Fashion and challenging the idea of the heroic lone genius

Since first contact, Indigenous Australians have had a profound influence on modern Australian Fashion. Europeans are fascinated by Indigenous aesthetics, materials, and skills. Since more than 200, they have been stolen, bought, borrowed, and worn.

Indigenous Australians, on the other hand, have worn red jackets of soldiers as war spoils at various times and mocked Europeans for wearing top hats in Sydney’s early streets.

William Barak, Figures on possum-skin cloaks. 1898. Wikimedia Commons

As First Australians were forced to leave their land and be herded in missions and reserves, they were given clothing, from the shapeless “mother Hubbard” dresses worn by women to the shabby but respectable woolen suits worn by men.

The colonizers often prohibited traditional dress, ceremony, language, and music. Missionaries taught men Western-style needlework and leatherwork while teaching women Western-style leatherwork. Yet powerful hybrids of self-determined clothing emerged that expressed subversive gestures.

Missionary nuns from Far North Australia started allowing Indigenous women to make their textiles around the middle of the 20th century. The result was brightly colored fabrics with unusual motifs. Indigenous Art Centres began to be established in Australia, mostly in remote areas, in the 1970s. The fertile combination of textile design and painting led to a new look, leading to the Indigenous textile revolution.

Indigenous Australian art has been seen for some time as the future of Australian design. This was evident in the energy of Jenny Kee in the 1970s and Linda Jackson in the 1980s. However, Indigenous design as a whole was not recognized as its own. First Nations are now shaping Indigenous fashion design at all levels.

Bula’bula Aboriginal Art Corporation, From Country to Couture. Designer: Julie Shaw, MAARA Collective. Dylan Buckle

The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair took place in Larrakia country last weekend. Darwin’s Convention Centre was filled with a fashion show that was more like a performance for the second consecutive year. Fashion and textiles were showcased at the fashion event From Country to Couture on 7 August. There was a big difference between the fashion event From Country to Couture, held on 7 August. It showcased textile and fashion design.

Indigenous Fashion is a new way of framing self-determination. From Country to Couture is a collection that was created, coordinated, produced, and curated from a wholly Indigenous perspective. The inclusion of Indigenous models and the “black power” music track were all striking examples.

Artist: Kaiela Arts Shepparton. Designer: Wendy Crow. Collection: Yurri Wala Kaiele- Fresh Water River. Dylan Buckle

Grace Lillian Lee was the creative director of this year’s event. Her designs can be found in many major collections, including the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences of Sydney. Grace is also the leader of a project called First Nation Fashion + Design, which fosters relationships between Indigenous artists and the fashion industry. Lee says that she empowers black women and men in the fashion industry, which does not have to be political and can be just beautiful and fun.

Lee worked with dozens of artists, mostly from remote Indigenous Art Centres. The textile approaches included silkscreen, batiks, weavings, natural dyes, digital printing, and embroidery. These collaborations ranged from new experimentation to ongoing projects.

In collaboration with Clair Helen, the Tiwi clothing brand Bima Wear created a collection to celebrate 50 years of women’s creativity. The designs used the geometric patterns that are so characteristic of Bima but in a bold combination. The message was equally about community-led, ethical industry as well as beautiful textiles and clothing.

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