Superheroes of the catwalk

Australian Fashion Week opened yesterday in a comical riot of colour, writes Janice Breen Burns. THEY'VE conjured up dinosaurs and mermaids to explain the process behind their frocks. They've evoked Paleolithic rainforests and tribal sacrifices to throw a little light on the art of dressing, which is, roughly translated flamboyant, self-expressive, riotous, if you like, or, all of the above.

Australian Fashion Week opened yesterday in a comical riot of colour, writes Janice Breen Burns.

THEY'VE conjured up dinosaurs and mermaids to explain the process behind their frocks. They've evoked Paleolithic rainforests and tribal sacrifices to throw a little light on the art of dressing, which is, roughly translated flamboyant, self-expressive, riotous, if you like, or, all of the above.

Of all the designers working in Australia's industry, Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales are the most likely to silence fashion's "it's not rocket science" and "people are dying" detractors. They do it with joy and their label, Romance Was Born.

Yesterday, for example, Plunkett and Sales opened Australian Fashion Week with their spring/summer 2012-13 show inspired by the Marvel Comics archive. It was clever and silly, gob-smackingly colourful and sparkly.

Models were made up with cartoon eyes and upswept licks of bright orange hair. They modelled clothes that can take your breath away but, most were so simply, silkily conceived with all their sparkly, colourful "otherness" concentrated in Biff! Pow! Sock! patterned Marvel hero prints or crushed crystal or sequinned or shivering stick bead "fur" surfaces that even a nana could wear them. (OK, not the graphic skin-fit Lycra jumpsuits. Or perhaps the showgirl satin onesies.) Fashion Week's bloggers, PRs, editors, buyers and assorted Precious Young Things who had tottered in their wedges and heels and shaggy chub coats onto a pier and up three rickety flights of stairs in a disused warehouse at Walsh Bay on Sydney's choppy harbour to see the show left smiling and cooing about the gorgeousness of it all.

"Such fun!" said Jenny Fuchs, buyer for US e-tail fashion giant, Shopbop.com. "Especially the sequinned gorilla arms."

David Jones' fashion director David Bush said Plunkett and Sales were "darlings" capable of the most extraordinary flights of imagination.

British fashion blogger Susie Bubble already knew them well: "They can evoke another time."

Backstage after the show, media and well-wishers pressed in around the incongruous young duo shy Plunkett with her orange hair dyed to match the models' and the earnest, quietly spoken Sales.

"We've been dreaming this since last year," Plunkett said between photo demands and a rain of congratulatory kisses. "We kept thinking about how powerful colour is and we wanted people to get that."

They did, with bells on, making Romance was Born another hard act to follow. Twelve more brands did, however, with extravagant, back-to-back shows on the hour before the end of day one.

Gail Sorronda, Gary Bigeni, Camilla, Manning Cartell and Ginger & Smart were among the most memorable. Buyers including Vikki Kavanagh from Harvey Nichols in London and global e-tailers Shopbop, my-wardrobe and Net-A-Porter picked their way carefully through the schedule keeping their eyes, ears and options open.

"[Australia] is viewed as an emerging market at home," said Kavanagh, who represents denim and contemporary categories at Harvey Nichols, and already stocks brands such as Sass & Bide, Willow and Finders Keepers.

On her shopping list was Manning Cartell "I really like the look of that" and a bag of other brands that shall remain nameless until their potential is nutted out. "You'll have to wait."

Australian Fashion Week continues today with another packed schedule including shows by Zimmermann, Talulah, Michael Lo Sordo, Magdalena Velevska and Jayson Brunsdon.

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