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6 September, 2021

A thought-provoking celebration of Indigenous Australian designers and artists

Created and curated by Grace Lillian Lee, a Cairns-based artist, designer and mentor, First Nations Fashion: Walking In Two Worlds is a fascinating concept, an interesting one-off.

The First Nations Fashion & Design show was promoted as being direct from Australian Fashion Week to you – the runway event of the year’.

This was certainly the first fashion show I have ever attended, but ‘fashion discourses’ are such that I had expectations of Parisian-style runways, peopled with glamorous models with New York attitude.

And I also knew from the publicity that I might get to see a showcase of Indigenous dance, music, and film.

The introduction reframed any expectations of this as ‘just a fashion show’.

The audience was encouraged to think about the literally ‘walking in two worlds’ that First Nations people undertake in their daily lives.

The event was a celebration of pride in the craft, design, fashion, style—and of the ability to walk in the words of culture and community, and of commerce and contemporary fashion.

This was an interesting combination of art happening, museum display, shopping, dance performance, videographic art, and hip-hop concert. It was also a chance to celebrate the lives of those who continue to walk in two (or more) worlds.

Certain ‘fashion discourses’ were easily identifiable.

Music maintained an up-tempo beat as the models ‘walked the walk’ and maintained a generally middle-distance gaze.

Audiences responded with cheers and applause as the fabulous, glorious and sometimes intriguing garments passed by.

But the points of difference attracted the biggest cheers: the model who came out to dance alongside her mother/the designer; the opening Welcome to Country and first speaker; the hip hop performance by Kaylah Truth; the smoking dance; and the final gathering of the models, designers, and back-of-house team to cheer and be cheered (and smile!).

Personal highlights included the use of the Piazza space as a circular ‘runway’, the use of video to remind the audience of the inspiration and colours of Country, the diversity of models (although I’d love to have seen a few more smiles), and the sheer quality of the materials and garments.

Most of all, I loved the delight and excitement of the audience when recognising patterns, designs, models, dancers, speakers, and designers.

Was it something I’d go to again? Possibly.

But I have to admit that I’m much more likely to spend my money on theatre, dance and other First Nations work (such as Aunties Fia’fia Night)… or to start saving up to buy textiles produced by some of these talented Australian designers.