To put it simply, the show was well-done in both curation and execution, but this one oversight has definitely soured the show for many (myself included).
One of these is not like the others.
When it comes to runway models and high fashion, we don’t always expect a lot of inclusivity in both the outfits and the models themselves. If I told you to name me some runway models off the top of your head, you’d probably think of Gigi Hadid, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Kate Moss… and the list goes on. The point is that while there is some inclusivity among these names, there’s often a lack of representation regarding ages, gender identities, body types and different cultures.
Inclusivity was at the core of the Melbourne Fashion Festival’s PayPal Pay in 4 Closing Runway show–or, at least, they intended it to be. Opening with a First Nations cultural song and dance performance by the Wurundjeri people, it’s safe to say that from the very start, they wanted to create a runway show that not only paid respect to the land, but was also inclusive of other cultures.
One outfit that really stood out to me.
The runway featured some of Australia’s leading designers, namely Paul McCann, Gary Bigeni, Ngali, Nagnata, JAM the Label, Iordanes Spyridon Gogos, and Jason Grech, all of whom showcased stereotype-breaking outfits on models coming from various cultures, ethnicities, age groups and body types. Showcasing androgynous and empowering streetwear from all walks of life brought a breath of fresh air to an industry known for its unrealistic beauty standards and lack of representation.
From the start, it’s evident that MFF was aiming for less is more in their closing runway. The runway is sparse of any decorations, save for some fractal lighting overhead that lit up the room during the show. It’s evident that MFF was trying to put the audiences’ attention solely on the models and the outfits they were wearing, instead of getting distracted by the things around them.
Some of the more avant-garde pieces from that night.
The diversity is also ever-present in the outfits shown that night as well. Instead of the usual avant-garde fashion pieces one might expect from a fashion runway show, they showcased a wide range of both sexy and more conservative outfits, all worn by models with different body types, backgrounds and ages. There were colourful sweaters, casual outfits, sportswear, and gowns, with, of course, some avant-garde pieces sprinkled in every now and then.
The music was also something that stood out to me. It had a steady beat, with changes to the melody with each different designer that went on the runway. The way each model sashayed alongside the rhythm of the music in person was truly a sight to behold, and one that will definitely stay in my mind for a long time to come. And yet, despite this step in the right direction, it wasn’t what lingered in my mind once the show ended.
Some of my favourite models showcasing less extravagant outfits.
If you were at the show or have been keeping up with the news lately, you’ll notice I’ve omitted one of the featured labels from this list: NOT A MANS DREAM. Despite my initial enjoyment of the runway show and the wide range of models walking that night, it has undoubtedly been overshadowed by the controversy following the event.
For the uninitiated, NOT A MANS DREAM and Melbourne Fashion Festival have come under fire after many noticed that their see-through garments had the Arabic script for “Allah” (lit. God) and “God walks with me” printed over models who were scantily clad while dressed in headpieces that looked suspiciously similar to a hijab. To say that this was majorly disrespectful would be an understatement.
The aforementioned controversial outfit.
Personally, while I acknowledge that the designers themselves are definitely to blame, I can’t help but wonder how the organisers of the Melbourne Fashion Festival let this go under their radar. I distinctly remember watching the show that night when my friend, Meena, turned to me saying, “Wow, I wonder what the Arabic script means,” to which I replied, “Yeah, I’m curious, too.”
If two random bystanders can take notice of the offensive design without even realising the offence it has, how does a whole team of organisers fail to fact-check the meaning behind an outfit meant for a runway aimed at being inclusive? I find it hard to believe that a designer label and fashion festival of this size overlooked the insensitive nature behind these designs before allowing them to be showcased at all.
What initially felt like a genuinely inclusive show just ended up feeling disingenuous, due to the lack of research, care and nuance you’d expect from a leading designer label and a fashion festival organisation. Of course, this is not to say that MFF didn’t try its very best to curate a runway show dedicated to diversity in both the models they showcased but also in the designers they featured on the night either. To put it simply, the show was well-done in both curation and execution, but this one oversight has definitely soured the show for many (myself included).
I’m shocked, disappointed and overall just at a loss for words. As someone from Malaysia, a country with many cultures and religions, not to mention a majority of Muslims living there, I’m honestly at a loss for words. So, here’s a message to end this with: Melbourne Fashion Festival and NOT A MANS DREAM. You've done your best, but next time: do better.