Thursday, August 9, 2007

Dirty Snakes and ponies: Myer's 16-step program for fashion success

Some of the interesting titbits that one gleans from venturing backstage at fashion shows are the model cue cards that designers so often install there. Yes, models have cue cards, just like newsreaders.

Instead of reading words off auto-cue, these are a little more akin to choreographic instructions - although without dance moves - to put the models into the designated designer mood.

It’s a walk, a look, a vibe, that the designer hopes to clinch for the show.

“Own it” is a common command. Ditto “Strong and sexy”.

I’ve also often seen “DO NOT smile” - the latter very much a reflection of the modern modelling mandate to walk po-faced, ditching the cheesy smiles of previous eras. They could do with more of these particular cue cards backstage at Armani.

But I didn’t have to go backstage at Myer to find out what was going on because the organisers had very kindly provided a pre-show preview.

I had asked for a garment runlist – what you usually see in the programs – however what wound up being sent was in fact a production runlist, complete with model cues for each designer segment.

There was the requisite “STRONG/SEXY” (camilla & marc, Cheetah), but also “FAST/WARM, VICTORIA’S SECRET CUTE SMILE” (Leona Edmiston, Cue), “HEAVY STRUT” (Wayne Cooper, TL Wood, Karen Walker) and “GORGEOUS SENSUAL SOPHISTICATED ROMANTIC” (the clearly terribly demanding Matthew Eager and Stretsis).

Then came the bombshell.

A model cue so exotic I do believe it may have had its world premier last night.

Forget Zoolander’s “Blue Steel”, Myer’s model cue for the Arabella Ramsay section read, I kid you not:


I was intrigued.

And needless to say spent the rest of the evening trying to find out what the hell it meant.

Our snapper Charlie was primed to capture the Dirty Snake the second it appeared.

We couldn’t find out much backstage however beforehand – the Dirty Snake seemed to be complete news to Jennifer Hawkins when we had a quick video chat before the show – and she’s Myer’s six figure spokesperson. Then again Hawko wasn’t due to be in the Ramsay section so perhaps it’s understandable that she wouldn’t have been any the wiser during rehearsals.

Hawkins did nevertheless manage to do a terrific, spontaneous Dirty Snake interpretation however – scrunching up her face in a minx-like scowl. Presumably Hawko has seen more than her fair share of dirty snakes on her Miss Universe travels.

In the actual show show however - unless some modelling union had stepped in to slap a stopstrut on the Ramsay section – there was no face-scrunching or minx-like moves, just Ramsay’s models weaving their way diagonally across the runway, from one side to the other, instead of walking straight down the barrel. Damn!


Dirty Snakes aside, the Myer show was no letdown, in fact it gets my vote for this season’s Store Wars victor.

David Jones had a constellation of high-profile runway names, a stylish and no doubt terribly expensive, French Riviera-inspired set and multimedia presentation and of course some terrific clothes from some of Australia’s best-known fashion brands, from Collette Dinnigan to sass & bide, Zimmermann, Akira, Scanlan & Theodore and Ginger & Smart.

What Myer had over DJs was the ‘wow’ factor. It was slick, it was simple, at the same time boasting state-of-the-art technology imported from London – and previously used in the Athens Olympics opening ceremony.

Far from overshadowing the production with bells and whistles however, it provided a dramatic backdrop to the clothes on show. Sixteen, metre-wide, illuminated white plinths were suspended over the runway like a canopy – only to be magically moved up and down via wires to form the “staircase” motif of Myer’s SS0708 campaign. Far more like a modern theatrical stage production than a fashion show.


While DJs has of course some great Australian fashion names, Myer is starting to collect its own very impressive designer stable.

Adding to its existing lineup that includes New Zealand’s Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester, our own Toni Maticevski, Leona Edmiston, Azzollini, Jets, the recently-defected-from DJs Jayson Brunsdon and hot new Thai brand Stretsis, Myer scored Australia’s top two new fashion scalps this season: Josh Goot and Yeojin Bae.

Goot opened the show with an impressive, abridged lineup from his collection shown three months ago in exactly the same venue (Redfern’s stark, industrial-look CarriageWorks – a decommissioned railway workshop).

These colour-blocked dresses and leggings looked sensational – the leggings shown off to their best advantage on the seemingly endless pins of another hot new Australian modelling star now working the international runways, Alexandra Agoston-O’Connor.

Bae’s sequence, by contrast, unfortunately did not maximise her best assets – even though that tuxedo jacket and microshorts looked sharp. This Melbourne-based Korean Australian, who sold to Barneys New York and London’s Selfridges in her first season last year, is in fact a dress specialist – it’s the only thing she started with last year and the dress remains the fulcrum of her subsequent collections.

Myer’s stylist instead chose a series of figure-hugging Yeojin Bae skirts and bustier tops, and one corset dress – baffling even Bae herself, who later told me that if she had styled it she would have layered the garments. We’ll get a chance to see Bae properly on Tuesday at a presentation inside Belinda Seper’s Corner Shop.


The trends? Yes of course more of the dress, the dress, the dress.

You have to ask, just how long can this trend continue? Well into our approaching summer and, according to northern hemisphere signs at least, through to next summer as well.

Myer has invested heavily in shift dresses, smock dresses and babydoll dresses – most in micro lengths – as well as plenty of maxi dresses.

My personal highlights were Goot’s colour-blocked body dresses (Goot has just picked up Lycra as a sponsor – so we’re going to be seeing a whole lotta Lycra his way very soon), Karen Walker’s ultra fresh shift dresses in poppy red and cobalt blue, Kate Sylvester’s micro-stripe corset dress, Nevenka’s retro-print, lace-trimmed smock dresses and Charlie Brown’s turquoise evening gowns. The brightly-coloured, cute-girl shorts and separates at Gorman and Arabella Ramsay looked hot. Manning Cartel’s futuristic, vinyl-embellished microdresses looked unfortunately like terribly cheap imitations of Burberry’s white-hot SS07 collection - one particular crystal-studded dress from which has appeared in countless editorial spreads internationally and on at least three covers.


Ponies got quite a big airing.

“Both shows had high ponies (read: ponytails) but Myer’s really bobbed around as they walked - DJs’ ponies were kind of sprayed to their heads” noted Sydney restaurateur Toby Osmond in a cab later.

“Look at that pony! That’s old-school!” squealed Sydney Confidential TV/Australia’s Next Top Model co-host, Jonathan Pease, throughout the show – referring quite specifically to Jennifer Hawkins’ highstepping runway style, commonly referred to as the “pony walk”.

“But you know, she’s not a real runway model – she’s a model model” I suggested politely.

“Well OBVIOUSLY” came Pease’s retort.

“What do you call that walk?” I asked Pease, pointing to one girl in the Azzollini swimwear section, who appeared to have major issues with the (clearly in some cases too-generous) shoe size and sauntered along like she had just emerged from some bizarre chiropractic manipulation session - or else was in dire need of same.

“Brokeback model” he replied.

A few other Pease reportage gems included “She’s going to pop a sneaker - shoes are too big!” (Matthew Eager) and “Eboni walks like she’s going to a fight” (Karen Walker).

As at DJs, the platform wedge was everywhere but unlike at the OS shows, which witnessed many a model stumble in these clodhoppers, no one missed a beat on this (or DJs) runway. Great to see that fabulous space-age silver cutout Pucci wedge that drifted right in front of my nose in Milan in September (I managed to sneak into a vacant front-row seat at the last minute). Whether Myer’s customers buy it, well, that’s the fourth piece of the fashion puzzle that we’ve yet to see.


Which brings me to a very interesting point about the differential between what designers show, what fashion writers report, what retailers actually buy – and after retailers have blown their budgets by backing particular trends and items, what the customer actually puts down money for. Or what goes onto the sale racks.

Over the past two nights we saw a lot of metallics, blue, white and black on both DJs and Myer’s runways, with some other vibrant shots of colour – including yellow. What we didn’t see a lot of was acid lime. Although all over Australian Fashion Week’s runways in May, acid lime only appeared once – in the Kirrily Johnston section at DJs.

Retailer reluctance to back this particular “hot” trend may perhaps have been best summed up by Mark Werts in Sydney in May.

Werts, the owner of US fashion chain American Rag, told me at the time:

“After 30 years in retail I can tell you one thing - lime just won’t sell”.

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