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Fashion Fusion – five cultures in four minutes

Fashion Unites is a short film layered with meanings that define it more as a time capsule than a transient record of fashion trends. There are clues to its backstory in its credits; five layers of Australian cultural heritage headed by director Atong Atem and Antuong Nguyen’s Silky Jazz film production company, and in its elegantly slow flow of diverse models who drift and dance between moody interiors, a grand staircase and lush Victorian garden in sync with an exquisite, tumbling piano score by composer Kai Chen Lim.

"It’s a fashion film, yes, but with a subtle language of diversity woven through it," says its fashion editor, freelance stylist and consultant Stuart Walford. "It’s timeless."

Stuart inherited the project almost two years ago from renowned Melbourne stylist Virginia Dowzer. COVID-19 had interrupted plans for her original brief, commissioned by Creative Victoria and five major multicultural Melbourne museums, to mount a fashion show.

"We wanted to bring the museums together in a piece that would unite them in a common message," says Fran Kerlin of Creative Victoria. "To bring together the different cultures with a common purpose; to showcase their cultural heritages through the fashion story."

The title Fashion Unites was picked, according to Fran, because that’s precisely what it does.

When Stuart Walford took over Fashion Unites , the brief had morphed from a show into a more COVID-friendly film but he wasn’t disappointed. "No, the lifespan of the project is so much more than a 10 minutes in-person fashion show," he says, "Now it’s a kind of time capsule that can exist indefinitely."

Stuart started by linking the Hellenic, Italian, Jewish, Islamic, Chinese and Vietnamese museums with creatives, models and designers with heritage in common. "It was important that the idea of diversity was not just in front of the lens," he says, "Not just in the image, but in the voices and the hands that collaborated to create the work."

He also insisted Fashion Unites be treated primarily as a fashion film with a powerful cultural backstory, not a didactic cultural film with an incidental fashion backstory. "I think its message is more powerful if it’s subtle," he says, "if the language of diversity is woven all the way through."

Unlike most fashion films, Fashion Unites would also have to be timeless to ensure the longevity of its message. Stuart tackled this by commissioning its mix of Melbourne’s independent labels; Alexi Freeman, Dom Bagnato, MNDATORY, Chris Ran Lin, Estelle Michaelides, Material by Product, Leah Hertzberg and William Thi among them, to bring designs that were more typical of their aesthetic than current trends or season.

"Dom Bagnato’s for instance was from his 1980s archive," he says. "Kim Clark’s was from her graduate collection from RMIT and Victoria Triantafyllou designed a custom piece for Fashion Unites ."

Stream online via Multicultural Museums Victoria website as part of its Zooming In, Zooming Out film festival, www.mmv.org.au.

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