What makes Australian fashion ‘’Australian”? And what makes it stand out on an international stage? Last night’s Premium Runway 3 at Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival went some way to answering these questions. Although the designers on show last night were at varying stages of their careers, there was a certain ease, simplicity, wearability and effortlessness to their designs. There’s nothing tricksy or fussy about these brands. They are minimal, but design-conscious.

Presented by Elle Australia

Bianca Spender

Although she learned the art of making evening-oriented, elegant clothes from her mother, industry legend Carla Zampatti, Bianca Spender has carved out her own niche in the Australian industry. Her collection – which included a lace blouse paired with a sexy patent leather pencil skirt; a claret-red silk tuxedo suit with a touch of YSL; and a blazer casually slung over a shoulder, paired with a crop top and cigarette pants – set the tone for the rest of the evening. With models sporting glossy red lipstick and sleek side-parted hair, it was all about nonchalant chic.

In a word: cocktails.

Life With Bird

Life With Bird does a kind of casual urban style that is immensely appealing. It has a slight urban/streetwear feel, but there are no flashy logos or fluoro colours. The palette is subdued – black, grey, blue – but the shapes are cool. Black leather jackets, sparkly metallic jackets, flat shoes, bomber jackets, long knit cardis over simple tank tops, shorts and sweaters: it sounds basic, but it works on the runway because so many of these pieces can make the transition from daytime coffee to night-time drinks.

In a word: basic-chic.

Ginger & Smart

Designed by Sydney-based sisters Genevieve and Alexandra Smart, Ginger & Smart has nailed that space in the Australian industry that has become so popular in recent years: the well-cut print dress with a body-conscious silhouette. Their work is sophisticated, commercial, wearable and refined. Last night the label did something interesting: it contrasted its signature tight silhouette with looser shapes. For every tight dress that came out, a loose, floaty dress followed. The final three outfits, all in a rich green, were especially beautiful.

In a word: sophisticated.


Khalo sits in a similar space to Life With Bird. It has picked up on the sporty trend, but has given it a ’90s twist. Backless zippered dresses, black micro-minis, black leather jackets and printed sweaters were paired with aviators that turned up the attitude a notch. The most outright sexy collection of the night, a glossy black PVC-coated skirt was a particular highlight.

In a word: ’90s.

Manning Cartell

Like Ginger & Smart, the Manning Cartell sisters manage to combine commercial appeal with interesting design details. The label’s models stepped onto the runway with tailored coats and jackets slung casually over one arm. Hi-tech hoodies were paired with flippy skater skirts and covetable wool capes in a beautiful dove grey; elsewhere the colour palette moved into orange, teal and camel territory.

In a word: chic.

Dion Lee Line II

Line II is Dion Lee’s ‘’diffusion’’ line, providing an entry-point for those not able to afford his main line. It retains the Dion Lee signatures, but simplifies them into cool, casual, daywear pieces that look basic on the surface but always include one interesting design detail: a pleat, an unexpected strap, a twisted neckline. The lines are clean and there is absolutely no clutter.

In a word: minimal.


Expected: The grown-up elegance of Bianca Spender, Manning Cartell and Ginger & Smart.

Unexpected: The show’s rather Star Wars-like finale, which saw models step onto a darkened runway brandishing fluorescent blue light sabers.

Highlight: The Face finalist Yaya Deng owning every single outfit she sported on the runway. A model of elegance and presence.

Overheard: “Is he front row? Why is he front row? How does he get to be in the front row?’’ (girl behind me in the third row).

Spotted: Floppy black felt hats are still everywhere – in the audience and sometimes on the runway.

Soundtrack: ’90s beats and upbeat girly: Soul II Soul, Neneh Cherry’s Buffalo Stance and a remix of Kylie Minogue’s Pleasure Principle.

Head here for our full VAMFF 2015 runway coverage.