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10 years of Melbourne Fashion Festival: who thrived, survived and died




Australia’s biggest fashion event then and now.

I have always felt an affinity with the Melbourne Fashion Festival. Not just because I went there every year for a decade, not because it was my first job as an intern, and not because it was the first big Melbourne event I attended. No. The event holds a special place in my heart because we are birthday twins. Every year when March 17th comes around I know there will be a dress show to help me celebrate.

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In 2011, the Melbourne Fashion Festival was 15 a year younger than me. Mom bought tickets for my birthday, and I spent hours choosing the right lipstick and deciding whether to go for a beret or my signature quiff (trick question: neither) .


I was very excited to see my favorite label,LIFE WITH THE BIRD. When the model Kate peckopened the podium, I could not have imagined that this brand would live in my wardrobe, but not in the boutiques. LIFEwithBird entered voluntary administration in 2018.

2011 has been a fantastic year for LIFEwithBIRD. We were literally flying, says co-founder Bridget Messner. We took part in 11 consecutive fashion shows from 2007 to the brand’s retirement in 2018.

The fashion industry can be fickle and it takes hard work to stay relevant by adapting to the times, Messner says. We’ve learned that staying true to your brand is essential. Never lose sight of who you are and keep a distinct narrative.

Many brands that shared the stage in 2011 have since left the main streets of Melbourne. Lisa Ho entered administration in 2012, Alannah Hill walked away from her eponymous brand in 2013, and Thurley fell victim to COVID pressures last year. While these labels no longer have a brick and mortar presence, their pieces have stood the test of time in my closet. Countless other designers have left the scene over the past decade, but if buyers continue to treasure or recycle their favorite pieces, these labels will never die.

This year, Messner plans to make waves with a new offering. I am starting a very exciting new business with my partner, she tells me. Self-Agency is a bespoke image and style company offering direct access to Bridgets’ industry and personal knowledge.

The winners

Over the years, the Festival has built a reputation for promoting emerging talent. The National Designer Award recognizes promising Australian designers in their training phase, and in 2011, Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Ty fromSong for the mutetook the title.

It was so important to us at the time, recalls Melvin. The award opened so many doors for us that we were invited to show for the first time in a Parisian showroom, won over international dealers and were offered a parade in Singapore.

When asked about the longevity of brands, Melvin says, I think staying out of the realm of trends has helped us in so many ways, as we have loyal customers who come to us season after season. Song for the Mute has used the digital revolution to its advantage, using the online world to develop its narrative roots. Despite our common international turmoil, never before have we been so connected as an industry through digital opportunities, says Melvin.

As the first men’s clothing brand to win the award and the youngest Song for the Mute was a trailblazer. He was also a pioneer. In 2021, men’s fashion has triumphed again, with the newCommastook the crown.

The long game

Where many have fallen, a handful of designers end the decade with appearances in the 2011 and 2021 programs. Names like Akira, Ellery, and Scanlan Theodore have proven to be adaptable and persistent.

I have to Google myself! Akira Isogawa laughs when I ask him about his first CFP. It would be easy oh my god 90 maybe? … For ten years, almost every year, I get involved. I feel privileged to be invited. He describes the Festival as vital. This is how important it is for me to show it in the city of culture and art.

According to Akira, the industry has neither gotten easier nor more difficult. Fashion has always been difficult. It’s very competitive. You might be best friends one season, but the next season they don’t want to know about you.

Echoing Song for the Mute, it seems that disregard for relevance is what helps you stay relevant. I tend to distance myself from trends, says Akira. All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t follow the trends in 2011, and thank goodness I am not following the trends of 2021. It means the work you see I’m happy to say it, will be timeless.


In 2011, the first line (or FROW, if you’re mean), was changing. Longtime magazine editors and print behemoths shared the limelight with emerging social starlets: it was the dawn of the influencer.

In 2011, I was almost at the peak of my blogging career, saysWhat would Karl do(WWKD) founder,Jess dempsey.

Jess launched her site in late 2009 to share her personal style. She remembers loathing the influencer label. I put a lot of hard work, authentic networking, creative and writing time into my blog and didn’t want this to be dismissed for maybe someone thinking I’m just taking selfies to earn my money. life.

Since then, Jess has gone from wearing crazy sequined skirts and OTT heels to becoming a fashion mom who embraces the influencer title. It really defines what I do now, genuinely influencing my audience to give them something to take away from me.

Again, it seems knowing your own brand is the key to relevance. The most important thing for me when it comes to being one of the GOs in the Australian blogging scene is to be authentic, says Jess.


Looking at photos from the archives of our teens and festivals, I see creativity, inspiration and hope (and some fashion faux pas). Over the past decade we have been tested, but most importantly, we have evolved.

My birthday is approaching this week and I think about the woman I want to be. As always, I turn to my little sister from the Festival for inspiration. Listening to her voices, it seems the key to success in fashion and in life is to go your own way. A toast to you, MFF, my sister and friend.

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