On the eve of the 2023 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.
Ahead of her first festival at the helm, we sit down with Caroline "Ralph" Ralphsmith, CEO Melbourne Fashion Festival.
Caroline "Ralph" Ralphsmith, couldn't have picked a trickier year to win the plum job of Melbourne Fashion Festival CEO. Not only is the fashion industry itself in a state of flux in 2023, the very idea of weeks and festivals aimed at the fussiest consumers on the planet is being rejigged to meet fast-changing cultural expectations and KPIs.
"I think I'm definitely still learning every time we focus on the next stage of development," says the former CEO of Melbourne’s Fed Square cheerfully. "From an outsider's point of view you can think about the (premium) runways as fantastic but there's so much more we can be super proud of and that's been joy."
For her first festival, Ralph is focussed on delivering an event bursting with "freshness and creativity" that is also plugged into cultural shifts such as sustainability, inclusivity and diversity, and which embraces local creativity.
"The surprise to me is the sheer breadth, and the depth within that breadth, of what the festival already does," Ralph says. "We've probably got about 70 to 75 per cent Melbourne-based designers (on the premium runway schedule), we're also representing broader Australia, making sure it's visible to the world that we have this depth of designers."
Ralph's creative team is also leaning into consumers' interest in local fashion and ideas across both premium runways and the festival's Fashion Culture programme.
Former NGV fashion curator Paola Di Trocchio is the festival's new program manager and is curating the premium runway series in the Royal Exhibition Buildings with backstory themes and cultural concepts teased out with near-proximity panel conversations.
Artist Sai-Wai Foo is curating the festival's Fashion Culture programme with the same investment of cutting-edge ideas. The program runs parallel to the premium runways and traditionally pumps festival attendance numbers into the hundreds of thousands as punters swarm into dozens of small self-funded, often off-beat ideas-driven events around Melbourne.
"We're providing pathways and visibility for creatives," Ralph says. "That's a really critical part of what we do; to support the local artists, local designers, local creatives in Victoria, particularly Melbourne, to showcase, thrive and grow across the whole spectrum of fashion, from students to established designers."
Her first gig hasn’t even opened yet but Ralph admits she is already thinking about how the festival will continue to evolve. "It's a journey," she says. "But I can see some really good momentum; ticket sales came right out of the gate and I'm feeling really good, we're really making sure we've got lots of reasons for people to turn up."
The 2023 Paypal Melbourne Fashion Festival runs from March 3 to 11.
The PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival is supported by the Victorian Government.