Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Goot, the crap and the ugly: Fashion Week's polemics hit home

Sitting waiting for the Josh Goot show to start in the Redfern Carriageworks, a cavernous, industrial space on the fringe of the CBD that was once home to Sydney's locomotive workshops.

It has a very similar vibe to The Tunnel, the abandoned railway station down on New York's 11th Avenue where Goot staged his February show. It's a big space with two rows of seating arranged around three walls and at least 100 people are standing at the back of the seats. Dita Von Teese is here, ditto Jennifer Hawkins and on the other side of the room, my great friends from Ksubi, George Gorrow and Dan Single, with their US model mate Erin Wasson.

We could be anywhere in the world but in fact we are here in Sydney to see Goot's fourth runway presentation in twelve months. I know Goot is completely buggered - he sounded like it when I spoke to him last week about the Target project and this fatigue is reflected in every interview he's done in the leadup. There is considerable risk of course that that fatigue could translate into the clothes on offer today.

As the first outfit comes out - a white draped viscose skirt and top - I breathe in sharply in and think, 'Oops'. It's not a strong opening statement. But then the second emerges, a pair of fluid track pants and singlet in a superfine grey marle and then comes a flash of acid yellow in a microdress with batwing sleeves and the show is off and rocking.

Inspired by 'future Roman sport' the collection features a series of fine, chainmail-look polyamide/acrylic leggings and singlets, in both silver and gold, the singlets boasting Goot's signature racerbacks. There are also some very chic, minimalist cocktail dresses in sleek, fluid stretch acrylics, one in bright fuschia, another in vibrant ultraviolet, both with matching capes - picking up from Goot's Gotham girl look just shown for the northern winter.

The colour-blocked, psychedelic leggings with in-built 'swirl' seamwork - for both men and women - were sensational, even if the articulated pattern looked alarmingly, for a fleeting moment, like the Target logo (it wasn't). Some of the body-hugging dresses with clever, intricate, contoured seamwork - an extension of an idea that Goot showed in New York in September - looked awkward to my eye. And when Goot is no longer suffering from sleep deprivation, I'm sure he'll look at those old lady shirts towards the end of the show - and kick himself for not yanking them. But the American retailers that I spoke to loved everything. Henri Bendel will order yet more Goot and, having kept an eye on Josh Goot for two years to see how it developed, American Rag said they hoped to now pick the brand up.

Goot knows only too well that you can't spread yourself too thin - or risk losing focus.

"I don't want to have to do four collections a year, I want to do two a year and show two a year" said Goot afterwards. "I got home on the 15th of March, what is it now, six weeks? That's craziness, to put it together in six weeks".

Yet more future sport at Alice McCall, another Australian who is currently showing on the international runways (three consecutive seasons in London). Some fresh florals aside, there were less of McCall's signature prints in this collection, a move away from her hippie signature vibe and towards fashion's current urban sport moment, a trajectory that was perhaps not always entirely successful.

McCall has a knack for picking a hot accessory however I'm not convinced that her hologram corset belt will be one of them. Sporty grey marle appeared in babydoll and shift dresses, with flashes of this week's ultra popular acid lime green. There were plenty of McCall's popular - in fact, cult-ish - dresses to keep her customers happy, some of the prettiest in pinstriped cotton with acid lime inset crochet panels. The stripe story was cute - longline tops, cardigans and one intriguing hooded singlet dress with cutout panels - as were the denim overalls.

It's a good feeling to front up to two consecutive standout AFW shows from local brands that got their starts in Sydney just three years ago but which are now both becoming international runway regulars. Fashion Week's focus has changed since it first launched in May 1996 and there are plenty of designers who showed then who have zero chance of cracking the OS market.

And look, while I thoroughly appreciate the need to have a series of entry-level AFW parades, for new designers to enter at a low cost and then, or so the idea goes, rise up through the parade ranks towards solo status, perhaps it is now time for a rethink about what these group shows offer AFW. Akira Isogawa and more recently Gail Sorronda are both Ready-to-Wear refugees - but both Goot and McCall catapulted straight onto AFW's solo runways at the get go.

While it's possible to unearth talent in group shows, they nevertheless continue to be Fashion Week's energy vampires - sucking the buzz out of the schedule with their all-too-frequent blandness and 'equal opportunity' ambiance. There is nothing 'equal' about the fashion business - if you don't have a point of difference, or a strategy, you're out of business. The poor brands - and there are a lot of them - unfortunately drag down the stronger ones. I gather this may be one of the reasons why there were so many solo shows from newcomers this year. Gail Sorronda could not have afforded to risk her image by taking part in another RTW show - and she shone last night on her own. Ditto Arabella Ramsay, with a pert, pretty collection of cool girl chic that proved one of my personal highlights of the week. Jessie Hill's was another extremely confident solo debut this season.

The 'blah' factor of the RTW shows is one reason why organisers have so much trouble getting high profile delegates to attend them - which must prove embarrassing, when RTW show participants pay to be part of the schedule and expect some kind of turnup. Apparently New Zealand's Annah Stretton was mortified that AFW organisers refused to accord her a solo show today. But having witnessed Stretton's (very) shabby chic efforts in machine-washable, distressed tulle first-hand at New Zealand Fashion Week, not to mention her styling prowess that has embraced such accessories as a wild boar's head and dead parrots, that can presumably only be a good thing.

The 'blah' factor was also very much in evidence at the One Fell Swoop show today. One Fell Swoop may well have won the Perth chapter of one of the recent Mercedes Startup competition, but all it could come up with for its big runway photo op today was a series of badly-made, black georgette dresses with taffeta cummerbunds. That's not fashion - it's market stall merchandise.

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