Evening dress, ‘Spring Summer Finale 2011’ made by Toni Maticevski, Melbourne, 2010

The Australian Fashion Laureate Awards may have been established to champion the work of those who have made a significant contribution to the local industry, but the trophy itself – an skyward reaching figure resembling a curvilinear dress form cast in bronze – is the product of a world far away from the runways of Australian Fashion Week.

The trophy is the miniaturised work of the sculptor Andrew David Logan – son of the jeweller Jan Logan; not to be confused with the English sculptor of the same name – who, on visiting India as a young man, was struck by the image of a group of women bathing in the ocean at sunset wearing head-to-toe silk garments that he was moved to immortalise it in the form of the Laureate statue. Today, that form is the highest accolade bestowed on those working in Australian fashion who are just as adept at galvanising an image not simply of how we dress, but who we are as a country.

“Every day we get up and think about what we’re going to wear, what sort of conversation our dress is going to have with the people and content we’re going in to,” says Glynis Jones, Curator of fashion and dress at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. “[That is] how significant the universal language of fashion is.”

That conversation will be central to Catalysts and Creators: The 10th Australian Fashion Laureate Exhibition presented by Etihad Airways, an upcoming exhibition celebrating the accomplishments of past recipients of the industry’s most prestigious prize from 2008 until the present day. Opening November 10 and exhibiting until March 11 at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Catalysts and Creators will take a retrospective look at iconic creations from designers including Akira Isogawa, the inaugural recipient of the Laureate; Carla Zampatti; designers Pamela Easton and Lydia Pearson of Brisbane-based label, Easton Pearson; Collette Dinnigan; Jenny Kee; sisters Nicky and Simone Zimmerman, of their eponymous label; and, most recently, Toni Maticevski. The display will also present work from the Award winner for 2017, the announcement of which will take place at a ceremony on November 9. This year’s nominees include designer Dion Lee; designer Kym Ellery; Romance Was Born’s Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett; Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Edwina McCann and Nicholas Huxley, head teacher of the Fashion Design Studio at Sydney TAFE and an eight-time nominee of the Laureate.

The inclusion of the latter speaks to the Laureate’s desire to include industry members whose work contributes to the development and promotion of the industry not only on a local but also a global stage. As such, the work of past winners Simon P Lock, founder of Australian Fashion Week in 1996, and former Vogue Australia editor-in-chief turned (the now retired) Vice President of Condé Nast Asia Pacific’s editorial division, Nancy Pilcher, will figure into the exhibition with as much consideration as has been given to the designers. “I love this award, because it’s not only about designers,” Jones tells GRAZIA. “The award is open to any person who has contributed to the Australian fashion industry, so you get people like fashion publishers and editors, or people like Simon who is a bit of a businessman and an entrepreneur and a great kind of catalyst for the industry. It’s open to people across the industry and it’s nice to celebrate people who are working behind-the-scenes.”

That means there will be slides – yes, there will be an archival slideshow – from Lock’s earliest fashion weeks, as well as his donations from the Australian Fashion Week archives, which will sit alongside pieces of Jenny Kee’s singular intarsia knitwear that celebrates cultural icons like the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, native flora and fauna as well as the works of the poet Dorothea Mackellar and Kee’s iconic black opal print (the same print that Karl Lagerfeld incorporated into his inaugural prêt-and-porter collection for CHANEL in 1983).

Similarly, one of the Yves Saint Laurent suits with which the Pittsburgh-born Pilcher is synonymous will square off with her favourite issues of the magazine she commenced working at in 1973 and left in 1997, enjoying equal prominence alongside Dinnigan’s signature lingerie dresses (the kind that saw her become the first Australian designer to be invited to show on-schedule at Paris Fashion Week) which have been drawn from the museum’s vast collection of over 30,000 items – some pieces in which date back to the 18th century.

The focus of Catalysts and Creators, however, falls squarely on the last decade of Australian fashion, while turning an inquisitive curatorial eye towards its future. One piece, an evening dress created by Toni Maticevski (pictured above) is a fascinating mediation on the theme of lace, and will represent the designer’s rapidly-expanding oeuvre alongside those of his contemporaries. “The colour palette of the ribbon is this incredibly subtle range of colours and he has made all the Rouleau into this elaborate lacy bodice. It’s exquisite close-up,” says Jones. “It’s a piece where you can see the hand of the designer but you can also [see Maticevski] experimenting and exploring what he can do with the materials, the colour palette.” It’s a garment that Jones sees as being indicative not only of the designer’s body of work, but also the exhibition and the industry it celebrates.

“[Catalysts and Creators] reflects that we have a diverse industry; that our designers have strong signatures and are increasingly successful on a global scale. On the one hand, it’s a relatively young industry compared to [Paris] and when you consider that our first fashion week was only in 1996 [and look to] people like Simon and Colette we can absolutely do that, and have that great confidence in the local industry. If you do have that confidence, we do have the talent and the will to do such amazing things in a relatively small industry. It just takes those people to push it through using their own talent, passion and belief and they’ve come together to take that industry global and do amazing things with their work.”

Catalysts and Creators: The 10th Australian Fashion Laureate Exhibition presented by Etihad Airways opens on November 10 and will exhibit until March 11 at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. You can find out more information here.

Tile and cover image: Courtesy of the Australian Fashion Laureate