Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Romance Was Born Spring 2015

Romance Was Born’s mesmerizing “Bush Magic” collection shown the National Gallery of Victoria signaled the end of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival. The unusual choice of location coincides with their ‘Express Yourself’ exhibition for kids (which I wrote about last December and you can read here) which in itself foreshadowed the release of this collection. The premise of this presentation was the gentrified Australian spirit inspired by the works of May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. At a time when so few Australian fashion designers stick around and contribute to the culture and development of the Australian identity, at last we finally have a representative and figurative flag bearer. Australia in itself doesn’t really have a lot to offer in terms of a designer’s success but I felt so blessed to be in attendance for this momentous collection. One year ago, after the release of their Mushroom Magic collection I spent hours scanning the Internet for new images feeling starved of creativity and withdrawn from the fashion blogging community. Words cannot explain how seeing the collection first hand and the entire experience enhanced my feelings and connection with the clothing.

Going off on a tangent here and as an open letter to the organizer’s of VAMFF, please reconsider relocating the entirety of the fashion festival to National Gallery of Victoria in the city centre. In an age where fashion is still considered as frivolous by many, rather than a necessary aspect of life and integral to personal identity staging the fashion festival within Melbourne’s performing arts hub would be instrumental in locally changing perception. I think it would also act to encourage many people who would not consider themselves as fashionable or interested in the industry as taking part. It was so much nicer than going to Docklands, which seems to be a huge barrier to attending the festivities as compared to the NGV. Even on a Sunday evening I found the venue easily accessible by public transport- not everyone can afford a limousine or hired car. To say nothing of the wonderful ambiance both the foyer and Stained Glass room added to the event. 

I met up with Carolyn of Carolyn West photography who I met last year as a result of attending a few official Rookie Mag events when Tavi came over last August. She was the one who suggested that we go and I was more than thrilled at the prospect of attending this event with a friend as well as creative and photographer. She had actually photographed a bunch of other shows in the lead up to the VAMFF finale for Style Melbourne and produced some of the most beautiful runway photographs I’ve ever seen. We used her media pass to sneak into the media pit at the end of the runway rather than taking our place in the standing room audience. I’m still amazed that it worked but from there we were able to see so much more beauty.

I’m very grateful for her help and photography advice, although there really wasn’t much that could be done considering the limited zoom of my lens and by comparison, low aperture speed. Nonetheless it was so much fun to watch the models turn on the catwalk and being able to capture each of their outfits from both the front and back. I was amazed at the speed at which she was able to capture not only the full length shots but also the incredibly detailed makeup which they changed for the models throughout the show’s duration. Equally impressive was Carolyn’s creativity and initiative shown throughout the editing process- which is something I’ve always grappled with personally having used film photography during my younger years and having this great internal debate between digital and film photography. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with me as well as allowing me to curate your beautiful photographs on my blog.

The sound of Australian birdlife amplified through electronic speakers filled the foyer before we were allowed to enter NGV’s inner sanctum, the Stained Glass hall. To keep guests occupied catering offered finger food as well as a selection of wines, champagne and light refreshments. In what felt like a dream I found myself chatting to artist Minna Gilligan who I greatly admire and was lucky enough to meet last year at some Rookie events, as well as one of the Drop-by-Drawing sessions she took at the National Gallery of Victoria. We shared in what was a vigorous discussion about the creative work produced by the working class as compared with those from affluent families although we notably identified as working class. I also got the chance to thank her in person for confronting a rather taboo subject of practicing fine art and commercial work and deconstructing the notion that suffering confers some sort of greatness upon artwork.

Meanwhile dancers darted in and amongst the crowd in costumes on loan from the Australian Ballet Company’s 1994 archives including that of a cockatoo, koala, kookaburra, Banksia man, Sturt’s Desert Pea and various bush babies. As we lined up to enter into the Stained Glass Hall none other than Australian fashion icon and celebrity Jenny Kee darted past wearing her signature red glasses and hairstyle. Although not currently designer herself Kee has been highly influential on the work of Romance Was Born designers Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett, particularly in collaboration on a special at the Pieces of Eight gallery. A medley of Australian and gentrified feminist anthems including an electronic interpretation of ‘Great Southern Land’, ‘I Am Woman’, as well as a suite from a bush ballet.

Amongst the soft pastels and straw boater hats evoking the style and figure of Gibb herself Romance Was Born designers presented an exciting alternative to old school Australiana. Digitally printed magpie feathers and eucalyptus on mesh materials took their place alongside the more dramatic and elegant outfits. Designers Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett sat in the front row nestled closer to the media pit in order to hear the flurry of camera shutters which was an apparent commonality of all the shows in order to gauge the audience’s reaction. I loved seeing both these styles expressed simultaneously which were tastefully decorated with accessories from other Australian designers. Many looks were also embellished with sprigs of bottlebrush or wattle sitting atop the model's hair reinforcing this notion that the forest and plants have an agency all of their own. For those who are unfamiliar this sentiment is expressed throughout Aboriginal culture and certain trees, rocks and other features of the landscape are said to be the embodiment of traditional ancestors. It does make one wonder whether this revitalisation of May Gibbs illustrations, or a new embodiment of Australian culture is to the detriment of the traditional landowners.
Although many of the clothes have been available to purchase through the Romance Was Born website a few weeks prior to this show, stunning pieces like this Bush Baby Letterman jacket have slowly been added to the online catalog. Each piece comes as a welcome addition with several sizes and styles having already sold out. I know I run the risk of leaving it to the last minute but lately I've been too busy buying special one-off pieces or cashing in on sale prices to afford full price, new season clothing. Given my project focuses on the paleontological record of Australia during the Cretaceous I think it's only fitting I buy the only dress featuring little Bush Babies and bugs. But before that can happen I need to have a serious wardrobe clean out first before I can justify indulging in such a special piece. Until then I will continue to vicariously live through this collection while sitting outside and enjoying my garden, or with the wafting breeze of eucalyptus oil. Thank you to Romance Was Born's Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett for an incredible evening, as well as the entire team who worked on this collection's final presentation.  


  1. what a unique and vibrant collection! I love that first set of photos, the materials are perfect!
    dresses-and-travels //@susandollparts

  2. <3<3<3 This post is amazing - so much better than my own analysis ;) Thank you for coming with me!! :)

    1. I always want to capture as many details as I can recall about an event or something special like this, so I'm glad you enjoyed reading it Carolyn

      Thank you so much for your company, and for allowing me to use your beautiful photographs on my blog <3

  3. I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS POST!!!! I was going to look up the collection, but I told myself, "No, wait for Adele's post u know it's gonna be dope" and I was so right! This isn't my fav collection by them, but I love how they challenged themselves to do something different, never-before-seen, and still being true to the brand <3

    1. ahh omg now I feel so bad for delaying it for like a week now- but I hope the wait was worth it!
      While it's not my favourite collection by them (for the record my fav is Mushroom Magic!) but I loved the Australiana and attention to detail RWB have shown since their very inception.