12 April 2016

The Cultural Significant of the Runway

In March during VAMFF, there were a string of runways to appease the eyes of the fashion audience and of course, there were many outstanding runways and collections - some with a bigger visual impact than others. But it has been hard to soak it all up as the week is usually so hectic, I've come to the full realisation that VAMFF had hosted what is possibly one of the most important runways in Australian history: the Global Indigenous Runway. 

Colleen, Tighe Johnson, Jeanine Clarkin (Photographed by Marisha Dudek) 
This show was an hour long and presented as part of the offsite-venue runway series, which meant that it strayed away from the usual location full of flashing cameras and crazy crowds dressed to kill – this show was an opportunity to give Indigenous designers the chance to present their collections during fashion week. The runway encouraged the contracting and assistance of Indigenous models, who, with, very little to no formal training at all, took to the runway with an air of professionalism and immense beauty. It was supposedly so that many of the girls who were apart of the runway had never even worn a pair of heels before, so it was exciting to see such a revolutionary change in the Australian industry as well as an experience for these girls. 

Now this runway project isn’t new, it started in Melbourne as a small project back in 2012 to pave the way for young Indigenous individuals in Australia to develop their industry skills, whether it be as a designer or in marketing – and it's become such a global phenomenon that much interest and application for the runway extended internationally that anyone can only see it getting bigger.

Albertini Couture, Helen Oro, Jeanine Clarkin (Photographed by Marisha Dudek)
As well as Australian Indigenous designers, many Indigenous designers from Torres Strait Islanders, First Nations, Native Americans, New Zealanders and Pacific Nations (just to name a few), are heavily under-represented in the industry. This project allows them the opportunity to build confidence, empowerment and entrepreneurship possibilities. Through this participation, many Indigenous youth have been able to gain much understanding of the industry, while audiences have been given a mild lesson on the cultural importance and awareness of protecting, empowerment and appreciating the Indigenous Australian identity both on and off the runway.

But in saying that, as there is always an underlying double edged sword for anything that comes off too good, especially in the industry. While the idea that that more and more diversity is slowly being accepted and becoming a norm (especially with the ideals that ‘exotic’ is new, fresh, trendy), one really has to question the statement that ‘runways are seeing more ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, sizes and abilities than ever before.” While this is true of course, it seems to garner both upworthy praise, but also bring criticism of ‘diversity’ and ‘culture’ as a trend. While yes, the industry runways do present these runways and opportunities for under-represented creative, it also feels almost tokenistic – to tick off a box on a checklist that ‘yes, we did diversity, so now we can tick this off and go back to what we usually do without having to worry about criticism.’

With the shareability of this diverse opportunity, it starts to feel as if a(n Indigenous’) designer’s hard work and efforts are watered down to a trend that’s simply talked about, passed around and then forgotten. While there is the well-mannered intention of these projects and initiatives both locally and internationally to help promote variety and of course the importance of not leaving anyone out in such an extensive industry, one should note that this isn’t just a trend, but it’s a culture that shouldn’t be tossed around. Vogue editor and fashion icon AndrĂ© Leon Talley has stated that the fashion industry tends to have a blind spot for things like ethnic variety because it identifies itself as a haven for minorities of all kinds’ but it hasn’t made an effort to determine whether or not the identify actually holds up beyond that 15 minutes of fame.

Albertini Couture, Shona Tawhiao, Henare Creative (Photographed by Marisha Dudek)
To conclude though, I am fairly happy that I was able to be apart of the runway during VAMFF and I’m pleased to know that no one is being left out in the industry as it’s always claimed to be inclusive and open to all creative minds without restriction, however fashion has a long way to go before Fashion Week can represent everyone without the idea of it being just a trend.