’re not allowed in. We still want in. And that poses a challenge for Fashion Week organisers.

L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival, which I attended a little while ago, is not a true Fashion Week. It’s staged for consumers. Rather than pitching collections for forthcoming seasons, designers showed garments you can buy right now – there was a special phone app enabling punters to “shop the runway”.

And anyone could buy tickets. That’s why it was full of middle-aged office ladies clutching $10 flutes of ‘champas’ and looking thrilled to be there. This isn’t a snobbish observation. Fashion Week is about exclusivity. When you make it accessible it still glitters, but in a cheaper way. More like tinsel than diamonds.

This year, Sydney’s MBFWA is experimenting with involving the public. All the shows will be streamed online via And there’ll be a pop-up ‘live site’ in Martin Place where you can watch the shows on a big screen while enjoying Pelicano nibbles and cocktails and the stylings of DJs.

If it’s not photographed, it didn’t happen:

Although MBFWA is opening itself up a little, you will still not be allowed to rock up at the actual shows at Carriageworks without an invite. That’s why it’s very important that people who do get invited make sure you know all about it.


Make sure everybody knows you have been invited to a thing.

Participation in Fashion Week is a performative ritual. First, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter fill with pictures of people’s invitations and laminated access-all-areas passes. (I’m still trying to get my head around the complex issue of whether it’s cool or try-hard to wear your pass around your neck on its lanyard.) Attendees plan a week’s worth of snap-ready outfits, and photograph themselves and each other standing in a windswept spot outside the venue. (“No flash, darl!”) Chin tucked, hands on hips, shoulders jutting forward, ankles crossed. I have practised this stance in the privacy of my own home in case I am ever ambushed by a photographer, and have never nailed it.

Inside the shed, an air of patient resignation prevails in the photographers’ pit at the end of the runway. The snappers are mostly men – though there are some women – and most are dressed unobtrusively and casually in T-shirts and jeans. They’re perched in tiered bleachers as if about to cheer a footy team. I wonder what their pecking order is. Is the best spot closest to the ground, or highest?

Disppointingly, it turns out massed digital cameras don’t make those chirruping sound effects you hear at the start of ‘Freeze Frame’ by the J Geils Band or ‘Girls On Film’ by Duran Duran. Their super-fast shutters create more of a quiet whirring, like fans on a hot day.

Nor do the photographers hoot and catcall. They’re all business, eyes flickering between the models and their camera screens to see if they’ve got ‘the shot’. Arranged in rows, faces illuminated by their own viewfinders, they remind me of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ video clip.

Here’s what seems to be “in” right now:

At LMFF I paid a lot less attention to the clothes on the runway than what the audience was wearing. Colour-wise, it’s a mix of black, blue denim and neons – hot pinks, acid greens, bright yellows. Short, chunky, sparkly necklaces worn tucked under the collars of buttoned-up shirts are very in right now. So is leather, in flippy, skater-style miniskirts and skinny-cut pants.

I am avoiding leather because when I wear it, I look like a cheap sofa. But I’m very pleased with my (completely coincidental) decision to purchase (from an op-shop) a blue denim shirt and blue denim jacket, as part of what I called my Seven Sisters Summer. Because I couldn’t be bothered shaving my legs or digging out my tights after summer, I’ve been teaming them with high-waisted, billowy ankle-length skirts. The only other people I’ve spotted in similar outfits were haughty, immaculately dressed Muslim fashion bloggers.

Hair-wise, it’s either ironed straight or in messy topknot buns. (Look, people are busy. Maybe they came straight from the gym?) Shoes are either vertiginous stilettos or clumpy boots that look like tissue boxes strapped to the foot. Lots of chicks can’t quite walk in heels this high. Instead they totter, knees bent, like the puppets from the TV series Thunderbirds.

One very bad trend is high-waisted, resort-style pants in soft, floppy fabrics, worn with G-strings. The pants wedge in as the wearer walks, providing a gruesome view of her butt-cheeks duelling as if one insulted the other’s mum. It’s just not hygienic, guys. Please wear ordinary undies if you like the sound of these pants.

Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week Australia goes from April 8-12 at Carriageworks, Sydney.
Visit the website here.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She is the founding editor of online pop-culture magazine The Enthusiast and the national film editor of the Thousands network of city guides. Her debut book, Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion Sizing and Fit, will be published in June 2013 by Affirm Press.