Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens is a special place to locals. We seek out the place to escape the day-to-day grind; some of us religiously jog ‘The Tan’, while others have made it a summer tradition to attend the free Melbourne Symphony Orchestra concerts. This is why Geraldine Frater-Wyeth, director of Event Gallery – the production company who produce Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (formally LMFF), decided to use her fashion experience to help raise funds for the final stage of the gardens’ Water Strategy Project. For one night only, the gardens play host to The Royal Botanic Runway – an open-air fashion show featuring designs by Australian fashion heavyweights Martin Grant, Colette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa and Aurelio Costarella.

The idea came about in 2010 when David Shelmerdine, Sidney Myer’s grandson and director of The Myer Family Company, had been working on the Water Strategy Project. Shelmerdine serves on Event Gallery’s advisory board and he suggested to Frater-Wyeth that they hold a runway show at Guilfoyle’s Volcano. Built in 1876, the impressive bluestone reservoir sits at the highest point of the grounds and is the main water supply to the gardens. It lay idle for 60 years but was returned to its former glory in 2010 thanks to the project. With fantastic views of the city and a large boardwalk circling the volcano, it seemed the ideal setting for such an event. “He planted the seed —because [he knows] I love creating new events or projects,” Frater-Wyeth says.

Confident in her vision, and with a couple of years for it to grow, Frater-Wyeth wanted the event’s debut to have an impact – enlisting Australia’s biggest names in design to take part.“I was very set from the beginning of who I wanted involved in the runway,” she says. “There’s two ways we could have gone; I could of gone with the young up-and-coming, you know your Dion Lees, your Ellerys – that type of grouping – but I think because the garden is so old and established we wanted designers that are showing in New York and Paris, and have done that for quite some time.” Although busy with their international schedules, the four designers were happy to come on board for the cause – Frater-Wyeth is particularly grateful Collette Dinnigan is taking part, considering the recent news that she is ending her label.

The hope is that The Royal Botanic Runway will bring in a diverse crowd: a younger audience who enjoy fashion but might not be as familiar with the conservation efforts of the gardens; and an older, more affluent crowd that are passionate about the gardens and really want to get behind the cause. “Robert Doyle was very excited by the event, he loved that it celebrated the iconic Melbourne gardens,” says Frater-Wyeth, adding that the Lord Mayor is particularly excited that those who are unable to attend the fashion show can watch it screened live at Federation Square. After the show, depending on which ticket you purchase (there are three tiers), there will be a screening at Moonlight Cinema, cocktails at The Botanical for VIP, while those with premium tickets will include dinner in the gardens by Shannon Bennett.

Frater-Wyeth says that one of the nicest things about putting on a fashion show like this is that the vision is governed by the gardens, and while each designer has a signature style, the show is really about coming together to celebrate nature. “So many people have donated their time to make it happen,” she says. “I think everyone just feels happy when they think about the gardens. It’s a really beautiful project.” If all goes well, she hopes The Royal Botanic Runway will become an annual event. “I love Melbourne and I wanted to create something that we could do every year as a fundraiser for the gardens.”

The Royal Botanic Runway takes place January 30. Gates open at 4pm for a 5:30pm start. Tickets vary from general admission, to reserved runway seating with dinner packages available. For further information visit royalbotanicrunway.com.

royalbotanicrunway.com