A sartorial adventure reveals the best of made-in-Australia fashion.
t’s a good thing I can barely swim. I’ve been in Australia for almost a week, and I’ve been so caught up in the surging local fashion scene that I’ve only had a moment to wade ankle-deep into the surf at Bondi Beach. Not that I’m disappointed: Instead of getting sand in my shoes and water in my ears, I’ve been spending the week exploring every corner of Sydney’s fashion scene.
One highlight is the Intersection, in the inner suburb of Paddington, an early Victorian neighbourhood turned style hub. The quiet feel of “Paddo” is uncharacteristic of a shopper’s paradise—it’s all quaint two-storey houses with filigree terraces. Most doors lead to local designers’ boutiques, and the best lunch is at a tucked-away courtyard café, the Bonython. But the sleepy vibe of the place only adds to the feeling of having stumbled upon a well-kept secret. Luckily for me, I have an expert guide— ELLE Australia’s style editor, Dannielle Cartisano—to help me navigate the local sights.
“Everything is very fluid at the moment,” Cartisano tells me as I work my way through flowing dresses printed with the local flora at Ginger & Smart, a 14-year-old label with its own range of candles. She’s right—as I weave in and out of stores along Oxford Street, Paddington’s main strip, I notice that the slightest breeze flutters the loose dresses and tunics, as if enchanting me
to try them on. Over at Bassike, purveyor of cool minimalist basics (the label’s name is a play on the word), sun-kissed surfer girls can find a range of relaxed organic-jersey tees made locally and slouchy denim sourced from Japan. “The Australian girl, she likes to be loose and comfortable, but she likes to show herself off. She’s totally confident,” says Cartisano.
With summer temperatures sometimes hitting the 40s and the ocean irresistibly near, it would be easy to assume that all Sydney style skews more hippie than haute, but the scene in Paddington tells a story that goes beyond those floaty floral shifts. There was the fashion manager at Ellery, Australia’s best-known fashion export and the label responsible for this season’s off-the-shoulder obsession, dressed in one of the label’s sculpted black crepe dresses paired with black socks and schoolboy bluchers. And down the street, at stylist turned designer Alice McCall’s storefront, the racks are filled with sartorial psychedelia: crop tops adorned with curlicues and jumpsuits printed with butternut squashes. And that’s just one block!
“The great thing about the Australian girl is that she’s happy to experiment,” says Bridget Yorston, who, along with Becky Cooper, is part of the design duo Bec & Bridge, a 13-year-old label with a staples-witha-twist mentality. “She doesn’t always get it right—the outfit can be a bit offbeat—but with the right attitude, it just works,” says Cooper.
Shannon Thomas, co- owner of boutique Désordre, is more blunt: “We’re pretty naked,” she says from behind the counter at her walk-in-wardrobe of a store located on a sleepy residential street a few minutes away from the Intersection. Thomas stocks the country’s buzziest names, like Christopher Esber, who balances tailoring with streetwear, hyper-minimal swimwear brand Matteau Swim and Bianca Spender, whose knack for draping unexpected silhouettes has made her a finalist for the International Woolmark Prize. “It’s about the contrast,” says Thomas. When I point to a pair of ornate Ellery flares, I’m told that the acceptably Aussie way to wear them is with my boyfriend’s grungy band tee. The local approach is anything but precious and predictable.
Which makes sense since Australia is backwards—but in the most fashion-forward way. When I visited in November, summer was just heating up; the country’s upside-down seasons have made designers and consumers experts in trans-seasonal dressing. Even Sydney’s Fashion Week has adapted—last year, it made the shift to showing resort collections, becoming the first Fashion Week in the world to do so. And the world is watching: Take Désordre’s Instagram account, which has a 56,000-strong following. The shop ships as far away as Canada and Tanzania. Just putting on these Aussie clothes instantly gives you a carefree attitude. What could be a better escape than that? n
An Alice McCall store; a look from Ginger & Smart (right); a Bassike shop (below)