An interesting part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion week is Project NextGen, a runway show created to showcase, mentor and support emerging talent. After designers from around the country enter the competition, a panel of fashion editors, directors and buyers selects a final six. The winners receive a year’s mentorship from a St George Bank business adviser and a place in the esteemed NextGen runway show. The designers have only a few months to prepare, and naturally the show always provides hits and misses. It’s one aspect of fashion week that is always genuinely full of surprises and has previously showcased sought-after brands such as Kate Sylvester, Akira and Gorman.
The labels selected for Project NextGen this year included Monster Alphabets from Perth, and Holystone and Jason Hewitt from Melbourne. Three Sydney-based designers also made the cut; we asked them to share their experience with us.
Broadsheet: Can you tell us about your involvement with Project NextGen?
Merryn Kelly: It was brilliant, we worked closely with our St George Bank mentors and the team at IMG [talent management] in the lead-up to the show; it was so rewarding before we had even hit the runway.
With greater market exposure and reach to new customers, it proved an invaluable experience. We feel like we made the most of the buyer and press opportunities MBFWA created for us to strengthen our place in the Australian fashion landscape and further our international reach.
BS: How did you prepare in the lead-up?
MK: We had about 60 pieces in the collection, so there was a lot of preparation to ensure that every style was perfect and on time, ready to sell afterwards.
And it wasn’t just the clothes, we sourced accessories and shoes that needed to tie back into our story. The show adds so many more moving parts to the mix so making sure they were all well aligned was the number-one priority.
BS: What do you think sets your designs apart?
MK: The Third Form design principles, quality fabrication and twist on the modern wardrobe have set us apart. Considered design that isn’t overdone, emphasised with beautiful textured fabrications and quality finishes that elevate the wearer. We try to design so garments translate from day to night, giving the wearer confidence and longevity from our pieces.
BS: Can you describe your initial reaction when you found out you had been selected for Project NextGen?
Roni Cross: My initial reaction was disbelief. I was in utter shock reading the congratulatory email. It wasn’t until three days later, when the press release was released, that winning the award became a reality. I then began to feel extremely excited.
BS: What were you doing in the lead-up to the show?
RC: Due to the timeline of the competition entry, I designed the entire collection for the runway back in December 2015. I handmade all patterns and sampled the collection, before I flew to China and India where I assisted in the development of the pre-production samples.
BS: What did you expect to encounter at MBFWA this year?
RC: Lots of hair-pulls. But for every hair-pull, smiles and a million good vibes.
BS: How did you feel about creating a show with Project NextGen?
Anna Quan: A mix of humility and relief. Relief, because there were quite a few hoops to jump through, from the initial application process, to further written submissions and then creating looks and being interviewed by a panel of the industry’s top players. All the designers that had made it to the final round of selection had worked really hard and busted their chops over Christmas and New Year’s to provide a mini presentation for the judges. Though finally getting to that stage and being selected by the likes of Edwina McCann from Vogue and Kellie Hush from Harper’s Bazaar was a huge honour.
BS: What excites you about the design process?
AQ: The tiny details. I love creating a shape that at first glance looks ordinary, but when you come a little closer, the texture is interesting or there is a secret pocketing detail or lovely trim. I love to elevate the everyday and that’s a big part of how I think when I design.