Dress for Excess: Designers Embrace Post-Lockdown Hedonism | Australian fashion
Jordan gogos does most of it. The 27-year-old multi-hyphen hops through a crowded room in the Powerhouse Museum’s Ultimo workshop. From overflowing boxes of cut-off denim to hat sculptures in the shape of birds (made from sea fishing nets), he displays everything with equal enthusiasm.
“What do you do before you go to a club?” he says. “You’re hitting each other! You cut your t-shirt open before you go out, you do this thing and you’re like, ‘This is kinda cool.’ I appreciate what we do: we smack things together.”
As we speak, he’s two weeks away from his second Australian Fashion Week show under the Iordanes Spyridon Gogos label, which will take place on May 12th.
His first Fashion Week outing of 2021 was one of the most talked-about collections of the season, a mix of papier-mâché, technicolor corsets and witch hats, all made from recycled and repurposed materials. Gogos’ background is in industrial design, but the show was made with a large team of collaborators. Some garments made during the lockdown free time took up to 10 weeks to produce. It was pure spectacle – none of the clothes on display were for sale.
However, the great experiment paid off. Last December, Gogos received a workshop space at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney as part of a partnership to deliver the museum’s first runway show, the beginnings of a $500 million redevelopment plan to transform the Ultimo space into a design hub.
“I’ve had so many editors say, ‘Nobody’s carrying your stuff, and you get all this attention,'” says Gogos. “‘And you’re still seen as a proper brand in Australia. What’s up?'”
This year, Gogos has recruited 56 people, ranging from established international labels to collectives like Yarrabah Arts and Cultural Precinct in tropical north Queensland, to emerging talent like Julia Baldini, a local cobbler who makes 27 pairs of handmade felt shoes.
There’s some commercialism in the mix this time: a collaboration with veteran Australian designer Jenny Kee featuring more conventional wearables like jeans, jackets and silk shirts. The public will be able to purchase these clothes, but the construction will still feature recycled materials, including some remnants from Kee’s Powerhouse Museum 2019 exhibit featuring Linda Jackson.
Gogos is just one of many queer emerging Australian designers showing this fashion week. Melbourne designers Eric Yvon and Sydney’s Alix Higgins will both be hosting their first standalone runway shows at the event.
They also attribute their current sense of momentum to the pandemic. Higgins, who collaborated with Gogos in 2021, launched his label during lockdown (“I was bored and wanted attention and got it,” he jokes). Yvon has had his label since 2017 but has noticed a surge in interest since the long lockdowns in 2021. “We all dragged,” he says. “It was really dark. My design is all bright and bold and colorful… Post Covid I feel like people are a lot more receptive.”
While Yvon and Higgins’ labels are more traditional (ie, more commercial) than Gogos’, their designs carry the same sense of exuberance and pageantry, a queer sensibility that transcends genderless design (though all three do, too). Where Gogos brings a club kid mentality to his creative ethos, Yvon and Higgins have already found a home in the queer nightlife scenes of Sydney and Melbourne. It’s rare to visit an event like Sydney’s House of Mince, Loose Ends and Athletica or clubs like Melbourne’s Miscellania or Rainbow House without seeing their creations.
Inspired by his Mauritian heritage, Yvon’s beaded handbags, crochet sweaters and mesh camouflage dresses exude the energy of the ‘main character’. When describing the ideal place to wear his clothes, he imagines Rihanna lounging on a boat in the Caribbean. Instead of a “traditional catwalk,” he promises a “celebration” and is collaborating with Jack Huang, a Sydney ballroom character, to give it “a little bit more character.” “I just want to do it [the audience] be happy, because that’s what the label is about,” he says.
But Yvon recognizes there’s more at play than the need for luck in relation to larger trends, noting that there’s a harder, more “apocalyptic” vibe amid the gushing Y2K references.
“Everyone’s into the destroyed look,” muses Yvon. “We were locked up – so everyone [design] The students used their own resources of what was around them.”
A glance through the shelves at Sydney’s Distal Phalanx store and Melbourne’s Error 404, boutiques known for stocking cutting-edge emerging designers, makes Yvon’s point clear. From Yvon’s beaded handbags to the other Melbourne label’s Maroske Peechs tie-dye blouses and Wackie Ju’s G-strings with a flower at the back, the look is less a coherent trend and more a DIY claim to attention.
“There’s this term, post-lockdown hedonism,” says Error 404’s Anjelica Angwin. “Here in Melbourne, club culture, fashion and design are having a real resurgence because we can finally access them. I think it comes from the longing to express the fact that we’re still alive… And especially in the club scene, there are a lot of people who embrace their bodies. It’s really nice to see.”
Higgins work literally and figuratively hugs the body with skintight nylon shirts and shorts. His designs feature bold text printed on bright barcode strips, making them easy to spot on a dance floor. Featuring lines of poetry and phrases from Higgins’ diaries — like “faerie dude” or “baby, I’m so scared” — it looks like a nihilistic meme account incarnate. It’s emotionally indulgent, which is why Higgins was surprised to learn that his clothes mostly make his customers feel sexy. “I think I’ve made myself this crazy girlfriend that no one wants – because I just rambled on about shitty poetry not just on the internet but in a closet all over the place. It’s frightening, but it’s liberating.”
Higgins describes his upcoming collection as “even edgier,” in part because he created most of the ’30s-inspired collection alone in his studio apartment.
“I see my work as quite romantic and poetic, introspective, like armor,” he says. He doesn’t design for nightclubs, “but I also think all of these things belong in a club.”