SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Romance Was Born founders Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales have taken home the coveted Designer Of The Year category at the Australian Fashion Laureate today. The announcement of the award took place during a luncheon at Mimi’s restaurant in Sydney bringing together the well-heeled Australian fashion industry, many of whom haven’t clinked glasses and compared notes in a room together since Afterpay Australian Fashion Week in May of this year.
Plunkett and Sales have spent the past 16 years establishing and redefining their theatrical and exquisite DNA, a label where a cacophony of embellishments and ruffles intersect in a way only unique to RWB. In May, the designers sent a potent mix of incredibly detailed, semi-couture gowns down its Resort 2022 runway – Laser cut heart motifs! Magenta opera gloves! Sequins! – all made from years of deadstock and remnants from friends, second- hand stores and eBay.
RWB was up against the global midriff-flossing chief Christopher Esber, the co-owners of the balloon sleeve Edwina Forest and Adrian Norris of Aje, and the woman responsible for turning Oroton into a covetable must-have Sophie Holt.
“We are really grateful to receive this award because the last two years have been really challenging,” said Plunkett during her acceptance speech.
“This year we launched a collection, its very important to us and focuses on sustainability, all made from found objects, scraps of fabric, upcycling, and things we have been buying forever,” said Sales. “It’s a big deal to us because it’s a passion. When we started we had bags of crap and we brought them together.”
“Nothing has changed,” interjected Plunkett to a room full of laughter. “We really think about what we’re making and why we’re making it, and have a social responsibility to think about what we’re putting into the world,” she continued.
“I’m super grateful that it means something to people and not just to us,” said Sales.
In the Emerging Designer Of The Year category, Sutherland Shire-born Richard Jarman of buzzy label COMMAS nabbed the title from Jordan Gogos, Julie Shaw of MAARA Collective and International Woolmark finalist Jordan Dalah.
The Indigenous Designer Of The Year award went to the aforementioned Yuwaalaraay woman Shaw. This category saw Ngali’s Denni Francisco, Ngarru Miimi’s Lillardia Briggs-Houston and Grace Lillian Lee also nominated.
Deborah Sams and Mary Lou from Bassike – one of GRAZIA’s fashion feature editor’s favourite interviews – won the Sustainable Innovation Of The Year award, their Resort 2022 earthen marbling collection and drop-waists coming with a side of sustainability credentials.
New Australian Fashion Laureate award categories for 2021 included the Carla Zampatti Award for Excellence in Leadership, which has been awarded to Lee who delivered a speech that brought the room to tears. Struck by emotion to be standing in front of room of people she “wanted to get the attention of” for years, she endearingly thanked those who helped her.
“Lastly I’d like to thank myself,” she said, the room applauding. “I’d like to acknowledge that I’ve stuck this out and that I’m so grateful that I’ve made difficult choices throughout my career that has led me here standing before you. I want to acknowledge that I have stayed focused and have always followed my heart.”
“I was grateful that when I heard my culture calling, I followed.”
There wasn’t a dry eye.
The Australian Fashion Laureate Lifetime achievement Award went to Linda Jackson AO. A pioneering figure in fashion since the early 1970s, Jackson’s bold silhouettes and prints draw from the Australian landscape. The designer launched her own label Bush Couture which works closely with Indigenous communities on textile designs, in particular Utopia Station in the Northern Territory and the Daintree Rainforest in Queensland. Romance was Born have also dedicated two collections to Jackson’s work with designer friend Jenny Kee: Cooee Couture (2015) and Step into Paradise ‘kinda couture’ (2018)
See a full list of the winners below.
Australian Fashion Laureate Lifetime Achievement Award
Linda Jackson AO
Carla Zampatti Award for Excellence in Leadership, presented by Porsche
Grace Lillian Lee
Designer of the Year
Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales, Romance Was Born
Emerging Designer of the Year presented by Shopify
Richard Jarman, COMMAS
Indigenous Designer of the Year
Julie Shaw, MAARA Collective
Sustainable Innovation of the Year, presented by GlamCorner
Deborah Sams and Mary Lou Ryan, bassike
People’s Choice, presented by Afterpay
Elizabeth Abegg and Isabella Pennefather, Spell