Australian Fashion Laureate 2020 awards trade gloss for grit in challenging year

Alyx Gorman
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The annual Australian Fashion Laureate is often referred to as the highest honour in Australian fashion.

This year the awards ceremony has traded gloss for grit. It has been a particularly difficult year for the fashion industry, as it has for most other people and businesses, with bricks and mortar retail sales plummeting in lockdown, and international supply chains disrupted.

Natalie Xenita, of IMG, which presents the awards in partnership with the New South Wales government, says this year’s aim following “extraordinary challenges” is “to highlight the Australian fashion industry’s resilience in the face of crisis”.

Categories such as womenswear designer of the year, menswear designer of the year and model of the year have been dropped in favour of new honours that commend sustainability and social enterprise over exquisite frocks or sharp tailoring.

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The laureate itself – a lifetime achievement award that has in the past gone to designers such as Akira Isogawa, Carla Zampatti, Collette Dinnigan and most recently the US InStyle editor Laura Brown – will be announced on 1 December.

However, the finalists for the rest of this year’s prizes, announced on Wednesday, look very different to previous years – as do the categories.

Sustainable innovation, an award that was added to the laureate in 2019, is being expanded into two categories – one for established and one for emerging designers. A new award 2020 change and innovation has also been announced.

Xenita says the nominees “have demonstrated their ability to keep pace with ever-changing cultural and economic environments”.

One nominee for the change and innovation category, Fella Hamilton, is a five-decade-old Melbourne retailer whose customers skew older and whose price points skew lower than those the awards typically commend. The brand has been tapped for its pivot into constructing PPE for frontline workers.

Where many brands cut their orders during the early stages of Covid-19, Fella Hamilton scaled up its domestic manufacturing to meet demand for face masks and scrubs.

Nobody Denim – another change and innovation nominee – also pivoted to mask manufacturing, as well as creating a capsule collection with FibreTrace, which offers total supply chain transparency from “seed to store”.

Maara Collective – a fashion label founded by Yuwaalaraay woman Julie Shaw – is the first Indigenous-owned business to receive a laureate nomination, for best Australian emerging designer. Shaw also won the fashion design accolade at the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards in August 2020.

The nominee list is also markedly more casual, with many brands focusing on denim and activewear.

Several nominees, including A.BCH, Esse Studios and Arnsdorf also champion a seasonless approach to fashion design and distribution – offering permanent collections and “slow fashion” rather than creating collections aligned with the global fashion buying calendar.

IMG also stages Australian Fashion Week, which focuses on showing resort collections each May. The Australian Fashion Laureate award winners are chosen by a panel of fashion industry veterans but, if the seasonless approach catches on, it could have interesting implications for IMG’s flagship fashion event in Australia.

This year, the public is also being invited to participate for the first time, in a new people’s choice category, which a fashion laureate spokesperson says will feature upwards of 40 brands and designers.

Australian Fashion Laureate finalists

2020 change and innovation

  • Nobody Denim

  • Richard Poulson

  • Gorman

  • Fella Hamilton

Sustainable innovation (emerging designer)

  • A.BCH

  • Nagnata

  • Arnsdorf

  • Esse Studios

Sustainable innovation (established designer)

  • KITX

  • Outland Denim

  • Nobody Denim

  • Bassike

Best Australian emerging designer

  • Nagnata

  • Esse Studios

  • Maara Collective

  • Mndatory

The winner of the Australian Fashion Laureate and people’s choice awards will be announced on 1 December.