Australian fashion has long been the little sister to European fashion, desperately trying to keep up with its older and more established sibling. But over the last decade, Australiana has blossomed.
As a colonised country, Australia was initially content to follow the leader, its occupants happy to wait on letters and clothing sent from ‘home’ — the mother country. But given the exposure to a vastly different climate and unique cultural influences, it was inevitable that this would change.
Australia’s climate and relative isolation have been key factors in shaping our aesthetic. Away from the watchful eye of society, we peeled away the layers of fashionable European clothing. This style of dress is not suited to the warmer climate and settlers who could not afford the luxury of hired help quickly shed impractical garments.
Gradually, settlers from different cultural backgrounds began to arrive too, bringing their own traditional clothing that added to a melting pot of style.
This search for a national symbolic identity, as expressed in clothing and textiles, has been documented throughout Australia’s history.
The use of local fauna and flora has been associated with patriotism since the early colonial period, while the diversity of Australian wildlife has become a key marker of ‘place’. These themes and wildlife motifs were most flamboyantly embraced in the latter half of the 20th century.
Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson took a brash and unashamedly enthusiastic approach in their expression of love for the Australian landscape through the use of colour and native fauna and flora motifs. The subtlety of the early 20th century natural themes had been discarded with vigour and gave way to the kaleidoscope of colour, texture and pattern we have come to associate with Australiana.
Soon after in the 1970s, Gough Whitlam’s government came to power. Whitlam injected money and resources into cultural programs designed to promote the branding of Australian cultural identity, both domestically and internationally. The next two decades saw numerous Australiana trade shows globally and an influx of cheap ‘g’day mate’ t-shirts. Perhaps a mark of how far Australia had come, this period of kitsch Auscore knick-knacks coincided with the bicentenary of European settlement in 1988.
As with all trends good and bad, Australiana as we knew it peaked with an oversaturated market. And as the 1990s rolled around, gumnuts gave way to grunge.
The trend of Australiana may have gone out of fashion, but the beauty of the Australian landscape and its fauna and flora has continued to influence creatives through the 1990s and early 2000s.
In a recent interview, fashion academic Alice Payne explained the seemly quintessential Australian design element of colour.
“We’re spoilt here in Australia with bright light and clear skies,” she said.
“Growing up in this environment, our designers have a natural affinity for colour.”
Notably, Australian design labels Easton Pearson and Romance Was Born have continued to kep the vibrant aesthetic alive in their own way.
Easton Pearson designers Lydia Pearson and Pamela Easton established their label in 1989, and their brand’s aesthetic has become synonymous with Queensland fashion and lifestyle. The bright sun-drenched colours and detailed motifs play a huge role in differentiating them from the crowd, which Pearson says is imperative in the competitive fashion industry.
“It’s easy to be anonymous,” she told QWeekend.
“These days you have to have a point of view … because it’s not just about the clothes you make, it’s about the entire aesthetic surrounding it.”
Romance Was Born was established in 2005 by design duo Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales, who both grew up on the outskirts of regional towns before making the move to Sydney to study fashion. After ten years of creating collections, their bold designs and brave Australian references have remained part of their brand’s visual identity.
At the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival 2015, Romance Was Born presented Bush Magic — a collection inspired by a plethora of Australian icons, including inspiration from the whimsy of May Gibb’s Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie and the exuberance of Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson’s past collections.
“The mysticism of the bush and having an appreciation of Australian wildlife … that has really stuck with us,” Sales told The Herald Sun.
That love of the bush has now become a common theme among several contemporary Australian designers and labels.
“Australian natives [flora and fauna] will always be referenced in Australian collections,” said Vanishing Elephant’s production assistant Linda Nguyen, who explained that the label is currently working on a waratah print for high winter 2016.
“There is so much beauty around us that it’s difficult to not be inspired by it.
“[Vanishing Elephant] has a very Australian fashion aesthetic. I believe it’s part of our core values to identify ourselves as Australian — that is, a laid back, versatile and functionality in our clothing — relaxed in the way we interact with our customers.”
Fashion in Australia is alive and well. Australians and the world have had a chequered interest in Australiania and its eclectic heritage and iconic motifs. But with an unabashed passion for Australia’s natural beauty, it appears the world and Australian designers are once again focusing on what is unique to Australia and Australians.
It would seem we are standing on the precipice of the next wave of Australiana, if the saturation of Australiana themes in contemporary Australian fashion is any indication.
The spectrums of influence in designers’ collections, from subtle hints to full-blown kitsch, are as wide and varied as the people and landscape of this land.