The business of fashion in Melbourne
MELBOURNE, Australia – We pass tall models waiting by the water in Melbourne’s Docklands. One strikes a pose as a camera flashes. We walk inside the tent, and someone hands me a glass of white wine. You can feel the pounding music, punctuated by laughter and the clink of glasses.
Melbourne’s annual Fashion Week, ongoing for the last 18 years, is in full swing. Last year, 380,000 people attended its 149 events and created AUD$63.5 million (US$58.6 million) of audited media coverage.
This year’s theme: “See. Feel. React.”
We’re in the VIP tent while a line forms outside the Central Pier, fashionably dressed people waiting to get a seat by Runway 4. This frenzy of activity is exactly what Melbourne, the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, cultivates. Events like this help drive its economic plan and build its brand.
In 2013, for the 3rd year in a row, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Melbourne the most livable city in the world, with perfect scores in healthcare, education and infrastructure.
That infrastructure helped bring in 1.9 million international visitors to Victoria last year, an increase of 5.3%. Tourism is one of its main revenue drivers, bringing in about AUD$1.2 billion (US$1.1 billion) last year and employing 22,000 people.
“We’re a good tourism investment destination because we have a strong calendar of major events and festivals,” says Bill Renehan, in charge of investment for Tourism Victoria, the group that markets Melbourne to domestic and international tourists.
That’s exactly the role of the Melbourne Fashion Festival - a joint effort by both public and private sectors. For the first time, Virgin Australia is its naming rights sponsor, taking over from L’Oreal. Festival #VAMFF spreads that proudly through social media. Organizers say last year, the twitter hashtag was used in more than 10.5 million conversations by the 2nd day of the week-long festival.
A smaller sponsor is the city council of Melbourne, which is focused on a retail strategy to help participants do business.
This year’s program promises to be the best “as fashion, beauty, business and creativity collide to showcase what is sure to inspire you to shop.”
Shopping, says Festival CEO Graeme Lewsey, is exactly what this annual event is about, and Melbourne is its perfect setting.
“Melbourne is well-known as a fashion capital,” says Lewsey. “Melbourne has, without a doubt, the largest appetite for creativity and culture in Australia."
Unlike trade fashion shows which preview designers’ creations and can make fashion intimidating, here, everything you see, you can buy.
“This is the world’s biggest consumer fashion event,” Lewsey says with a flourish of his arm. “It’s the energy and the creativity that comes together from the industry - directly in front of the consumer.”
Which is very good for business.
“We want to turn footfall into sales,” Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle told the Australian Financial Review. “We want to get people into retail shops and connect purchasers to those items they see on the runway. And we’re bucking the online trend – 92% of purchases are made in person from the event.”
The idea, say organizers, is to bring the quality of a New York or Paris fashion show which showcases clothes BEFORE they arrive in stores. In the shows in Melbourne, the clothes are IN the stores – ready for you to buy and wear.
“It’s immediately accessible,” adds Lewsey, who says he worked fashion shows all around the world. “Fashion can be intimidating, and the fashion industry needs to be premium. We try to create that gap somewhere in between. The fashion show is as good as or better than what you’ll see in New York, London or Milan.”
Except this one spotlights homegrown Australian designers.
Like globally-recognized Camilla Franks, who celebrated a decade in the business with a “grand showcase.” The Sydney-based designer has an e-boutique that grew 100% in the last 6 months after a site overhaul.
She says the festival is part of her business strategy because “you can see the result straightaway.”
More than fashion
Franks is known for extravagant shows, and this one didn’t disappoint. She had 60 different looks with models walking the runway to an original composition performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Watching from the front row: Hollywood actress Eva Longaria.
On an aside: Franks’ star model Georgia May Jagger landed in Australia to find out her father Mick’s long-term partner L’Wrenn Scott committed suicide. Jagger decided to return to New York and was replaced on the runway by David Jones Youth Ambassador Montana Cox.
After drinks in the VIP tent, we are ushered to our seats by Runway 4, ready to watch Elle Australia present 7 designers, including Bianca Spender, Ginger & Smart and Kahlo.
“Elle Australia is a fresh and useful take on a fashion magazine - a luxury title you can genuinely shop (and dress) from, famous for making the low look high and the high look cool,” Justin Cullen, editor-in-chief of Elle Australia, describes the program, echoing Lewsey’s theme. “It’s features and beauty stories are relevant to my life and don’t underestimate my intelligence.”
The lights dim. The panels slide open, and the music begins. Searing light spotlights the runway. As models walk the runway, you can click on interactive images on the festival website to discover, share and buy what you see.
The increase in sales, says one of the designers, more than justifies the cost of mounting the show.
Lewsey says about 1,500 consumers attend each show, and based on last year’s polls, they spent more than AUD$1,000 (US$922.92) each on fashion and accessories – either to wear to the show or to buy what they see on the runway.
The show lasts between 20 to 30 minutes, and when it ends, I walk out to a brilliant sunset by the water. I could hear the music from a yacht docked on the harbor, full of well-dressed party-goers having sunset drinks.
Melbourne’s colors are stunning.
We walk past a long line of people waiting to get inside the L’Oreal tent – the closest to the entrance, where make-up experts seem to be doing on-the-spot makeovers and giving away product samples.
As we cross the street, I look back at people taking pictures by the giant wall-sized billboards of the festival. It's interesting to see the activity and understand how it fits into the city's master plan. I look down at the program in my hand and smile at its promise: “Be prepared to be tantalized, seduced, and entertained. This is fashion, and so much more.” - Rappler.com