Australian fashion designers ditch London for New York: Why is it in style to move to the Big Apple?

Australian fashion designers ditch London for New York: Why is it in style to move to the Big Apple?

Five years ago London was the place to be, but now Australian designers are heading to the United States in increasing numbers.

At the most recent New York Fashion Week, there were eight Australian designers present, showcasing their collections to buyers, fashion enthusiasts and critics alike.

It saw the return of some old faces to the New York scene, while a number of emerging designers also made their debut.

Moving from London

Queensland University of Technology fashion lecturer Kay McMahon told SmartCompany 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.

The assistant editor of global fashion trend forecaster WGSN, Samantha Aldenton, told SmartCompany Australian designers are looking to new markets as competition has increased within Australia.

“E-commerce has taken off in Australia with ASOS and Top Shop and other big retailers having online offerings with free shipping. Traditional retailers are now struggling to compete with the allure of the really successful and increasingly more affordable international designers,” she says.

“Designers are now looking elsewhere to find a market which will appreciate them. The US market is massive and not only are more Australians starting to show at Fashion Week, they’re showing at the major trade shows as well all over the US.”

The pull of New York

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.”

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