Installation view of <em>Fashion Now</em> on display as part of the <em>Melbourne Now</em> exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne from 24 March – 20 August 2023. Image: Sean Fennessy<br/>

Fashion Now

Free entry

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Fed Square
Level 3

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During the pandemic everyone wore tracksuits. We were stuck at home. There was nowhere to go. No need to get dressed. Afterwards, journalists asked, ‘Will there be a return to glamour?’ ‘I expect to see lots of colour’, some answered. ‘Self-expression, cultural expression and a continued desire to be comfortable will be central.’1

Like no other medium, fashion expresses how we feel about ourselves and the times we live in. Accepting this, Fashion Now presents the work of eighteen independent Melbourne designers as a marker of both contemporary life and a snapshot of the changing values and new directions underpinning local fashion practice in 2023. Featuring a range of practitioners, from emerging to long established, the display highlights a diversity of aesthetics, politics, design philosophies, design methodologies, energy and talent. It reveals individual signatures, united by a collective vernacular.

Ten years on from the first Melbourne Now exhibition, there is a discernible remit to design more consciously, to make locally, to consume and produce less. For all artists, self and societal awareness now underpins approaches to material and forms. Design is less separable from issues critical to our time: diversity and inclusivity, community, sustainability and ethical practice. We question why and how things are made as much as we question what they look like.

Within this changed economy, models of studio-based practice remain a hallmark of Melbourne’s independent fashion scene. It is a decentralised industry: designers work, and sometimes sell, from rented offices, home workrooms or converted shipping containers across the city grid and surrounding suburbs. Approaches vary, taking in the bespoke, luxury ready-to-wear, knitwear, streetwear, sportswear, social enterprise and couture.

Some designers embrace the traditions associated with couture and Savile Row, working at the level of the custom-made, producing striking bespoke garments to order for individual clients. Their work foregrounds the value of technique and materials, cemented in the fundamentals of tailoring and dressmaking: cut and drape, structure and silhouette. Other designers produce small-run collections that interrogate and deconstruct these traditions to bring complexity to conversations around gender, age and body type.

These slow fashion practices challenge perceptions about Australian design and counter the environmental and social costs associated with fast fashion – a concern shared by all designers. Equally visible are the strategies of upcycling: the use of dead stock, vintage fabrics and reconstituted textile waste, with circularity, non-seasonal production and fibre-tracing also sitting behind the production of many collections. Fashion, here, is also a platform for social enterprise, climate justice advocacy and supporting youth affected by homelessness and hardship.

On a surface level, many of the works are distinguished by an emphasis on original textile production, specifically graphic prints. Often the preserve of street and ready-to-wear labels, examples here span collaborations with Indigenous artists, hand-drawn illustrations and psychedelic photo-collages, or incorporate new technologies such as augmented reality. Several works use artisanal cottons specific to East Africa or incorporate analogue and digital versions of Somali weavings executed in Australia. Inherently personal, these textiles and this rich printed imagery act as a quiet form of activism, signalling the importance of Country, heritage and culture, as well as queer agency, nature and ecology.

The designers in Fashion Now exhibit resourcefulness and creativity at a moment when the global fashion industry is calling for change. While still rooted in codes of dress familiar to Australian sensibilities, the diversity of voices presented here celebrates a new form of fashion consciousness.

Danielle Whitfield, Curator, Fashion and Textiles, NGV

1 From mid-2021 endless articles about pandemic and post-pandemic fashion circulated. The lines quoted here appear in Elena Sheppard, ‘Post-Covid, office wear and other clothing get a rethink as we all try to remember how to dress’, 18 July 2021, Think,, accessed 14 Oct. 2022.