Rosemount Australian Fashion Week (RAFW) comes but once a year, bringing with it both a storm of publicity and the usual accusations of the unoriginality of Australian designers. And while for many designers the European runways can provide more than a little inspiration, there are local lights leading the way, pursuing their own aesthetic and producing uniquely Australian clothes.

Resident party people Romance Was Born unofficially started the week off with a bang at their off-schedule show. For their collection The Oracle, designers Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales were inspired by The Never Ending Story and the decadent 1920s. Detailed designs were encrusted with pearls, layered lace on lace and topped off with elaborate braided hair. Digital prints by artist Nell were in the mix, but it was the duo’s ability to indulge their theatricality with clearly more commercial pieces that showed their growth.

Melbourne’s Yeojin Bae has been showcasing her impeccable tailoring under her namesake label for years, but this year marked her runway debut. Bae showed a clean, precisely cut collection, appropriately named Premiere. Lingerie-inspired looks clung to the body, with deep Vs and thigh-high splits playing up the sexy silhouette in shades from dusky pink to a show-closing deep red. Pin-tucked detailing and a floral motif helped lift the clothes even higher. It clearly pays to wait.

Local cool girls are known to lose their composure over Jade Sarita Arnott’s designers for Melbourne label Arnsdorf and for Spring 2011 the laidback elegance was again apparent. The all-white opening looks of effortless shirts, skirts and dresses morphed into lust-worthy pistachio green and vivid pink and through to a series of easy, chic black looks. The three sisters that make up Manning Cartell showed a similarly easy collection, infused with a tribal influence and the label’s singular way with print.

A collective sigh of relief was apparent as boy wonder Dion Lee backed up last year’s critically acclaimed collection with another that managed to move forward his unmistakable aesthetic. His Composure show focused heavily on playing with fabric and texture, but the Lee signatures of tailoring, geometrics and considered use of colour were all present.

But if anything, RAFW 2011 was all about the comeback, as a number of designers returned to Sydney after years showing elsewhere or not at all. Sydney duo Lover celebrated their 10th anniversary, and their return to RAFW after five years, with a knockout show evoking past successes and future directions. Lace, a Lover signature, was certainly present but overall the label seems to be celebrating its coming of age by growing up. Louche 70s-style suiting, shirt dresses and beautifully draped cocktail numbers propelled Lover forward.

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But it seems the best was left for last as Melbourne legend Toni Maticevski skipped New York to show in Sydney for the first time in half a decade. Maticevski has a knack for making clothes women not only swoon over but want to wear and he has in no way lost his touch. It was all about the dress, in its every incarnation – printed, one-shouldered, short, long and draped, draped, draped. Feathers were everywhere and the evening looks made us wish we had a red carpet to walk down.