Material Visions

Alice McCall at MBFWA 2014

This week Rosie Findlay is writing her column from the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia (MBFWA) describing in detail the experience of the live event.

Some of the looks as worn by models in Alice McCall’s show, “In My Dreams We Were Flying”, at MBFWA on Thursday. Jamie Davidson

The invite to this show that I received in the post a couple of weeks ago was a silver Ziploc bag filled with multicoloured confetti. That was my first clue.

Fast-forward to last Thursday morning and I am standing in Bay 25, one of the former workshops for repairing trains when Carriageworks was still Eveleigh Rail Yard. There are still steel train-tracks embedded in the concrete floor. It is a vast industrial space with vaulted roof arching over parallel lines of white wooden chairs facing the “runway”.

Over the middle of the room hangs a set piece, hanging from a lighting rig on delicate wires: a cluster of porcelain casts of surreal objects hanging a foot from the floor. I spy a disembodied hand suspended beside a femur, an enormous clamshell with a pearl in its mouth, and miniature planets orbiting a porcelain crystal geode.

Playing over the sound system is Tomaso Albinoni’s tragic Adagio in G Minor for Strings and Organ, which never fails to remind me of the film Gallipoli. I don’t know if this is the association the production design team were going for, because the accompanying sound effects overlaying it give rise to much different connotations. The thwacking of a helicopter blade makes me think of the Vietnam War; the caw of a crow, a Victorian Gothic novel; and, most puzzling, except perhaps as a red herring in this aural landscape, the cheerful chirping of birds.

Each seat bears a transparent plastic sheet printed with a few paragraphs outlining the influences of the collection: dreams and dreamy femininity lie its heart, epitomised by the two young heroines named as references: Lux Lisbon and Wendy Darling.

Morning light streams in through the enormous, train-carriage-shaped doors flanking the space. The music fades. Silence.

A heartbeat echoes, growing louder, as if we are contained within the same ribcage, rattling into the machinic sound of a steam pump, and on come the spotlights, warm yellow lights trained on the runway.

The models walk out, one by one, almost smiling. The first looks are all fresh white pinafore minidresses, which gradually bleed into pale seafoam green playsuits, and on through lemon yellow, chewing-gum pink, and powder blue. This story is sweet with scalloped hems, narrow straps criss-crossing over bare backs, and the designer’s signature cotton lace inserts.

The models’ hair is straightened but kind of mussed, as if they’ve been lolling around in a bedroom listening to rock n'roll records with Lux. Their eyes shimmer with palely iridescent eyeshadow and some carry fantastic and improbable bags, like a miniaudière shaped like a pink glittery rocketship.

The music the girls walk to is stretched out, trippy, and I scribble down the names Tame Impala and Deerhunter although I’m not really sure if it’s by either of these bands at all. What I do know is that the beat is so heavy I can feel it reordering the rhythm of my heartbeat.

The dreamy vibe of the first story of the collection is given a visual punch as glittery garments start walking out: one pair of hot pink glitter short shorts are particularly eye-catching. And then the collection turns in its sleep towards dreams of the future, albeit the kind of future dreamed up in the 1950s. Here are neoprene garments printed with retro-looking spacecraft and the star-scattered reaches of “outer space”. This contemporary fabric also forms the base for other looks, including shirts printed with a Hawaiian beach scene, and a dress smothered in pink and red lips, more ‘60s lipstick advertisement than Salvador Dali, as is fitting within the retro-future vibe of this story.

The last model laps the runway and then disappears as the music fades out. Cue a tinkling tune, as if someone has just wound up a music box. But instead of a twirling plastic ballerina, we see movement above the runway as two machines on the rig begin firing white confetti into the air.

It flutters down, a spectacular drift of white flakes, as the opening chords of a version of Rainbow Connection, the theme song of The Muppet Movie (1979), begins playing. Out flow the models, each in their single look from the show, a walking rainbow themselves of pastel hues, gangly limbs, and spackles of glitter. The white confetti falls silently for the entire finale, the models disappearing backstage as the lilting female voice croons about “the lovers, the dreamers and me.” The designer, Alice McCall, takes a brief, shy bow, and it is over.

The street-style photographers immediately rush out of the venue to resume their posts out the front of Carriageworks to snap any passing show-goers whose outfits have caught their eye, while others flood onto the snowy runway to pose for photographs in front of the static set piece. I imagine the models backstage are already quickly changing into their own clothes before rushing to the backstage of their next show to have their hair and make-up done all over again.

As for me, I have tutorials to prepare for and writing to do. Back to real life. But not before I kick my feet through the fallen confetti on my way out.

Further MBFWA reading:
Setting the fashionable scene
Strateas Carlucci at MBFWA
Gail Sorronda at MBFWA
Maticevski at MBFWA 2014