The concept of the pop-up is pretty run-of-the-mill these days. But back in 2007, when Kate Hannaford arrived home from Europe, the pop-up had yet to become the constant presence it is today. Witnessing the dynamism of the pop-up shop in cities like Amsterdam, Hannaford took the concept and made it her own with the first Penthouse Mouse event in a gutted restaurant on Market Lane (which later went on to become dumpling experts Hutong) for that year’s Spring Fashion Festival.

Five years, and as many venues later, Penthouse Mouse has become a staple of the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival calendar, with its inviting mix of shopping, partying, runway shows, photo shoots and, of course, drinking.

As the Company Director of Moth Design, Hannaford spends much of her year doing retail and interior design. Penthouse Mouse began in part out of a desire to work with a different type of client. “We work for a lot of commercial clients,” she says, “and we were wanting to work with some of the younger, emerging designers. Some of them were opening stores, but none of them really had any money to invest in paying a designer, so we wanted to make an event where we could work with them.”

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The Penthouse Mouse brief has expanded from emerging to designers to include independent, avant-garde and, most of all, interesting designers who don’t necessarily make it to the ultra-shiny LMFF runway shows in the Docklands.

That first year in Market Lane, there were two artists and 15 labels involved and, as Hannaford says, “it just looked like we’d designed a nice store for those labels.” As things got larger, so did the spaces, often infused with a sense of history or nostalgia. Two years ago, the old Royal Naval and Military Club in Coates Lane hosted the event, and the year before that, South Yarra’s disused Fun Factory played host

Now, however, with more than 65 artists and designers involved, Hannaford’s prerequisites for a space involve little less than a massive floor plan, “so we can have that luxury of nothingness you never get in retail.” This year, she’s definitely got more than a little nothingness, with a cavernous former chocolate factory on Kerr Street, Fitzroy. Hosting a retail concept, False Economy, during the event, Hannaford aims for a different kind of shopping experience. “We draw a couple of different audiences because people come to see art specifically and then stay to shop and vice versa. We end up having people stay for an average of about 45 minutes, just hanging about, having a beer, looking at clothes at shopping calmly with no one coming up chatting.”

Although shopping plays its part, fashion and art have always been at the core of Penthouse Mouse and this year is no exception. The Midmouse Runway is back after a brief hiatus last year, with an impressive stable of designers including Livia Arena, Above., Trimapee and Alistair Trung. The two runway shows offer labels who want to do something a little different a chance to go, as Hannaford puts it, “totally crazy”.

In particular, the consumer focus of LMFF means brands can speak directly to their customers. “Because with this festival, its stuff that’s in-store and for the public to buy, not buyers, the designers can go crazy and show what the brand is about.” She’s especially excited to see what new labels Di$count and Upper Left Arm bring to the catwalk. “For both of them it’s their first catwalk show. From what I’m hearing about their production requests, it’s going to be exciting, big and crazy.”

Hannaford also talks excitedly about this year’s art focus, where, for the first time, artists will be responding to a brief. Titled Mechanical Interference, she describes it as “about how machines interact with us everyday, right down to accessibility where people are expected to respond instantly to electronic communications.” In giving artists a brief, Hannaford says that the team “wanted to put more emphasis onto the artists…and really work with them to create site-specific works. We wanted to move on from previous years and try to make the Penthouse Mouse art show something important on the calendar.” She singles out performance artists Jami Boys and the neon signs of Kristen McIver for particular praise.

In many ways, Penthouse Mouse might be seen as a weeklong party. Anchored by a huge opening event, a live photo shoot mid-week and the Midmouse Runway to close things out, it’s easy to write off the event as fashion people simply having a good time. But this would be naïve.

For Hannaford, Penthouse Mouse is a way of showcasing the left-of-centre – those pushing fashion in directions others wouldn’t dare. “This year more than ever, I feel like Penthouse Mouse has actually departed a little from the aesthetic of the rest of the festival,” she says. “Because we’ve got such a list of designers involved, it’s an alternative something to go and see alongside the mainstream shows.”

Penthouse Mouse runs from March 2 to 9 at 221 Kerr Street, Fitzroy.