The fashionable world of Woo

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.

Fashion photography is a long way from IT business consulting but nine years ago Karen Woo jumped ship to turn her passion into a career, and she hasn’t looked back.

Now a renowned photographer, film maker and content producer, Karen Woo has become a fashion festival figurehead and when its festival time she hits the ground running capturing the event from all angles; from the fashion on the runways, people milling backstage, people milling outsid to reels of people faffing on the ‘frow'.

"I'm always on the lookout," she says, "I love getting every different point of view I can. That's what I'm most intrigued by; the stories behind (the festival). Who are the up and coming people? The faces? The fashion designers? The trends? I love capturing people for their style, for their personality. I love the conversations."

She's covered Melbourne's festival on and off for nine years between shooting street-style at New York, London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks and for commercial and editorial projects with long-time commercial partner, Nikon Profoto and a cherry-picked folio of clients as varied as Vogue and Kmart. "I'm just happy when I'm creative every day," she says. "I've always been curious and I'm curious all the time."

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Recently Karen abruptly swerved her career into an internship at advertising agency M&C Saatchi, an opportunity too good to pass up. "I'm loving it, finding so much joy brainstorming with these creative people," she says. "Thinking and solving problems, telling stories, making sure the message that gets out to the public is clear and engaging."

It's not wildly different work from creating commercial fashion content but recently, it's meant she's spending a lot less time behind the lens. "I'm transitioning from my photography," Karen says simply. "One day a week."

Covering the 2023 Melbourne Fashion Festival will involve a plunge back into the place where it all started. "I'll approach (this festival) like a passion project, looking for what I can present to my fashion following that will make them intrigued, engaged and help them learn," she says, "I'll be writing a little bit, sharing insights day to day, doing a bit of research, producing (content) a bit like a little feature article or mini editorial."

Karen has a trinity of festival favourites she regularly attends. "The opening because of the atmosphere; a lot of people turn up, you catch up with everybody. I also love the student runways; incredible creative minds. And, Indigenous designers; it's so great to see these rising stars, the designers, the models getting their moment. "

She is amused when her invitation as to various fashion events arrive: will she be on the ‘frow’ or in the media pit? The PR list-makers aren't always sure what to make of her: is she a photographer? An influencer? Commercial content producer? Just a punter?

"If they offer me a media pit pass (the end-runway riser from which most photographers work) I take it but I'd really rather shoot from a different angle," she says. "All the media people are there doing that angle. If it's a seat on the runway they give me, I'm happy, but I've got to be mindful to not elbow the people around me. Sometimes I'll move off, get a better position, or give up and go back to the media pit, or sometimes a PR who actually knows what I do will give me an end seat (at the top of the runway)."

The challenges are real but so is Karen's passion to get the perfect shot, whatever its destination.

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