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469756248_Kate-Waterhouse-wearing-Esber

SYDNEY’S LITTLE BLACK BOOK

A new wave of designers is sweeping away preconceptions about Australian fashion, producing a look that travels well and is right for the times. Fashion writer Damien Woolnough picks out the ones to watch and shows us around the city’s fashion hot spots

Sydney’s reputation as a sun-drenched idyll, populated by perpetually bronzed blokes and sheilas in bikinis and budgie-smugglers, has worn thinner than a treasured pair of yoga pants. Over the past decade or so, a first wave of homegrown Australian designers has overcome the challenges of working in the opposite hemisphere to the rest of the fashion world, and sent modern, considered collections down runways in New York and London. The next wave of local designers to watch is well and truly washing away the clothing cliches with an outlook rooted at Bondi Beach that looks toward global markets for commercial survival.

Visitors in search of an antipodean aesthetic are already familiar with Dion Lee’s slick minimalism and athletic inspiration, Zimmermann’s in-your-face femininity with an edge, and Kym Ellery’s playful exercises in volume realized in bell sleeves and flared trousers. Rapidly pushing his way to the front line is Christopher Esber, who made his Australian Fashion Week debut in 2008 on the same program as Dion Lee, aged 23.

Christopher Esber’s designs during the David Jones A/W 2016 fashion launch in Sydney

Along with an intensity and solid streak of perfectionism, Esber’s signature is his dedication to fabrication. Simple ribbed knits are bedazzled with Swarovski crystals, silk satins go beyond pajama shapes into unexpected silhouettes, and a super soft wool weave, developed in partnership with a Swiss mill, is given flattering structure. Add to the mix quirky influences, such as Michael Jackson (it’s safe to call Esber a fan), and you can see why he’s a favorite of the budding Australian Fashion Chamber, which has staged showings for the designer during Paris Fashion Week. With stockists in Lebanon, Korea and Russia, Esber is looking well beyond the City of Light. In Sydney, you can find him at David Jones department store and Parlour X boutique in Paddington.

Take the intensity down just a notch and catch up with Kit Willow Podgornik. You might remember the designer’s label Willow, which found success in Paris, London and New York. Willow was acquired by the Australian fashion operator Apparel Group, followed by Podgornik’s unceremonious firing. Fast forward to today and KITX is born. The designer’s urban edge has been replaced by a focus on sustainability and ethical fashion. It’s more organic cotton T-shirts and crushed linen dresses that manage to make having a social conscience seem sexy. Head to KITX’s industrial-vibe flagship boutique at 108 Oxford St, Paddington.

Filling the party dress void left by Willow’s ethical calling is Bec & Bridge. Bridget Yorsten and Bec Cooper met at design school in 2003 and have patiently developed a brand that aims for instant on-trend gratification at an accessible price. If you’re after a crop top, jumpsuit or come-hither cami for a Tinder meet-up over cocktails at The Wild Rover in Surry Hills, then start shopping. Bec & Bridge is on the Zimmermann fast track to international success and is keeping its Australian aesthetic front and center—check out their swimsuits (called cossies in Sydney). Head to David Jones department store for a sample of their style.

Your first stop for leather in Sydney will always be R.M. Williams for a pair of riding boots, but make your second stop any rack with one of Kahlo’s rock-and-roll minis. This emerging label has a knack with leather and suede, cut with a modern-day Debbie Harry in mind. Eyelets, fringe detailing and hemlines that are best accessorized with attitude are perfect for young rebels with a credit card. Look for pieces at Desordre boutique, 323 South Dowling St, Darlinghurst.

Add some color to your shopping list by looking at Emma Mulholland’s offerings while at Desordre. Mulholland’s humorous approach to print and ’80s palette guarantee a smile, while scalloped skirts and roomy sweats give the vintage outlook a contemporary focus. Mulholland has already been tapped by surfwear label Mambo for a cool collaboration.

ONE STOP

To get your fashion bearings in one quick hit, step out of the CBD to the inner city suburb of Paddington. At the long-running Saturday markets at the local primary school, labels such as Zimmermann, Sambag and Dinosaur Designs got their start, but for a seven-day retail fix head to The Intersection.

Located where Glenmore Road meets Oxford Street, Swedish export Acne sits at the end of a strip offering a snapshot of Australian design. Naturally there’s a Zimmermann store front and center, with another sister act, Ginger & Smart, nearby. Alexandra and Genevieve Smart’s forte is sophisticated printed dresses but their accessories continue to pack a fashion wallop.

The Bassike boutique showcases the evolution of founders Deborah Sams and Mary Lou Ryan from being pioneers of the ethical fashion movement in Australia. Their rolled hem T-shirts are a staple from Bronte Beach to the playground of Palm Beach, but now you’re just as likely to spot those-in-the-know sipping macchiatos over sashimi salad at Jackies cafe in Bassike denim or their jersey dresses.

Stroll around the corner to sample Josh Goot or Sass & Bide, but definitely duck into Jac + Jack for a polished take on basics, with classic-cut jumpers and T-shirts in rich cashmere, merino wool and soft cottons. They may have a London outpost now, but you’ll still get more wears from their signature linen shirts beneath Sydney’s sun.

Finally, make like a French fashion editor at Carine Roitfeld’s favorite Paddington pit stop, Scanlan Theodore, where the effortless approach to Australian dressing has been perfected in silhouettes at the heart of the new season executed in quality fabrics.

If you feel like swinging your shopping bags along the street in triumph, march up Oxford Street until you get to William Street and try an Australian approach to Italian dining at 10 William St. with a glass of crisp Vermentino.

And just because you’re not done shopping yet, head into Parlour X, 261 Oxford St, a former church converted by entrepreneur Eva Galambos into a place to worship international labels such as Celine, Vetements and Isabel Marant. Peppered among the international gems are pieces by Christopher Esber, Ellery and Melbourne labels Strateas Carlucci and Toni Maticevski.

Where do you go for the best fashion in Sydney? Share your favorite discoveries on Instagram with #momentumtravel.

Photos: Getty

Damien Woolnough
Damien Woolnough (@DamienWoolnough)

Fashion writer Damien Woolnough’s scribblings have appeared in Vogue Australia, InStyle, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar Australia and The Australian Financial Review. He is the former editor of Vogue.com.au and former fashion editor of The Australian newspaper. Follow him on Instagram @damienwoolnough.

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