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First Nations creatives stun at 2024 Melbourne Fashion Festival

Phoebe Blogg -

Renowned as Australia's fashion capital, it came as no surprise to see this year's PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival leave both press and participants in awe.

While the fashion event has been celebrated year after year for its upbeat approach to spotlighting the new and unique, this year's festival saw the 2024 program profile several First Nations creatives – of all ages.

With 2024 marking the festival's 28th year in operation, the 15-day programme (24th February – 9th March 2024), hosted more than 100 events. From established designers to emerging models, the seasonal event showcased the raw talent of Australia's diverse First Nations fashion community.

PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival (MFF) chief executive, Caroline "Ralph" Ralphsmith, shared her mission to further cement MFF as a prominent event in Australia's fashion calendar, which has the power to propel and spotlight Australian fashion-goers even further.

"This year we are further cementing PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival as Australia's only true consumer major event in Fashion – a true fashion destination – where fashion lovers, industry insiders and voyeurs all gather to celebrate and support the extraordinary rich tapestry that is the Melbourne and Victorian fashion industry," she said.

Welcoming over ten First Nations designers to the 2024 program saw the schedule feature a diverse range of culturally led brands including, Gali Swimwear, MAARA Collective, Joseph & James, Paul McCann, Yapa Mali, Ngali and many more.

Welcoming these brands and designers to the stage, saw an element of First Nations talent feature in almost every single runway presentation.

Whether they were profiled in the festival's solo runway show (Emerging Mob In Fashion) dedicated to First Nations fashion, or displayed in other runways throughout the week, it was safe to say that the cohort of Indigenous designers who presented at this year's festival were the best of the best.

Em Stenberg wearing MAARA Collective on the runway. (Lucas Dawson)

Ngali runway at MFF. (Lucas Dawson)

For returning MFF designers Denni Francisco (Ngali) and Corina Muir (Amber Days), this year's event was yet another opportunity to come together and showcase new collections, all whilst encouraging and supporting one another as opposed to competing.

"We have been fortunate to have participated in MFF each year since we started. We are always grateful for this opportunity as there is always such a great buzz in Melbourne for the event," Francisco said.

Also in full support of the success and growing status of other First Nations designers, Muir said other First Nations designers act as an additional source of inspiration, reflecting what can be achieved in the fashion and design industry.

"I feel so grateful, I think this is the third or fourth time showcasing at Melbourne Fashion Festival and our second year in a row in the Urban Oasis runway, which is personally one of our favourites…I am always inspired and in ore by the amount of talented First Nations Designers," she said.

Amber Days presenting at MFF. (Lucas Dawson)

While the festival did welcome back a few familiar faces, audience members, media and press were just as excited to see a series of new designers take to the stage.

For freshly successful menswear brands Joseph & James and Gali Swimwear, presenting at MFF was a new and exciting opportunity both brands had yet to partake in.

"We were approached to take part in the Urban Oasis Runway towards the end of 2023, and we hadn't been a part of MFF before, so it was a rather exciting prospect," said Joseph & James founder and designer Juanita Page.

Whilst Joseph & James impressed with their elevated take on streetwear, Gali Swimwear made a splash with their new artist collaboration collection - titled Womi Waves - featuring talented Worimi-Biripi artist, Jake Simon.

"It is our Melbourne Fashion Festival debut. It's also the first time we've ever showcased Gali in Naarm which is beyond exciting. We're very honoured that we were selected as an emerging designer for the Emerging Mob In Fashion runway," Gali founder and designer David Leslie, told Style Up during Melbourne Fashion Festival.

Joseph & James presenting at MFF. (Lucas Dawson)

Gali Swimwear presenting at MFF. (Image: Lucas Dawson)

One designer who certainly brought something new to this year's festival was legendary First Nations designer Paul McCann.

After having collaborated with popular Australian bridal brand and business Jane Hill Bridal, McCann put a rather high-end Indigenous twist on bridal and occasion wear, further proving that First Nations fashion stems far beyond the confines of casual daywear.

"This year I've done a deadly collab with Jane Hill Bridal. A beautiful collaboration together where it's still black and white, but it's not just your average wedding dress. We (First Nations designers) are getting fancier and you're welcome. It's nice to see that we're not stuck in afternoon-like daywear…we're elevating," McCann told Style Up.

Paul McCann presenting at MFF. (Lucas Dawson)

Paul McCann presenting at MFF. (Lucas Dawson)

Brooke Blurton attending Melbourne Fashion Festival. (Image: Lucas Dawson)

Victorian Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, Steve Dimopoulos shared his excitement on the festivals program, mentioning in a statement last year that the 2024 festival was bound to attract new audiences from across the country – and that it did.

"We're proud to support Australia's largest consumer fashion event and the calibre and diversity of next year's program is set to attract new audiences from across the country, supporting local jobs and boosting our vibrant hotel and hospitality sectors," he said.

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