Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival spreads out beyond its Docklands base and into the cultural fabric of the city in a way that few other Australian fashion festivals can manage.

That’s because it doesn’t just rest on its runway shows: it has, over the years, developed a full program of events that includes off-site fashion exhibitions, film screenings, business seminars and capsule showcases of indigenous design and sustainable fashion.

Unlike Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, which predicts what we’ll see in stores six months later, VAMFF is a retail event; what you see on the runway today you can buy tomorrow. This year, you can shop the runway and watch shows streamed live on the VAMFF website for the first time.

Some of Australia’s best-known designers will show across seven Premium Runway shows at Central Pier Docklands from March 16 to March 20. For the first time at VAMFF, New York-based label TOME (comprising Sydney expats Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin) will feature at Premium Runway 1 on March 16 alongside Bassike, Camilla and Marc, Dion Lee, Scanlan Theodore and Être Cécile. TOME shows at New York Fashion Week and is internationally known for its cool, elegant downtown style.

Another international name to look out for is London-based Australian designer Martin Grant. He will show alongside Alex Perry, Carla Zampatti, Christopher Esber and Yeojin Bae on March 18.

While VAMFF’s catwalks are usually dominated by group shows, this year two stand-out Australian labels will be given solo honours. Josh Goot will feature at The Grand Showcase on March 19 (earlier this month the designer unfortunately announced his label will go into voluntary administration), while riot of colour Romance Was Born will close proceedings at the National Gallery of Victoria on March 22.

This year’s cultural program is diverse, featuring a mix of emerging and independent design work and some legendary names in the Australian industry. In the latter category is an archival exhibition of ’70s and ’80s fashion icon Jenny Kee’s designs at Pieces of Eight Gallery (on now, closes March 28); while Mambo lovers can get their fix at the National Gallery of Victoria’s retrospective exhibition Mambo: 30 Years of Shelf-Indulgence (closes February 22).

Also at the NGV is Romance Was Born’s Express Yourself: Romance Was Born for Kids, a typically quirky fantasy installation by designers Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett. It’s already been an enormous hit over the summer, where it showed alongside Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, and has enchanted both kids and kids-at-heart.

Other Highlights

Business Events Series
The fashion industry’s business practices are constantly changing with the rise of social-media marketing and e-commerce. Three separate events will give industry practitioners an insight into the business of fashion from industry leaders.

Guest speakers include Matchesfashion.com founder Ruth Chapman; Global Levi’s president James Curleigh; Preen designers Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi; e-commerce developer Martin Newman; creative director Yasmin Sewell and fashion blogger Margaret Zhang. For program details click here.

Business Seminar, March 17

Marketing Breakfast, March 18

Fashion Industry Forums, March 18

Fashion Films Series
Various venues around Melbourne will screen fashion-themed films, including ACMI’s Fashion on Film season. Highlights include Olivier Nicklaus’ Pop Models (Les Mannequins, corps de la mode), a survey of the history of fashion modelling; and The Balmain Style, which documents the rise of 25-year-old creative director Olivier Rousteing. For program information and tickets click here.

Fashion Writing Series
A new initiative, the Fashion Writing Series explores the role of fashion journalism in the new media climate. Some of Australia’s best-known fashion writers, including Janice Breen Burns and Mitchell Oakley-Smith will discuss the future of considered fashion critique in an Instagram-obsessed world.

VAMFF will run from March 14 to March 22, 2015. For program information and tickets, visit vamff.com.au

Head here for our full VAMFF 2015 runway coverage.