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.
Let me start by saying that I’ve had embodied responses to fashion shows before. Moments indelibly inscribed in my memory, like the phalanx of ethereal girls floating down the runway in every shade of white in Sydney designer Marnie Skillings’ show finale in 2007 (seriously. Sophie Ward led them out. Beautiful.) Or the infectious joy filling the room at Desert Designs only a few hours earlier yesterday, a collective excitement to see so many Indigenous Australian models on the catwalk, the stately counterpoint to the focused, skillful dancing of the young Indigenous dancers that opened the show.
But also let me say that I’ve never felt like I did at Australian designer Gail Sorronda’s show last night. I was trying to put my finger on it on the bus home, trying to find a language to explain it. I don’t know if I have yet, if I can, but I’ll certainly try.
So it began: a queue outside The Theatre, the venue on the far right side of Carriageworks, and dusk had fallen dark around our shoulders. There were less people around now, not so many lingering in The Hub or outside, most already seated inside The Theatre or heading off to dinner.
It was packed. What space wasn’t filled by seated guests was filled in by those standing, by volunteers, front of house managers in headsets, the photographers in the pit. The “house lights” were UV lights, bathing everything in an electric violet wash, and the music was low and electronic. The room was arranged into banks of white benches stacked five deep in tiers facing the runway. In a quick glance around, I noticed people seemed to have changed into “night-time fashion week” ensembles – I saw a white fur stole draped around one woman’s shoulders, black cocktail dresses, and a blogger in the front row sporting a magnificent pink sequinned minidress with shoulder-dusting sparkling earrings. I was perched on a step between two rows parallel to the end of the runway – it was that or stand with my nose half an inch from the back of the people standing in front of me!
And the music starts, a romantic ballad, as three ballet dancers – one male and two female – emerge from the entrance to the runway. They dance at the mouth, there, in blush-coloured leotards almost the same shade as their fair skin, moving slowly, dreamlike, with long extension.
I can only catch glimpses through the spaces between the heads of the people in front of me, of an extended forearm gracefully reaching through the soft air. The curve of a woman’s body as she is lifted and held, curved around gently against the body of her partner. Concentrating faces dip and weave in and out of sight, and I catch a glimpse of the light projection casting a pattern like silver raindrops against the walls surrounding the entrance also casting scattered light across the bare chest of the male dancer.
I can’t see if the leotards have been designed by Sorronda, but I can feel the romance, the controlled grace, the almost-forgetting of their dancing.
Music change – music sets the beat in fashion shows, the rhythm the models walk to, the auditory mood that fills the room, and this is no exception. There is a drum beat, bells, a plucked guitar: the feel is almost Spanish but just shy of any overt connection. Likewise, the collection has touches of the passion and romance of traditional Spanish dress, but at a remove, like the Basque dress as reinterpreted through the dresses of Cristobal Balenciaga, yet not derivative.
Here I reach for a language for what I saw: tulle and organza folded into crisp yet diaphanous shapes. Feminine lines of bell-shaped sleeves, short hems, fabric folded back against the line of the body in an open white tulle coat, or suggesting the warmth of skin under semi-sheer layers. Red and black followed by blushy, peachy garments, followed by crisp whites, worn with stacked platform sandals. In fact, it was the accessories that weighed the models down, as if it were up to the thick-soled shoes and their sculptural crowns to keep them floating forward down the runway and not up into thin air.
Some of the crowns reminded me of Christ’s crown of thorns, twisted and black and savage as they were, whereas others were like helixes, concentric circles of white that sat up around the models’ heads like haloes. Yet these crowns in concert with everything else effected a more general spiritual feeling, not earthy but oceanic, for the inspiration of the collection (as the brochure on the seats explained) was the fairytale of “The Little Mermaid” as told by Disney. Fluid were the walks of the models, their peaceful expressions. Their hair was down and slicked against the backs of their necks, a wet look that did little to disrupt their composed grace. They moved through the clear light with the dreamlike quality of underwater movement, perhaps a wink to the mermaids that inspired the collection.
The overall effect – dreamlike, light but balanced by touches of menace, romantic, feminine but not girly – left me brimming, full. It was beautiful, moving, otherworldly. The fact that I felt like this while sitting on a wooden step, craning to see the models and madly scribbling half-formed phrases like “everything has a breath of air in it” is only a testament to the power of the live event. As for the clothes themselves, those sculptural, clean, soft and sharp clothes – wow.