With bushy, brushed brows and her hair sitting pretty (blow-dried and centre parted) 19-year-old Courtney Mitchell looked every bit the Maticevski woman. For the second year running she took to the runway for the Melbourne-born designer at MBFWA, something she describes as “an honour”. Striding forward with lightly stained lips and steely eyes, the Priscillas model was an indomitable muse: a fleeting, fluid vision in a high-necked white gown.
After the show, Mitchell was swallowed up by the predictable madness backstage. Volunteers, clad in black T-shirts, scurried forward and unzipped dresses. Models clamoured around Toni Maticevski for a quick photograph, or posed serenely with orchids (care of florist Doctor Cooper) from the final walk-through in their mouths. Hair was ruffled, shoelaces tied, and Maticevski’s collection of clean, wearable ball gowns were fixed to hangers. As Mitchell rushed to get changed, we rescheduled our interview for the hair and make-up room before her next show.
We spoke again a few minutes later, our conversation accompanied by the fuzzy white noise of a hair dryer and her snap-lock bags of snacks. It was quickly apparent that the teen felt in her element: quietly confident amid the sometimes-chaotic atmosphere at Carriageworks. Backstage, she says, in the moments just before the runway lights flicker on and each girl is ushered forward, there is an intense, palpable energy. “It’s a rush,” says Mitchell. “There’s a funny silence among everyone when the show begins. It’s thrilling. Everyone’s anticipating the magic that’s about to happen … [When I walk out] there’s the adrenalin, and then there’s an aura of peace and excitement that comes over me.”
The walk itself is of the utmost importance – a controlled pace and posture are vital, as is embodying the collection’s mood. It’s a performance, a repeated technique that only gets better with critical self-assessment and practice. Through the shows she walked this year at Carriageworks, Mitchell focused on three things: looking at the camera, keeping her chin down and swinging her hips. She laughs at the last one – perhaps a perpetual habit.
Though booked for several shows last minute – including Ellery and an Australian Indigenous designers’ runway – Mitchell insists her schedule (with all shows on-site) produced minimal fuss. “I only had one rush from a show to the next. They wait for you though, and it’s totally doable. There’s no stress.” In two weeks she heads to Japan for two months, and then in September to New York for the spring shows. She’s never been to the Big Apple; never witnessed the glittering metropolis at night, but it’s time to tick some things off her to-do list, and the opportunity to work while travelling has proven too tempting. In New York, Mitchell will most likely live in a ‘model apartment’ – shared accommodation typically organised by her agent overseas. When asked if she’s nervous about leaving for an extended period, Mitchell’s response is frank: “I’m ready.”
The last time we saw the strawberry-haired Mitchell was on Thursday’s Aje presentation, where a billowing tent housed clusters of khaki furniture, candles and potted plants, with a throng of chic, safari girls perched elegantly around the set; like living sculptures. I found Mitchell staring nonchalantly into the middle distance, clad again in all white – this time a heavily embellished, floor-length number. Along with the other models, she acted unaware of her observers. Guests mingled and laughed, satisfied with their champagne flutes and canapés. As I turned to leave, Mitchell caught my eye and for a split second returned my gaze with a conspiratorial wink.