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Fashion in Australia has always had a unique element to it, and for a simple reason – Aussies live differently to the rest of the world. We can wake up in the morning, head to the beach, go to work and go for drinks afterwards – and we love any excuse for a celebration.
So, diverse styles are required to allow the move from sun to desk to restaurant without too much hassle. Here are the 20 most iconic Australian fashion designers and brands who don’t just do fashion, they are fashion.
This article was originally written by Ellie Griffiths and has since been updated.
Australia’s most glamorous designer, Alex Perry created magnificent gowns ready for the red carpet. This Sydney-born designer, named Australia’s premier couturier, graduated from the prestigious East Sydney Fashion Design Studio in 1984, followed by the opening of his first atelier in Kensington, Sydney, in 1992. Since then his jewelled corsets, dramatic gowns and sexy sheaths have become his trademark, boasting an impressive clientele including Megan Gale, Jackie O, Gigi Hadid, Natalie Portman, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna. Not only does Perry produce highly-anticipated feminine silhouettes, but since the inaugural Mercedes Australian Fashion Week in 1995, his shows have evolved into what is now known as ‘the most glamorous show of the week’.
Established by Australian-born friends Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton in 1999, their label Sass and Bide has become iconic, designing strong, obscure and beautiful garments. From ready-to-wear fashion to leather and denim, and their exclusive gallery pieces, they have evolved from an ‘underground phenomenon to a cult label of international fame’. Originally selling their customised denim along Portobello Road in London, their first seasonal collection was shown at the Mercedes Australian Fashion Week in 2001, followed by annual showings in Fashion Weeks from London to New York. With emphasis on graphic prints and innovative cuts, these designers draw inspiration from an extensive archive that has attracted attention across the world.
Frederick Fox was especially known as a milliner, who designed hats for Queen Elizabeth. His clients also included Princess Alexandra, Diana, Princess of Wales, Hillary Clinton and Joan Collins. Fox made around 350 hats for the Queen over 35 years, and became known for his desire to make big and outstanding hats that made an impression. Notable hats that Fox made included the 1977 pink hat with 25 fabric bells, and the flying saucer hat for Princess Diana. The prototype for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee hat is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
From high fashion swimwear to carefree yet sophisticated resort wear, Sydney-born sisters Nicky and Simone Zimmermann launched their label, Zimmerman, in 1991, followed by the opening of their first store in Sydney, in 1992. They debuted at the 1996 Australian Fashion Week where they proceeded to build a fashion empire. With stores across Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, the sisters have been awarded many awards, including Swimwear Designer of the Year at Australian Fashion Week (1999) and Best Swimwear Brand at Prix de Marie Claire (2005) for their ability to push ‘new design and technical boundaries’. Making their way from selling garments in Sydney’s Paddington Markets in the early 1990s to becoming an icon on New York’s catwalks, Zimmermann has become a highly sought-after label.
A brand associated with florals, slip dresses and silk blouses, the nature-inspired label put an affordable twist on resort styles. Founded by fashion expert sisters Georgie and Lizzie Renkert (Lizzie worked as a fashion editor for major Australian publications and was a host of Project Runway (Georgie has years of experience in buying and production), they know Aussies are good at layering and investing in staples and styled their brand to reflect that. The unique Australian lifestyle centred on sun and the beach dictates the way they design their clothes – with lightness and fluidity.
For such a new and specific label, this brand has taken off and become a must-have for all Australians. If you’ve been looking for the perfect, all-day everyday bag that fits everything, looks great and won’t get ruined if your thermos of coffee leaks, you need State of Escape. Founded in 2014 by Brigitte MacGowan and Desley Maidment after an unfortunate bag-leaking situation of their own, their line of bags is centred around strong, lightweight fabrics, convenient sizes and bright colours. Made of neoprene fabric and with a structured base of sailing rope, the athleisure bags come in a variety of vivid hues are a tribute to the beachy aesthetic of the Australian landscape.
Known as the ultimate ‘cool girl label’, Aje still flies slightly under the radar on the Australian fashion scene, let alone on an international scale. Founded by two best friends a solid 10 years ago, Edwina Robinson and Adrian Norris are devoted to details and embellishments – hand-painted prints, hand-sewn beads and sequins and their use of artists to produce their line. Expect floral embroidered tops, heavy-collared blouses and sharp leather miniskirts. They also draw inspiration for Australia’s warm climate and nature.
A local star in contemporary and elegant womenswear is brother-sister duo Camilla Freeman-Topper and Marc Freeman. Creating sophisticated tones that reflect the Australian lifestyle, the Sydney-born duo first launched their collections at Australian Fashion Week in 2003. Becoming a fast favourite, sought-after both locally and internationally, their signature products — classic tailoring, separates and luxe party wear — have built a stylish fan base including Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Stewart, Rose Byrne and Kate Bosworth. Featuring colourful prints and unique details, they broadened their horizons with the launch of their swimwear collection in 2007 and ready-to-wear line in 2012.
If costume jewellery isn’t really your thing, you’ll love the beautifully understated and minimalist Sarah & Sebastian – an Aussie cult-favourite jewellery line you’ve yet to hear of. Founded in Sydney back in 2011 by Sarah Gittoes and Robert Sebastian Grynkofki, the duo are renowned for dainty craftsmanship and ethically sourced stones. With intricate rings, sculptured bangles and oyster-shaped earrings, they are definitely a one-of-a-kind investment. Every piece is made to order by their talented Sydney artists.
Creating a modern and innovative brand that strays from the on-trend to commerciality, Melbourne-born Toni Maticevski, is a renowned Australian designer celebrated globally. Having first launched his brand, Maticevski, in 1999, he has become a regular at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Sydney, Australia and New York. With a balanced look on both art and fashion, Maticevski has previously collaborated with dance institutions from Adams Ballet Lab to the Australian Ballet, creating unique costumes and designs for performances and campaigns respectively. Maticevski holds great attention to detail and is very hands-on in designing and creating his ready-to-wear label, alongside his elegant one-off commissions. Juxtaposing elegance and manipulation of the traditional silhouettes, this Melbourne-based fashion designer sure knows how to dress the female body.
We only need two words here to encapsulate the style of this unique brand, and that’s bohemian chic. Embroidery, A-line miniskirts with fringes, beaded shift dresses, and long silky slips with pleats are the signature styles of this brand. With celebrity fans such as Cate Blanchett and Nicki Minaj, the brand has taken off on an international scale since it was founded in 2005 by fashion school students Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales. They work closely with artists to design their collections and recently worked to produce a line with renowned Australian artist Del Kathryn Barton. An artist who is recognized for her colorful and highly decorative figurative work, Plunkett and Sales produced a theme focused on the brand’s ideas around the energy of nature and the animal world.
Widely known for reinventing the vintage silhouette, Perth-born designer Kym Ellery launched Ellery in 2007. From the most isolated city in the world, Kym continued her studies in London before moving to Sydney where she became known after Trevor Stones — a stylist at Vogue — photographed a pair of glitter tights she had previously created. Ellery became a desirable brand featuring tailoring inspired by the 70s, and worn by style icons such as Elle Fanning, Rihanna, Solange Knowles and Cate Blanchett. Originally starting her fashion career as an editor at Australia’s magazine Russh, Ellery has since been featured in major publications from Vogue Australia to Harper’s Bazaar Australia for her Sydney-made designs featuring innovative textures developed in Switzerland and Italy.
Starting as a lingerie designer in 1990, after producing French-inspired underwear for her friends, Collette Dinnigan moved onto designing blouses and evening trousers. Originally South African born, Collette grew up in New Zealand before moving to Australia where she launched herself into the fashion industry, opening her first retail store in Paddington, Sydney in 1992. This store became a go-to destination for delicate lace pieces and beautiful lingerie-style dresses, gaining a large following within Australia and overseas. In 1995, Collette was the ‘first-and-only Australian’ designer to be requested to participate in the Paris’ Prêt-a-Porter (ready-to-wear) Fashion Week, in launching her own ready-to-wear collection. Further launching an Enfant collection, inspired by the birth of her daughter, in 2004 and a Bridal collection in 2007, Collette has been widely recognised for her bridal wear and flirtatious feminine gowns that are highly sought-after by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Halle Berry.
A staple of every cool fashion Instagrammer you follow, Realisation Par was an idea conceived by Aussie fashion blogger-turned-designer Alexandra Spencer and designer friend Teale Talbot. The label doesn’t churn out collections, but instead focuses on designing the perfect staples and showstoppers’ complete wardrobe. Their style is modern with a retro flair, and so eloquently made they are well worth the price tag.
A high-end designer with big dreams and a determined attitude from a very young age, Italian-born Carla Zampatti arrived in Australia at the age of nine and has since become one of Australia’s most influential fashion designers. Making a national launch in 1967, followed by the establishment of Carla Zampatti Ltd in 1970 and the opening of her first boutique in Surry Hills in 1972, Carla was one of the first Australian designers to expand her collections to swimwear in 1973, as well as sunglasses and perfumes. Capturing the women’s market, Carla was offered the rare honour to design the 1985 Ford Laser and the 1987 Laser and Meteor cars that sold exceptionally well. Receiving the highest award in the Australian Fashion Industry – Australian Fashion Laureate – in 2008, it’s easy to see her pure talent and the passion she has for this industry, still evident today.
With great attention to detail, the ‘most critically lauded, and awarded, fashion innovator to emerge from Australia’ debuted his collection at the Australian Fashion Week in 2009. Dion Lee is committed to designing cutting edge garments for the working woman, as well as party girls. In 2010, this Sydney-born designer was also the first designer to ever stage a runway presentation at the iconic Sydney Opera House. As a result of such optimism, international acclaim and commercial support in both Australia and international countries resulted, rapidly growing his brand in a short period of time.
Alice McCall is the label you want a piece of in your wardrobe, to pull out on those special occasions where you need that ‘wow’ factor. With unique, feminine designs, arty prints and their ambition to go that step further when it comes to innovative design, Alice McCall rises above to meet expectations set by the major fashion houses around the world. While their pieces to have an exxy price tag, it’s well worth it to say: “Oh this? This is an Alice.”
At the age of 19, Ruth Tarvydas was one of the youngest designers to open a boutique and was famously known for making headlines with her unique and stylish designs. Tarvydas became one of the first Australian designers to export clothing overseas to London. She was known as being the designer who brought boho chic to the 1960s, and designed clothes for celebrities like Delta Goodrem, Sonia Kruger, Jennifer Hawkins, Rihanna, and Kim Kardashian. Her most famous client became Rebecca Twigley, who wore the notorious red dress, which received an immense amount of coverage, making it one of her most famous works.
This list would not be complete without the pure bohemian influence of Camilla Franks. The brightest, most unique label in Australia (and the world, we’re pretty sure) you can spot a Camilla piece from miles away from the vibrant mixes of tropical colour, floating silhouettes and hand-cut shapes. Founded 14 years ago in Sydney’s Bondi Beach (of course) by designer and artist Camilla Franks, the label has captured the colours of the Australian beach lifestyle and turned them into garments.
Taught to sew from the age of four, Albury-born Lisa Ho also started her fashion career on a stall in the Paddington Markets before making it to the international stage. Launching her label in the early 1980s, Lisa designs clothes that are required in every aspect of the modern woman’s life, from their working lives to the most glamorous of occasions. In the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, Lisa’s position in the Australian fashion industry was celebrated in a segment in the opening ceremony, alongside worldwide recognition for designing the gown that Olivia Newton-John wore to welcome the athletes. Worn by the famous, including Jennifer Lopez, Elle Macpherson, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Delta Goodrem, Lisa has also been privately collecting vintage clothing and fabrics since the age of 15. She has estimated her private antique collection to hold close to 18,000 pieces.