A rich tapestry of fashion treats

01 March 2023

two women in fashion setting

What do you get when you cross a body positive flashmob, a vintage market and a photoshoot with your dog? An eclectic and highly creative Fashion Culture program for the 2023 Melbourne Fashion Festival programmed by artist Sai-Wai Foo, to explore connections between clothes, art and other creative disciplines and ideas.

"You might think the fashion festival is all shiny people and runways; it's not."

Sai-Wai Foo, manager of the 2023 PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival's vast Fashion Culture program is emphatic - even cynics will find something to strum their heartstrings this year.

"Wherever your interest in fashion lies, even if you don't think you have any interest in fashion at all, you'll still find a cultural touchpoint into the festival."

Sai-Wai has the mind-boggling job of juggling dozens of wildly different, mostly small productions - exhibitions, films, performances, runways, workshops, panels and parties scattered across the city and suburbs during the festival.

She is a practicing artist herself, a former staffer for legendary local designer Toni Maticevski and a Melbourne culture tragic with deep connections into the city's creative communities. It's a rare CV that happens to chime true with the program's raison d'être, to explore the intersections between fashion and art, cultural shifts and progressive ideas.

"I'm in a unique position because I can be more empathetic towards the needs of creatives, how they work and what type of energy goes into these events," she says. "If someone would love to be on the programme but doesn't have the capability this year, then let's pick up this conversation next year. I want to really show the heart of Melbourne, celebrate all those people doing amazing things, some of them who wouldn't have a chance to show their work otherwise."

For the 2023 festival, creatives doing the heart-fluttering, imagination-ripping work Sai-Wai needs for a kaleidoscopic programme have been tracked, signed and listed in the program.

"There's such a mixture, I don't know where to start," Sai-Wai says. "Textile artist Persephone Thacker's exhibition about body identity and dress, or a fantastic thing about archiving by Denise Sprynskyj and Peter Boyd from S!X at dotCOMME in Curtin House. There's a dance performance by (choreographer) Nebahat Erpolat about fashion and consumption and the environment, and an exhibition called All Tea, All Shade that's about race and sexuality and how it's expressed in fashion, a sketch session where you can do a fashion drawing of a drag queen in an amazing costume, and an event called "Made in Melbourne Men" at the Calvin Club, or a session where you can get a fashion photograph with your dog."

"I'm dipping into lots of different communities - I've also explored the second hand economy and vintage, up-cycling, slow fashion, all in various ways," she says. "You might be interested in a second-hand market, or a talk on vintage, or a vintage parade, or you might want to learn a new skill like up-cycling or repairing or crochet or knitting."

The tenets of inclusivity, key in fashion, have also been woven in. "We've got a quirky one at 6.30pm in the forecourt (of the Royal Exhibition Buildings) on March 8," Sai-Wai says.

"The EveryBODY is Beautiful flash mob. They're going to strip off and do a "walk of no shame" and you can join in, show everyone how proud you are of your body! It's a beautiful message."

"The way I've programmed everything has been quite organic," Sai-Wai concludes. "They're all there because I have an interest, or there's something in the Zeitgeist and it's just time, the right time for that (production) to come out."

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Sai-Wai's mixed dozen
A selection of what’s on offer in this year’s PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival Culture programme.

Mend Over Matters

Exhibition, March 3 - 11, Embroidery House, Malvern FREE

Significant Surfaces

A Fashion Film Installation, March 3 - 11, 8.30 pm - 1am, Carlton, FREE


When Archives Collide exhibition, March 11, 11am - 5 pm, City, FREE


Exhibition, March 3 - 11, Ringwood, FREE

Shop I Am

Dance performance, March 10, 6.45 pm. West Melbourne, tickets from $15

Future From Waste Lab

Open Studio, March 8 - 10, 12noon - 2pm, South Bank FREE

EveryBODY is Beautiful

Flashmob, March 8, 6.30 pm, Carlton FREE

National Trust's Vintage Runway

Show, March 3, 7pm. City, tickets from $35

F.A.T.(Fabulous and Trendy)

Plus Size Runway, March 4, 7 pm. Footscray, tickets $40-$100

Get Lit

Photography Pop Up (for dogs), March 4 - 5, 10am - 5pm, East Brunswick, tickets from $175

Art Party/NGV Teens

Party, March 4, 6 - 9pm., tickets $20, City, tickets $20

The PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival is supported by the Victorian Government.

Meet other 2023 Fashion Festival leaders