The haze isn’t the only thing that’s got KL-ites a-buzzing lately. Say hello to two familiar faces in Melbourne’s thriving fashion scene.
IT was the hats that first stole the crowd’s attention. Fun and whimsical, these dreamspun confections took on various shapes, shades and material, from a bright pink floral derby to an ultra-feminine chimney pot chapeaux dressed in plumes of feathers. Their inventor, self-made milliner Kim Fletcher – not the great Philip Treacy as one would assume from these sensational creations – was a chipper blonde from Australia rather than a pale, celebrity-endorsed Irishman.
Fletcher is a Melbournian to be exact, and she was in town for a couple of days to promote Melbourne Style, a grand tourism event hosted by the Minister of Tourism and Major Events, Louise Asher, at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur. Accompanying them is one of the largest Australian trade mission to South East Asia – over 400 other delegates from the region of Victoria and 22 sensational headpieces great and small.
Eight of these were on temporary display at one of the booths while the other eight were paraded on top of models in a catwalk crawl curated by stylist Emily Ward, all with the aim to showcase the Australian city’s fashion and design credentials. The show, which also featured outfits designed by a host of talented Australians such as Tony Matichevski, From Britten, Livia Arena and Kuwaii among others, veered from the minimalist (linear silhouettes and monochromes) to the space age (Lucite accessories and avant-garde embellishments) to a flurry of ultra-feminine compositions (lace, ruffles and skirts galore).
But the schizophrenic nature of its fashion (and not to mention weather) is what makes Melbourne so special. Just ask Ward, whose favourite designer happens to be Melbourne-based Matichevski. “It’s easy to jump on the next big thing but Tony sticks to what he believes in,” she said. “He has a unique vision and is not wavered by trends. I really respect that.”
Then again, Melbournian designers are a highly creative bunch to start with, stated Ward.
“That’s because Australia is a relatively young country, and it’s not bound by 200 or 300 years of fashion history. This freedom allows designers to experiment and remain fresh in their style aesthetics,” she said.
Clad in a lovely palette of coral (Leonard Street cape coat) and cream (Lovel palazzo pants and Emmanuel Ungaro bustier), the raven-haired beauty took after her aunt Helen Figgins, who used to be a familiar face in the fashion industry having owned one of the first department stores in Australia. In addition to being a weekly contributor to The Age newspaper, she has styled the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival and other equally prestigious shows. Having appeared in The Sartorialist, Garance Dore and Vogue, Ward’s coveted position as one of Australia’s top stylist is pretty much guaranteed.
Fletcher’s immense talent, meanwhile, puts her on Ward’s hot list. Part of the milliner’s success can be attributed to her personality. “Having a warped sense of humour helps!” exclaimed Fletcher, who’s dressed in an outfit as eccentric as Ward’s is elegant: a summery yellow-green shift dress topped with a self-designed towering headpiece made from acetate and coils of straw cloth.
She continued: “I like to play with texture. I use a lot of materials that are not usually found in millinery, like wires and plastics. It’s the same with designers... the way they vary their prints and fabrics to make their clothes stand out.”
These days however, avant-garde styles are taking a backseat to classic pieces. “Conventional hats (ones with a brim and crown) are more popular thanks to the Royal Ascot. They’ve ramped up the dress code of late and a hat has to be at least four inches in diameter.”
Nevertheless, the shifting tastes of customers did bother Fletcher, who seem to be able to adjust her hat designs to make them commercial, but at the same time idiosyncratic. It was a wise stance coming from someone who happened to have stumbled upon the hat-making business. “I used to be an administrative manager at a large truck manufacturer in Melbourne, and it wasn’t until the birth of my daughter that I enrolled in a millinery course,” she says. “In a sense, it was the perfect way to combine my husband’s passion for horseracing with a new career.”
She began in earnest as a milliner in 1993, but it wasn’t until 2001 that her career really took off however. During a visit to Dubai for the Dubai World Cup, she was afforded an invitation to present her millinery collection at the Ritz Hotel in London. Today, she creates bespoke hats primarily for horse-racing enthusiasts, as well as the occasional celebrity. Even the late Luciano Pavarotti, whom Fletcher met during the 2005 Melbourne Cup, was a fan (“He’s one of my favourite people to work with,” announced Fletcher, beaming).
As for the Melbourne Cup, she declared proudly there was nothing quite like it. “I’ve attended most of the world’s major horseracing events like the Royal Ascot and the Dubai World Cup. However, they don’t celebrate and embrace fashion as much as the Melbourne Cup does.”
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