Fashion + Film in Australia: Does our steadfast support of local designers on the red carpet transcend to style on the big screen?

Director Baz Luhrmann with wife and costume designer, Catherine Martin. Photography by Pen To Paper Media. Subject to Copyright.

Red carpet arrivals are the quintessential representation of all things glamorous and glittering in the universe of entertainment. In this case, the fantastical world of film – Australian film to be exact. That little gem of a thing that is slowly but surely turning itself into a goldmine, sifting through a river of talented individuals and striking at some of the biggest stars to shimmy on over to La La Land.

Hollywood has proved over countless decades how razzmatazz and red carpet specials have become a phenomenon in their own right and a process buried deeply within a niche of the popular culture of today.

Naively I would like to believe in the romantic notion that Australia is not as cut throat in regards to our red carpet attitude, as our American counterparts. There is a definite camaraderie instilled within all Australians in respect to their homeland and fellow creative buffs. Perhaps this is a result of the intimate size of the film industry and the joint endeavor to make a significant impact against the ferocious competition of hallmark conglomerate studios in the U.S.

Yet, let us not be ignorant to the fact that it isn’t all roses and kittens within the Aussie film camp. There’s a pooper at every party and unfortunately the state of the film industry in this country hit an all- time low in 2004. Box office receipts for Aussie movies was an astonishingly dismal 1.3 per cent, nearly 10 percent down from a decade ago.  However, the knight in shining armour astride a white steed materialized in the unexpected shape of a portable toilet installer named Kenny. Thankfully this colloquial film was overwhelmingly popular, awakening that aforementioned camaraderie that the population is beginning to display some patriarchy at the box office.

Actors Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett with AFI winners, Emilly Barclay and Shane Jacobson. Photography by Pen To Paper Media. Subject to copyright.

Over the past twelve months the industry has produced some remarkable and diverse films that were nominated at the prestigious AFI’s, held in Melbourne last December. The beauty of award events such as the AFI’s, is that it recalls all the big stars who make the migration back from overseas to support the industry that started their stardom. Troy superstar Eric Bana exuded his enduring high regard for the industry stating to me that, “it’s great to continue to be a part of this industry and to see that we are still churning out unique and diverse work…. We are going to have some good and bad years, but that’s just the state of the industry being this size. We just have to keep doing our best and keep encouraging.”

This sentiment of support was mirrored as a genuine show of patriotism walked the length of the red carpet as a delectable feast of Australian designs were donned by stars who not only looked stunning, yet backed up the designers wholeheartedly. The luminous Teresa Palmer, nominated for best actress for the film 2:37, wore an exquisite cream silk Fleur Wood number, with shoes by Collette Dinnigan. Emma Lung, who won the Outstanding Achievement in a Short Film award, was simple yet sexy in her Scanlan & Theodore gold mini dress. The sassy Suburban Mayhem star Emily Barclay walked away with the best actress award, yet not before looking like a veritable femme fatale in a classic black Konstantina Mittas creation. The gorgeous Sarah Wynter strolled the red carpet in a Lisa Ho gown, telling me in exaltation that she loves coming home to Australia so that she can learn about all the new designers. Among her favourites are Akira Isogawa, Trelise Cooper, Alice McCall and Toni Maticevski. Melbourne based boy wonder Maticevski has been a hot favourite for one particular actress, the beautiful Abbie Cornish who stars alongside Heath Ledger in Candy. Back in 2004 Cornish wore a white cascading dress designed by Maticevski which was thereafter titled the ‘Abbie’ dress.  In 2006 she glided effortlessly down the red carpet in another masterful Maticevksi creation, a backless gown complimented by Autore South Sea Pearls.

With this amount of adoration permeating for fellow fashion designers on the renowned red carpet, it begs the question of style’s place within Australian film. This is an enigmatic industry deeply rooted in aesthetics and creativity, whilst the red carpet entrance is a heavily steeped tradition glorifying or condemning an individual’s style choices. Beauty is the main component and so with that in mind it would seem fitting that make-up company L’Oreal Paris was the naming rights sponsor of the AFI’s for the last two consecutive years. Managing Director of L’Oreal Australia, Mark Tucker, stated the company was excited to “celebrate the alliance between cinema and beauty – coming together at an exceptional event synonymous with creativity and glamour.”

Yet herein lies the irony.

For all the pride displayed towards fashion and beauty, it seems that this admiration has not made the transition from red carpet to celluloid. For an event whose naming rights sponsor is a global beauty and cosmetics company, the AFI’s doesn’t even have a best make-up category. And when such emphasis is placed on what actors are wearing on their way into the ceremony, the best costume category is bizarrely presented at the smaller Industry Award night which isn’t even televised. On deeper inspection of this ironic twist, it looks blatantly obvious that fashion’s place in Australian film is purely restricted to the red carpet. Having discovered this significant lack of balance within the film industry and it’s awards night, the facade quickly deconstructs to reveal the limited relationship between fashion and film within Australia. Not since the time of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert or Moulin Rouge has an Australian film’s style had significant impact on an audience. This is noted by prominent Australian designer Roger Grinstead, who also recognises Mad Max as a filmic style trend and one which would be “equivalent to major style icons of international film such as, Gattaca, Blade Runner and Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” As with our fashion sense, Australians are governed by an easy going nature which transcends to film and as Grinstead explains, gives the industry that “collectively recognized ‘down to earth’ appeal.”

This may explain the often staccato relationship between the two artistic forms on screen, yet isn’t it time for Australian cinema to deliver something more substantial in terms of style and commitment to fashion? As an established designer, Roger Grinstead does believe however that, “fashion should never get in the way of a good plot, but Australian film is ready for another cult classic that exudes a great sense of style. We have many great designers in Australia and this should follow through a little more to Australian film.”

One can only hope that this void between fashion and film in Australia will be rectified and balanced to reiterate a sense of style on the big screen. Fashion and film should once again become a steadfast couple, not occasional lovers. The two esteemed creative mediums should be exhibited on screen, not simply left to flirt with the flashes of the paparazzi. And more to the point, categories like costume and makeup need to receive the recognition they deserve. As a result, our little filmic goldmine of promise can continue to develop nuggets of creativity in different aspects of the industry. And in turn, the talents of Aussie designers will not be limited to the glare of the red carpet.



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