Curating the runway experience

01 March 2023

On the eve of the 2023 PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival, we take you behind the scenes to meet one of the many creative workers who help bring the festival to life each year.

Former curator Paola Di Trocchio is used to telling stories and while she has swapped the gallery for the runway, she’s still committed to using her choices to spin a good yarn for audiences.

Planning runway events brings up a wealth of questions for Paola: "What happens if you put these designers together?" she asks rhetorically. "What's the story that emerges here? What are we communicating? How does that fit with what's happening across the board in fashion."

Since taking over as program manager for the 2023 festival's backbone shows, the former National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) fashion and textiles curator has ploughed deep into the fraught nature of fashion.

"I want people to have an opportunity to think," she says. The result for her debut program is a runway series curated with extra levels of intrigue and linked experiences that plug into key ideas and conversations swirling in the Zeitgeist.

"I suppose I've applied curatorial thinking," Paola says, "I wanted to create energy and hubs of activity around those themes in contemporary culture. I wanted audiences to have a whole experience...not just a runway."

She started simply enough, by re-naming the traditional round of premium shows that have returned this year to the Royal Exhibition Buildings after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

Instead of the prosaic "Runway one", "Runway two", etc., "Which told me nothing," she says, "Just what night they were on..." Paola named them for evocative bulls-eye themes such as UtopiaEnvisionSuit Up and Power.

Utopia, for example, reflects our universal hunger for fantasy and hyped-up prettiness. "It's about fantasy and how a pretty dress can be transportive," she explains. "It's about volume, colour, patterns, a slightly retro edge,” she says.

She went a step further with three other runways, teasing out their themes with targeted panel conversations which will run in the festival's Royal Exhibition Building bar a couple of hours before each show.

"Maybe that comes from those years and years at the NGV," she laughs. "But I wanted that connection with ideas, for audiences to be able to think, but also to have a whole experience: come to a talk at 4.30, have a drink with friends, go to the show at 7."

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The Envision runway is themed around sustainability, with a brace of speakers in its paired panel to dissect this new-ish morality.

Suit Up is different again, a response to consumers hankering for armour-like tailoring after too long slobbing around in pandemic house pants and hoodies.

"That real embrace of the suit is not just happening with men either," Paola says. "There are so many women enjoying wearing suits as well, and so many designers in Melbourne in particular, who are making beautiful custom or adapted suits, or who are up and coming up in that area."

Suit Up will feature tailoring for all genders and its panel conversation will analyse its diverse appeal.

Paola curated another runway simply entitled Power to coincide with International Women's Day and celebrate the surging strength and evolving fashion choices of women.

"The talk on that night is The Forever Self," she says. "About how our lives are long, fashion is a part key of it, but also how it changes as we change at key moments in our life."

The 2023 festival is underpinned by the most fundamental cultural shifts in recent years according to Paola, including its mandate for diversity and inclusivity. "We're talking to an audience that is diverse, so of course we should be representing that on the runway," she says simply.

Another recent, explosive shift, fashion's warm embrace of First Peoples brands, has also come into Paola’s focus with First Peoples brands being included right across the 2023 program rather than a single runway event as per previous festivals.

"As a fashion and textile curator I've always attended the fashion festival," Paola says. "For me it was a research exercise; runways, exhibitions, emerging designers, all feed into your knowledge, your radar of what's happening in a very contemporary sense."

It's an adaptable take for any of fashion's increasingly aware, conscience-driven and educated consumers who fancy taking away more than a few tips on what to wear with their 2023 PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival ticket.

Tickets for premium runways range from $69-$149 with discounted experience bundles also available. 

The Melbourne Fashion Festival is supported by the Victorian Government.

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