Pandemic Isolation Has Reignited Australian Fashion’s Rebellious, Creative Streak

Though different social and economic forces were at play, the Covid lockdowns reminded many of the relative cultural isolation of Australia in the 1980s. Back then, a bold creative identity and pride developed as a prospering country found its voice on its own. Something similar is happening now. “Although social media exposes us to the rest of the world, the fact that geographically we live so far away means we need to be self-reliant, resourceful, and resilient; we do more with less,” said Leila Naja Hibri, CEO of the Australian Fashion Council (AFC).

Bassike creative director Deborah Sams says the pandemic gave her team the breathing space to foster closer relationships with makers and suppliers and to “ensure we are sourcing the finest fabrications and producing the highest quality garments.” Along with streamlining operations, she’s been considering what makes Bassike uniquely Australian. It followed that her resort ’23 presentation was an elegy to the Great Barrier Reef, borrowing its tropical colors.

The Bassike collection was was an elegy to he Great Barrier Reef

Photo: Courtesy of Bassike

Photo: Courtesy of Bassike

Underscoring this is the AFC’s launch this week of an official trademark for Australian fashion. Only labels satisfying certain criteria can carry it; those criteria include producing a portion locally and having a sensibility defined by “effortless style, raw nature, boundless optimism, and fearless innovation.”

The electric energy surrounding the overdue inclusion of First Nations creatives was evidence the introspection went deeper. The first ever all-Indigenous shows took place at fashion week last year and this time First Nations models were front at center at Indigenous and non-Indigenous shows. Elaine George, Vogue Australia’s first ever Aboriginal cover model, closed the final show and says the natural next step involves non-Indigenous designers pursuing equality. “It’s not about me just representing First Nation’s fashion design; it’s about any designer that is willing to make a change.”

“We see challenges and turn them into opportunities,” said the AFC’s Naja Hibri when asked what might define Australian fashion post-pandemic. “We are pioneers, mostly free from old-world rules and restrictions.” Done recognized something familiar bubbling up. “Bright, young, confident designers…This is like a second coming.”