Australian labels are increasingly choosing to focus on the US market over the UK, with New York Fashion Week the launching pad for many Aussie labels. Queensland University of Technology fashion lecturer Kay McMahon said Australian designers are now switching from London to the United States.
“In the fashion world, it’s the same with any sort of trend, sometimes London will want to buy from Australian designers and other times it switches to different countries,” she says.
“In the 1970s it was all about London, but in the 1980s it shifted to the US around the time Olivia Newton-John opened up all her Koala Blue stores.” McMahon explains the movement of Australian designers between London and New York “chops and changes” as part of a cycle.
Rebecca Vallance, who launched her namesake label in 2009 in Sydney, made her debut at the latest New York Fashion Week with a menswear-inspired collection. It featured collared shirts and dresses, tailored pintucked trousers, pencil skirts and power suits.
In 2012 Vallance was named by Harper’s Bazaar as one of three up-and-coming designers to watch. Over the past year the designer’s sales in America have skyrocketed and the label has been worn by Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson and Halle Berry. McMahon says there are a variety of reasons Australian designers are now being attracted to the US market.
“Some designers are now saying the American economy is picking up, but the other aspect is we have a synergy of aesthetic,” she says. “The collections of Sass and Bide and Dion Lee are appealing to the US at the moment, they get it.”
Aldenton says New York has a commercial appeal which suits the Australian design aesthetic, while Milan is sexier, Paris is refined and elegant, and London is zanier. Fashion label Zimmermann staged its first New York show in September last year and returned again this season. The collection, designed by founding sisters Nicky and Simone Zimmermann, was a twist on 1950s silhouettes, inspired by old photos of their parents.
Zimmermann and Sass and Bide have found success in the US, with both labels opting to open physical stores. Sass and Bide opened its first flagship store in New York in November last year, while Zimmermann opened a boutique in downturn Los Angeles in 2011 and a New York store in 2012. McMahon says it’s good for public relations for these brands to also show in fashion week.
“Brands are looking outside of Australia because our market isn’t big and we’ve had a huge increase in international designers opening here,” she says.
“Some of them [Australian designers] are now prepared to take risks, going more direct and opening stores in the US and selling online.”
Aldenton says the US market is more accessible to Australian designers than ever before because of the E3 visa.
“Basically it’s for Australians to come to the US for two years… A lot of designers are coming to the US using the visa and looking to break into the industry. For other countries it’s a lot harder to get into the market,” she says.
To qualify for the E3 visa you have to be an Australian national with a minimum education attainment of a bachelor degree and be going to work in a ‘speciality occupation’.
As well as the visa, McMahon says scholarships on offer for Australian fashion students through the Australian Fashion Federation to live in New York and complete internships with esteemed designers are making it easier for up-and-coming designers to crack the US market.
“The scholarships are for $20,000 and you can be a designer, photographer or even a makeup artist. A few of our graduates have won the scholarships and it’s opened up a lot of interest in the states,” McMahon says.
“The winner gets to do internships with designers like Tom Ford. Even some of the students who didn’t win were noticed by the judges and are now being supported to go to the US because they liked their work.”