Making room for every shape, size and ability on the runway

Indigenous fashion took its first formal steps on the Afterpay Australian Fashion Week runway last year, leaving the backstage door open for other marginal groups to make their mark in a space once reserved for mostly white sample-sized models.

With shows by curve model agency Bella Management featuring model Robyn Lawley, gender and size inclusive artists Nicol & Ford and adaptive clothing labels Jam and Christina Stephens those doors have been blown wide open, with a ramp installed for better access.

Models Suzanne Berry, Cleo Hayden and Jason Clymo pose after the Adaptive Fashion show at Sydney’s Carriageworks.Credit:Brook Mitchell

“This is a moment,” said wheelchair-bound model Jason Clymo backstage. I’m hoping that it’s a stepping stone towards a greater level of change in the industry.”

“To see the biggest fashion event in Australia representing people with disabilities, providing opportunities for designers of clothing for people with disabilities is critical in terms of shifting what is happening at the grassroots. People with disabilities struggle to find clothing that actually suits our needs all the time and fits our bodies.”

For the founders of Jam the Label, occupational therapists Emma Clegg and Molly Rogers, the show was an opportunity to educate those in the front row more familiar with Prada than the challenges of prosthetics, using video messages from the models as well as their inventive designs.

“We would love it in the future if people hear about inclusive and adaptive clothing, that they know what it means,” Clegg said. “A big part of that is educating the public on what adaptive clothing looks like and what has been considered in the design process. The great thing is that anyone can wear them. Absolutely anyone.”

Designers Katie-Louise and Timothy Nicol-Ford of Nicol & Ford (C) with models at Carriageworks.Credit:Brook Mitchell

The rebel spirit continued at Nicol & Ford where married designers Timothy and Katie-Louise Nicol-Ford celebrated body and gender diversity through the Vaseline-smeared filter of glamour. Tears spread from the designers to the front row throughout the salon style event.

“It’s been a very emotional process for us being our first show and something that we have worked on for a long time,” Timothy said. “We have been working on this collection since 2019. A combination of passion and tiredness makes you very emotional.”

Katie-Louise’s background as a costume designer came to the fore in a chartreuse halter-neck dress and asymmetric goddess gown that could have been lifted from a vintage movie starring Joan Crawford or Jean Harlow. Here the divas were recast with models of both genders.

“Our approach is pretty unusual in terms of the way we make, cast within community and design for bodies rather than silhouettes. We just wanted to put a bit of ourselves into the world and share that with supportive people. We don’t have a background in commercial fashion. We just wanted to give it a punt.”

Robyn Lawley in the Curve Edit at Australian Fashion Week.Credit:Getty

Tears gave way to whoops and cheers at the Curve Edit presented by modelling agency Bella Management and featuring their supermodel client Robyn Lawley. My front-row neighbour, body activist and self-love enthusiast Bozilla (real name April Helene-Horton) was cheering for every outfit.

“I have waited my entire adult life to see a show like that,” Bodzilla said. “Twenty-seven years of fashion and this is the first time we have seen the bodies that are sitting on these seats on the runway and nothing has felt better than that this week.”

For Lawley the show represents change in the industry from her early days modelling.

“All those years ago I was constantly told my body wasn’t good enough,” Lawley said. “We are the buyers at the end of the day and we want to see our bodies represented. We are featuring women all over a size 12, and I can’t believe this is actually happening.”

That change continues to happen as Vogue cover model Elaine George has seen. George attended the Indigenous Fashion Projects show with labels including Ngali and Maara. Now George would like to see a flow on effect beyond the runway.

“We have a lot of really talented artists, designers and stylists,” George said. “Instead of just going for your usual make-up artists or talent, hire a First Nations person. They bring a different lens, a cultural lens to fashion. They might be able to talk to the model or photographer about how to connect with this land, just by having a First Nations person on a shoot. We are getting there.”

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