This year’s Melbourne Fashion Week is tapping Melbourne's unique brand of cool and luring its fashion crowd out to become part of the show.
In all of Joseph Romano's 13 Melbourne Fashion Weeks, from unpaid volunteer in 2010 to top stylist and creative director now, there was never a more telling indicator of the event's galloping evolution than this: "Basically there's nothing "runway" about it."
He's describing Monday's opening show, on a stage usually occupied by cast and crew of blockbuster musical Moulin Rouge in the city's opulent Regent Theatre.
It's one of a dozen theatrical locations, from a skyscraper to an underground carpark, picked to plug into different bits of the city's unique cultural energy and - the theory goes - coax its fashion crowd out for the most dramatically "Melbournesque" Melbourne Fashion Week (M/FW) yet.
"We want (audiences) to be absolutely enthralled," Joseph earnestly says of his Moulin Rouge fashion takeover.
"Like they're embarking on a journey: high and low, hard and soft, something good and beautiful, something incorporated into a deeper, meaningful grand narrative...There will be emotions elicited."
Plus there will be clothes. A rich chorus of niche labels in fact, each with their own distinctive POV and DNA: J’Aton Couture, Jason Grech, Gail Sorronda, Mariam Seddiq, Saint Stella M, Paul McCann, Posture Studio, Sean Rentero, SZN, Wackie Ju, Youkhana. Small brands, from the artfully offbeat to the athleisurely chic, from outré glamorous to fairytale classic, all with small, impassioned markets. A fair reflection, in other words, of Melbourne's essentially "tribal" fashion scene.
They'll be choreographed, "With fine-tuning and fine-tuning and fine-tuning" Joseph reiterates, to hang harmoniously in the opening show's looping "grand narrative", a moderated telling of Moulin Rouge's tragic backstory of Orpheus and Eurydice.
If this all sounds curiously "unfashiony", it's because it is, and with good reason.
"It's what (consumers) are yearning for now," says Joseph.
"Something that's pushing the envelope, more "experiential" than any traditional runway could be, a big collaborative piece of work with performers and musicians and dancers, so many people, experts in their different disciplines all collaborating together, making something beautiful and different...It's so - quintessentially Melbourne."
Since Covid pushed M/FW's show schedule out of its regular town hall venue, organisers and crews have chased that "quintessentially Melbourne" magic, and with some spectacular successes. Last year's radically elegant M/FW opening "un-runway" is a case in point.
The show of fashion/art installations and performances was deftly strung along a meandering route through polished rooms and parquetry corridors in the State Library of Victoria. Sell-out audiences wandered in timed sessions, often hooting with surprise through one of the most original iterations of a fashion show they may have ever witnessed.
"We worked on that for such a long time," recalls Joseph of his creative team's task. "And by the end, when we did a final walk-through, we just cried, seeing it finished and everyone - so many people - enjoying it."
M/FW's creative crews keep nutting out new ways to exploit the drama and "Melbournesque-ness" of such exotic locations and to orchestrate thrilling collaborations between arts, design, music, performance and fashion people.
"It's one of the most exciting things to happen in fashion," Joseph says of the shift away from classic cat-walking.
"It's invigorating for the city too, I think. and showcases Melbourne in a way that brings in more than just the fashion crowd."
In fact "more than the fashion crowd" has become an unofficial KPI for M/FW's creative crews. In planning sessions they'll work out ways to express Melbourne's tribal, arty, offbeat culture in staging, music and styling. They recognise Melbourne's coolness as a gift for creatives. And though fashion shows are still tethered to the concept of a runway and models walking up and down, evidence is also mounting that the more theatrical a show, the more likely Melbournians will turn up in droves dressed to the nines, ready like "mobile decor" to crank up the drama and add to the spectacle.
"This absolutely happens," says Kate Hannaford, director of M/FW-appointed production company, Moth Design.
"Push the drama, bring people on the journey and they'll get carried along."
Kate's particularly hyped about the immersive, tone-setting theatricality of M/FW's opening show with its stage that juts deep into the audience, its gob-smacking 50 performers and models who will arrive onstage from all directions, and its world-class production crew boosted by the Moulin Rouge show's own lighting and sound professionals.
Every M/FW show will tap Melbourne's essence and lure all kinds of humans - even the "not the fashion crowd" types - out of the 'burbs, according to Kate.
And, she’s careful to add that every show’s absolute accessibility “for every human” is also part of that allure.
"It's a (fashion week) directive," she says, "And something we feel very strongly about...we're for diversity, for every kind of body, every human in the world."
"Nobody misses out at fashion week."
Find out more
Fashion week's opening spectacular, FashionXTheatre, will take place on Monday, October 23 with performances at 6.30 pm and 9 pm. Regent Theatre, 191 Collins Street, Melbourne