Melburnians have a well-documented love affair with black. It was almost becoming a cliché: Sydneysiders love sunny colour, Melbournites love the dark side. Last night VAMFF presented a selection of some of Australia’s most talented emerging and independent labels and it looks like the love affair with black isn’t just a Melbourne designer’s calling-card.

Strateas.Carlucci
Designed by Mario-Luca Carlucci and Peter Strateas, Strateas.Carlucci has emerged as a critic’s darling and industry favourite since winning last year’s Tiffany & Co. National Designer Award at VAMFF and going on to a strong showing at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia in Sydney. The aesthetic is dark, mysterious and gothic, with Rick Owens and Haider Ackermann unquestionable influences. Models came out with heavy black eyeliner under their eyes, wearing tailored long-line coats, cropped and sleeveless leather jackets, wrapped and draped dresses and liquid silk halter neck gowns in cream and white. The colour palette was restricted to black, white, grey and burgundy and the mood was – dare I say it? – very Melburnian.

In a word: Gothic.

Celeste Tesoriero
New designer Celeste Tesoriero already claims trip-hopper Grimes and style star Margaret Zhang as fans, but based on this showing, it was a little difficult to get a clear idea of what her brand represents. There was an eclectic mish-mash of ethnic references: furry Russian hats, chunky bangles, Indian bindis on the models’ foreheads. Stripped cropped tops and wide-legged pants were followed with shearling waistcoats, koala jumpers, houndstooth skirts. Each piece was individually interesting, but as a collection it felt strangely disjointed.

In a word: Confusing.

Elissa McGowan
Sydney designer Elissa McGowan is carving out a name for herself by creating simple, commercial, wearable clothes: a tailored burgundy suit, simple dresses with deep-V necklines, classic LBDs and covetable zippered black jackets. If Independence was meant to be about experimental design, then McGowan was an unexpected inclusion – not because her work is uninteresting, but because she seems to have a keen eye for classic wardrobe staples that will withstand the ebb and flow of ephemeral trends.

In a word: Commercial.

Salasai
Kirsha Whitcher, the former womenswear designer for popular streetwear brand Mooks, returned to her New Zealand homeland to launch Salasai in 2007. There was a lovely, preppy feel to this collection, which played around with certain androgynous elements (cropped black dungarees, collegiate sweaters, white button-down shirts) and turned them into something feminine and appealing. Salasai has become known for a unisex approach to design and some of the pieces on show last night could easily have been worn by both men and women.

In a word: Preppy.

Dress Up
RMIT graduate Stephanie Downey presented a sweet collection clearly inspired by the ingénue of French cinema of the ’60s: think Anna Karina, Chantal Goya or Jean Seberg. Models wore jauntily angled black berets; chunky brogues paired with socks; and simple sweaters paired with roomy three-quarter length skirts, checked jackets with cigarette pants and cropped high-waisters (yes, the high-waisted sailor pant is back, people!) A sweet collection that should appeal to the tribe of Jean-Luc Godard-loving fashion girls.

In a word: Jeune Fille.

Emma Mulholland
Sydney designer Emma Mulholland is undeniably one to watch. A Romance Was Born alumni, she has made a name for herself in recent years with her day-glo, rave-inspired streetwear that fuses elements of ’80s and ’90s party culture, kitsch Australiana and ironic nods to our contemporary obsession with retro. Her collection made a refreshing change from the tidal wave of black shown elsewhere in last night’s show: there were vibrant printed sweaters paired with pastel pink mini skirts, ’50s-style pink checked capri pants, nubby belted cardigans and matching furry pants, and atomic 1950s cats-eye sunglasses. A fun, colourful antidote to the darker designs of Strateas.Carlucci or Pageant (see below).

In a word: kitsch.

Pageant
Although Pageant has enjoyed a loyal underground following, winning this year’s Tiffany & Co Designer Award will certainly thrust the Victorian design duo of Amanda Cumming and Kate Reynolds into the spotlight as they now join an alumni that includes Strateas.Carlucci, Romance Was Born and Josh Goot. This collection had a sleek, almost fetishistic 1980s vibe: black, wet-look tops paired with wide-legged culottes, latex boots, racing gloves, interesting contrasts of black fabric and texture. It will be interesting to see how $10,000 cash, a trip to New York, invaluable media exposure and business mentoring will help steer this label into the future.

In a word: Sleek.

RUNWAY TAKEAWAYS

Expected: Strateas.Carlucci’s dark, Rick Owens-inflected looks.

Unexpected: Motorcycle helmets on the runway from Pageant.

Highlight: Amongst a sea of black, Emma Mulholland’s kooky aesthetic and colour-happy clothes stood out.

Overheard: ‘’Um…Isn’t the black eyeliner supposed to go above the eyes?” Strateus.Carlucci’s models work dark slashes of black eyeliner under their eyes.

Spotted: Australiana references on the runway – from Celeste Tesoriero’s koala sweater to Emma Mulholland’s “You Little Beauty” tops. The Jenny Kee influence is back!

Head here for our full VAMFF 2015 runway coverage.

vamff.com.au