In 1983, the Fashion Design Council burst on to the Melbourne scene like a Liverpool kiss to the mainstream fashion industry. Inspired by punk's DIY aesthetic and armed with an audaciously grandiose title, an earnest manifesto and a grant from the Victorian government, FDC founders Robert Buckingham, Kate Durham and Robert Pearce were determined to showcase the burgeoning Melbourne design scene in all its outrageous glory.
"People resented hearing about Karl Lagerfeld," says Durham. "Our movement was against the mainstream and the way Australians and magazines like Vogue treated Australian designers."
Over its 10-year lifespan, the FDC launched such emerging designers as Jenny Bannister, Christopher Graf and Martin Grant. But what was perhaps most exciting was the FDC's ecumenical approach. Architects, filmmakers, artists and musicians all partied together at runway shows held in nightclubs.
"It was an inventive time when people came together and made people notice fashion," says Durham.
Among the creative congregation, Durham remembers artist Rosslynd Piggott, who constructed dresses of strange boats with children in them and filmmaker Philip Brophy, who used "naff" Butterick dress patterns. Elsewhere, an engineer made a pop-riveted ball dress out of sheet metal. The crossover between music, art, graphic design and film extended to architects such as Biltmoderne (an early incarnation of celebrated architects Wood Marsh) who designed the FDC's favourite runway and watering hole, Inflation nightclub.
"Clothing was confronting," says Durham. "It was brash and tribe-oriented. It was quite good if you weren't good-looking. People liked the idea that this or that clothing style was going to win you friends."
Today, however, even Karl Lagerfeld has a punk collection. To complicate matters, "fast fashion" appropriates the avant-garde at impossibly low prices. The digital era too has caused the fashion world to splinter and bifurcate. What's a young contemporary designer to do?
"The physical collective is no longer that important," says Robyn Healy, co-curator of the exhibition High Risk Dressing/Critical Fashion, which uses the FDC as a lens to view the current fashion landscape. "These are designers who are highly networked through social media who put their work up on websites."
Fashion designers still use music, film and architecture, but in different ways. Where FDC members might document its runway shows with video, studios such as Pageant use video as the runway show and post them online. Social media is perhaps the big disrupter. Where FDC designers might collaborate with architects, today it's webdesigners.
"Space has changed," says Healy. "Web designers might be the equivalent of the architect today. It's a different use of space."
As grandiose as the FDC, yet perhaps even more ambitious in scope, is contemporary designer Matthew Linde's online store *** gallery, Centre for Style. Like the FDC, it offers space for "artists who aren't at all designers per-se, but they're dealing with a borrowed language from fashion", Linde told i-D magazine.
"It's an extraordinary juggernaut across the world with a huge amount of Instagram followers," says co-curator Fleur Watson. "[Linde] has created a brand that uses social media in an interesting avant-garde way."
Yet unlike their often untrained FDC counterparts, these designers are perhaps the first generation of PhD designers, notes Watson. "Robert Pearce had a belief in culture changing the world. That's what these new designers are reflecting on in their research, their position in the fashion world and how do they change the way fashion works?"
While it's also true that new technologies offer exciting possibilities in embedded fabrics and experimentation with 3D printing, fast fashion has created certain expectations.
As Cassandra Wheat of the Chorus fashion label laments: "It's just hard for people to understand the complexity and the value that goes into production without being really exposed to it. They think they should have a T-shirt for cheaper than their sandwich."
During the course of the exhibition Chorus will produce its monthly collection from one of the newly designed spaces within the gallery. The exhibition's curators have commissioned three contemporary architects who, like its '80s counterparts, work across the arts, to interpret FDC-inspired spaces. Matthew Bird's Inflation-influenced bar acts as a meeting place for the exhibition's forums and discussions on the contemporary state of fashion. Sibling architects abstracts the retail space, while Wowowa's office design resembles a fishbowl. For Watson, the exposed shopfront/office has as much front as Myer's. Its architecture suggests the type of brazen confidence every generation of fashion design needs. Says Watson: "Fake it till you make it."Read more at:http://www.marieaustralia.com/cocktail-dresses | www.marieaustralia.com/formal-dresses-2017