Fashion-able- a discussion with FDC practitioners on high risk dressing

3 March 2017, RMIT Design Hub, Melbourne

The notion of 'high risk dressing' underpinned Robyn Healy's panel discussion about the Fashion Design Council (FDC), a collective founded in Melbourne in 1983 to support and promote local, alternative fashion design.

In the early 1980s, the idea of 'high risk dressing' was used by the FDC to challenge the state of Australian fashion. Emerging local designers railed against the mainstream fashion industry which, they felt, had nothing innovative to offer.

Healy, who is Head of RMIT's School of Fashion, spoke to FDC-affiliated artist Rosslynd Piggott, FDC designer Victoria Triantafyllou, and Laura Gardner, editor and fashion writer about the FDC and its legacy. 

Piggott reflected on her involvement in the two early parades, Fashion '82 and Fashion '83, mounted by Julie Purvis and Jillian Burt in Melbourne under the banner of Party Architecture. Being more conceptual in nature, these parades provided the springboard for the formation of the FDC. Piggott's two works were directly influenced by art. The first, titled Kabuki, drew from Japanese theatre and the second, which featured skirts with exaggerated panniers, was inspired by the garments depicted in seventeenth century Spanish artist Velazquez's painting titled Las Meninas.

Following these parades, Robert Pearce, Kate Durham and Robert Buckingham, all of whom had been involved, banded together to form the FDC, and the 'newest force in fashion' was launched with a parade held at the Hardware Club in 1984. Both Piggott and Healy remarked on the grass roots origins of the FDC, which was born from an energy generated during the post-punk era.

Taking up this point, Triantafyllou described an environment in which she and other designers began by creating one-off pieces to wear out to clubs. Triantafyllou described the clubs and bars as places where people were seen and where businesses were started. If someone liked what you were wearing, then they engaged you to make something for them.  She described a fluid group of people working across disciplines. Although Triantafyllou was RMIT trained, she observed that quite a number of the FDC practitioners didn't have a technical background in fashion. No matter: everyone was driven by a passion to make clothes, have fun and be seen.

Triantafyllou and Piggott reflected on the vibrancy of the time where, as Triantafyllou described it, 'we all fed off each other'. Studio space in inner city Melbourne was relatively cheap and the studios became creative hubs. One of these was Stalbridge Chambers, a late-nineteenth century office building in the centre of Melbourne. The FDC's office was on the sixth floor and the building attracted an array of like-minded artists and designers, such as Desbina Collins, Martin Grant, Tamasine Dale and Jenny Watson. An interdisciplinary approach to fashion and art was embraced at a time when postmodern thinking was blurring the lines between the two.

Throughout the year, the FDC hosted events at bars and clubs and ran an annual fashion parade. These events were highly performative, and fused art, music, film and fashion. They expressed the ethos of the FDC designers who, although diverse in their styles, were unified in their search for new ways of creating and interpreting fashion.

The FDC archive, now held by the RMIT's Design Archives, houses significant film and print media relating to the FDC's parades, exhibitions and events. Healy highlighted the importance of these FDC publications, noting that the parade books include photos and biographies of the designers. Rather than taking the mainstream fashion path of working as an anonymous designer for a larger well-established label, these independent designers chose, from the beginning, to work under their own distinctive labels. They actively eschewed the mainstream fashion production and created their own works from a studio-based practice. 

Gardner picked up on this idea when she noted that the concept of a 'critical fashion practice' implied a 'pushing back' against something. In today's climate, she posited that the issues of environment and sustainability are foremost among those confronting current fashion practice.

After ten years of guiding and promoting independent Australian fashion design, the FDC folded in 1993. By then many of its designers had established self-sustaining businesses. Christopher Graf and Jenny Bannister ran retail stores in Melbourne's fashionable Chapel Street, Kara Baker still continues her studio-based label in Melbourne, and the 1988 Cointreau Young Designer of the Year, Martin Grant, relocated his business to Paris in 1992 where he remains today.

In closing the session, Healy reflected on the legacy of the FDC and its relevance to current fashion practice, stating that as a forum, it created an awareness of the issues in fashion.

The exhibition High Risk Dressing / Critical Fashion draws on the FDC archive to explore current fashion practice. The exhibition runs to 13 April 2017 and is located on Level 2 of the RMIT Design Hub, corner Victoria and Swanston Streets, Melbourne.


Exhibition installation: FDC parade screenings 

Exhibition installation: FDC parade screenings 

Exhibition installation: FDC archives

Exhibition installation: FDC archives