As this issue of T Australia hits newsstands, local style setters will be gathering in Sydney for Australian Fashion Week. The event has a special resonance this year as it celebrates the resilience of an industry hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Last year’s Australian Fashion Week preceded extended lockdowns across the country that caused many manufacturing, wholesale and retail businesses to either downsize or permanently close.
The fashion industry is an integral part of the country’s economy, generating $27.2 billion per year and employing 489,000 Australian workers, 77 per cent of whom are women, according to a 2021 report by the Australian Fashion Council. While data on the effects of the pandemic on profits is scarce, an April 2020 Business of Fashion report estimated that the global fashion industry would suffer a 30 per cent year-on-year loss that year.
“Maintaining production in Australia is integral to our industry’s growth and development,” said Bianca Spender in an interview with The Guardian last August. (Her mother, the acclaimed designer Carla Zampatti, died tragically last year at the age of 78.) Spender will be leading the triumphant return of the industry, with her namesake label (now in its 13th year) awarded the prestigious opening slot on the fashion week runway. After two years of uncertainty and disruption, the key message of 2022 is that Australian fashion is back, and it’s stronger than ever.
One of the most surprising takeaways from those two years is how adept designers are at thriving amid chaos. Several new and emerging labels, such as All Is a Gentle Spring (set to debut at fashion week this year), Emma Pills and Erik Yvon, found international audiences with their Gen Z-friendly, highly TikTokable designs.
Meanwhile, Jordan Dalah, who graduated from the esteemed British design school Central Saint Martins in 2017, made his runway debut to much industry fanfare at last year’s fashion week, and counts Lara Worthington, Georgia Fowler and the music sensation Benee as fans. Commas, the resort line started by the Sydneysider Richard Jarman in 2017 and co-run by his wife, Emma Jarman, was invited to appear on the official 2020 Milan Fashion Week menswear schedule. The label subsequently won Australia’s National Designer Award in 2021.
More established names enjoyed big wins, too — Michael Lo Sordo saw a huge international push when the Bond girl Ana de Armas wore his floor- skimming silk gown in “No Time to Die” (2021). Christopher Esber exploded onto the global fashion scene after Zendaya, Hailey Bieber and Lorde stepped out in his ruched and cut-out creations. Zimmermann opened multiple flagship stores in Europe and the United States during the pandemic and, in December 2021, 70 per cent of the company was sold to the Italian investment firm Style Capital for a rumoured $400 million.
Coming from a country located a day’s flight away from the world’s design capitals, Australians have long punched above their weight on the international fashion stage. “I think Australians as a whole are very hardworking,” says the director of special projects at Marc Jacobs Ava Nirui. “It’s a cultural thing that makes us much better at being open-minded and collaborative. Every Australian I meet [overseas] is lovely and non-competitive.”