There has been a gaping omission in Australian Fashion Week’s 25-year history—a lack of Indigenous representation on the official schedule. This year, Afterpay Australian Fashion Week set about correcting that lack, an overdue but welcome process that touchingly coincided with National Reconciliation Week.
First, the proceedings kicked off on Monday with a Welcome to Country ceremony, recognising, for the first time, that the week’s events were taking place on Gadigal land. And today, we saw the first ever showcase of Indigenous designers on the runway, with a powerful, poignant presentation by the First Nations Fashion + Design (FNFD) collective.
AARLI, Clair Helen, Grace Lillian Lee, Amber Days, Ngarru Miimi, Sown In Time, and Nungala Creative were the seven designers spotlighted on the runway, marking each designer’s AAFW debut. The runway presentation was powerful, and the emotion of the designers, models, and backstage production crew—all of whom were First Nations—was palpable.
Models—including the globally-recognised runway veteran Charlee Fraser, an ambassador for FNFD—walked a runway lined with native flowers, crafted by e SQUARED Design, and were accompanied by musical performances by William Barton, DRMNGNO, and Electric Fields (the latter performing a stirring rendition of Kev Carmody classic ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’). Backstage pictures showed the cast and crew brought to tears as the show finished, and the crowd stood for a standing ovation, a testament to the profound significance of this long-overdue milestone.
As for the clothes themselves, each designer presented beautifully crafted, highly-wearable collections, incorporating brilliant hand-dyed prints on silk jumpsuits, draped dresses, and intricately woven bodysuits. Each piece represented a piece of our nation’s fashion history so, fittingly, the clothes will be immortalised in a new exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Science, called Eucalyptusdom, which will begin next month.
Tomorrow, we’ll see another presentation of remarkable Indigenous talent with the Indigenous Fashion Projects runway showcase, where Indii, Kirrikin, Liandra Swim, MAARA Collective, Native Swimwear, and Ngali will debut. “As First Nations people, we are incredibly excited to be a part of this historic moment to not only see one, but two Indigenous runway shows at Australian fashion week,” Grace Lillian Lee, who showcased her designs today, and who is the co-founder of the FNFD, told The Guardian. “We are leaning in to amplify the conversation about the importance of inclusion, diversity, and self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the Australian fashion industry.”