Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Walkley Magazine

Akira, May 2nd, 2008/Sonny Vandevelde

My AFW story in the current issue of The Walkley Magazine, which is published bi-monthly by The Walkley Foundation (and its trustee the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance) and looks at media issues.

This is the second year in a row the magazine has asked me to write an AFW wrap for its June/July issue. The story is not online this time, so I thought I'd blog it.

And look, it's great that they even consider fashion reportage to be on the legit media radar - as so few in mainstream news and current affairs actually do. It's a double page spread, with backstage pics by Sonny Vandevelde and a couple of other shots by the SMH's Edwina Pickles and Steven Siewert.


Many newspaper editors, truth be told, are only interested in fashion coverage for its potential page 3 pics. But ironically the biggest story of Australian Fashion Week kicked off with an image of a scantily-clad model being shoved up the back of the book in the fashion pages.

Had the editors known what they were sitting on it would have run on page one.

Models, medals, missed scoops – and new media players edging in on the establishment – were the hallmarks of Fashion Week’s 13th annual spring/summer 0809 showcase which wrapped at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal on May 2nd.

By week’s end, some had dubbed it the “best ever” in terms of quality, size, pace and buzz. Once the media analysts’ tallies come in, the same term may well apply to the scope of its coverage.

The saucy shot in question showed Polish model Monika ‘JAC’ Jagaciak reclining under a Vichy Shower, the top of her white swimsuit moistened by water jets.

The shot was provided as an exclusive to the early-to-bed fashion pages of The Sunday Telegraph by the local arm of the world’s biggest model agency, New York-based IMG Models.

IMG reps Jagaciak - and its parent company owns Australian Fashion Week. Jagaciak was due to be the star face of a contingent of up-and-coming IMG models, who were being flown out to help up the event’s international ante.

On April 5th on my Fully Chic blog on NEWS.com.au, I had reported the names, ages and nationalities of 14 of IMG’s international models, including Jagaciak.

According to the 1994 birth year published on the website of her Polish ‘mother agency’ Gaga, she was either 14 - or still 13.

Given that Gemma Ward was 15 for her AFW debut in 2003 and Tallulah Morton, 13 for hers two years later, it didn’t seem like news at the time.

That was until I opened the following morning’s Sunday Tele and spotted precisely which handout image had been supplied by IMG.

Jagaciak’s age, and the image, were both hosed down by IMG on 7th April when I called. So I called Gaga Models that night to ask her exact birthday.

The agency confirmed it to be 15th January 1994.

On 8th April, I posted the image, together with the headline, “This Polish teenager was 13 when this image was taken? Do you have a problem with it?”. Apparently plenty did. The blog exploded overnight.

By Friday 11th April, Vogue Australia had cancelled a planned cover shoot with Jagaciak. And The Daily Telegraph, by then outraged by JAC’s age - even though its Sunday edition had reported she would be “leading the beauty brigade” at AFW, with “’face to watch’ written all over her” – was by this stage asking “Should Monika Jagaciak be at Australian Fashion Week?”.

By midday Friday, IMG had banned all under 16s from the event.

But minors were not AFW’s only model story – or its only overlooked photop.

On 28th April, on the morning of the comeback show of expat Australian Michelle Jank, The Sydney Morning Herald published a small Jank story on page three - together with a cropped shot showing only the designer.

In the background of the original image, as it appeared on smh.com.au, stood Australian model Stephanie Carta, just back from a “breakthrough” runway season in Paris – with twig-thin arms.

Carta wasn’t the story on Monday, but she sure was by Wednesday, once The Daily Telegraph got wind that Carta’s Sydney agency Chic Management had pulled her from Jank’s 8.00pm Monday night show due to concerns about her weight only to reinstate her for camilla & marc’s show at 9.00am the following morning.

With the story on most news bulletins that day, Chic Management found itself at the epicenter of the very media circus it had tried to avoid. But the exposure didn’t seem to bother Carta, who turned up on the last day of shows in a custom-made Ksubi T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “I’M RAKING IT IN”.

April 30th was a big day for front page fashion news.

The SMH might have missed the skinny model story, but it didn’t miss the war medals in Kate Sylvester’s “Royally Screwed” show.

Running the Kiwi designer’s styling choice by war vets – who were suitably outraged – the story made page one of the SMH for two days in a row, generating much additional radio and television coverage, with the New Zealand media in meltdown mode by end of the first day.

And the clothes?

Perhaps it’s just as well under-16s weren’t welcome because a record number of breasts were on display this season, as antipodian designers perpetuated the international trend for sheer organza blouses, pyjama pants, dresses and skirts.

Other major trends included florals, the ever-present dress, the blazer, the waistcoat, Techno tribal, lace, the dropped-crotch dhoti pant, wide-legged trousers, leggings, Victorian romance, with some brilliant bursts of colour counterpointed against a dark, Gothic undercurrent.

The event delivered some solid newcomers in the form of designers Ben Pollitt (Freidrich Gray), Karla Spetic and India’s Vineet Bahl.

Also newsworthy was the return of several well-known names absent for anywhere from one to five years, as they concentrate on their northern hemisphere businesses: Michelle Jank, Easton Pearson, Akira Isogawa and sass & bide jeans queens Heidi Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke.

Bubbling away at Fashion Week for the past two years, blogging reached something of a minor critical mass this year, with at least 10 bloggers covering the event – half of them international delegates. A fact which was not lost on traditional media, which duly reported their visibility.

In his colourful outfits, which included a brushed cotton playsuit, teamed with a different luxury handbag each day, flamboyant Filipino blogger Bryanboy became the star of this ‘new media’ old media story.

“Planet Earth’s Favourite Third World Fag”, as he calls himself, this international fashion week virgin, who has zero professional reportage experience but a global fanbase, flew straight from the Third World and into the front row this season (and on his own dime, contrary to several reports).

This fact would no doubt grate on the nerves of some of the event’s previous international media delegates from such august publications as The Financial Times of London and high-profile Nylon magazine - who, in a previous season, boycotted some shows in protest of having been accorded merely “general admission” tickets.

Evidently they didn’t have Bryanboy’s Technorati ranking.


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