The shmatte stories: Behind the seams of the Melbourne Fashion Festival

The shmatte stories: Behind the seams of the Melbourne Fashion Festival

CAMILLA AND MARC Ira Coat. Photo: Lucas Dawson Photography.
CAMILLA AND MARC Ira Coat. Photo: Lucas Dawson Photography.


Melbourne is in the grip of fashion fever with the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF) currently underway. 

Rebecca Davis shares the contributions of the Jewish players on the fashion field. 



SYDNEY brother-sister duo Camilla Freeman-Topper and Marc Freeman (pictured below) burst onto the fashion scene with CAMILLA AND MARC at Australian Fashion Week in 2003. While Camilla delivers the creative design, Marc brings the business acumen, and together they have forged a luxury fashion brand that has become synonymous with effortless elegance and contemporary cool.

“The CAMILLA AND MARC woman has a chic and sophisticated sensibility to her and this [Autumn/Winter] collection speaks beautifully to that,” Marc told The AJN.

Their new collection featured on the David Jones Gala Runway and Runway 1 and showed sharp structure, soft leather and flowing fabric. It was inspired by the idea of a fantastical garden, Camilla revealed.

“There is a strong nod to the 1930s with masculine tailoring including fitted, double-breasted jackets with wide shoulders and a strong definition of the waist.

“Peonies, poppies and emerald silks speak to our feminine side,” she added.

Camilla credits her deep appreciation for style and craftsmanship to their grandmother, who “lived in an era where clothing was custom fit and tailor-made”.

“The attention to detail, the exceptional quality and the appreciation of a woman’s shape are all factors that led to me wanting to design timeless pieces and keepsakes that women will continue wearing,” she noted.

While fashion design is undoubtedly a form of expression, the siblings’ Jewish identity is also inextricably woven into the very fabric of what they do.

“Judaism is such a big part of who Camilla and I are,” affirms Marc.

“I think that the ethos of community and closeness is something that we strongly identify with and a spirit that we have brought to our business.”

Camilla continues: “The bond we share with our colleagues and family is a natural extension of growing up in the Jewish community, and we’ve always instilled that same sense of family in the business.”

CAMILLA AND MARC Arlen midi dress. Photo: Graham Denholm/Getty Images for David Jones.

Musing upon the Australian Jewish fashion narrative, Camilla praised the “lifetime of hard work” by Frank Lowy, father of the Westfield empire.

“[Lowy’s] legacy in retail and the subsequent transformation of the rag trade is unquestionable.”

Looking to the future, Marc also credited fellow Jewish Sydney native Josh Goot, who has recently launched luxury label, Wardrobe.NYC in New York.

“He has been a defining name in the Australian fashion industry.”

But Camilla and Marc are not to be overlooked as a dominating force on the Australian fashion stage in their own right, celebrating 15 years in the business.

“We have been so fortunate with the love and backing from our friends, the industry, customers and especially the Jewish community,” reflected Camilla.

“With this continuous support and backing, Australian brands will continue to succeed.”

Bec + Bridge | Designers 

A Bec + Bridge ensemble. Photo: Lucas Dawson Photography.

BECKY Cooper is one half of the pair behind Sydney-based label, Bec + Bridge.

The brand strikes a fine balance between aspirational and achievable fashion, a niche its creators have worked hard to perfect since the label’s inception in 2003. Their designs featured both on the David Jones Gala Runway, and Runway 6.

A strong element of textural interplay resonated, with the rigidity of high gloss vinyl bottoms and the strong lines of panelled suiting juxtaposed against the soft silhouettes of a silky wrap dress and the rich plushness of a velvet pant and cami combo.

The colour palette further emphasised the contrast: Think punchy reds, watermelon and classic black – well, the festival is held in Melbourne, after all – set against delicate pale pink, champagne and white.

Overall, the Bec + Bridge VAMFF story presented a playful array of the edgy, the powerful and the feminine.

David Briskin | VAMFF chairman

DAVID Briskin (pictured above) is passionate about promoting Australian brands.

“A healthy and growing Australian fashion and design industry is crucial for the economy, employment and giving future generations an opportunity to be part of a fantastic industry,” he told The AJN.

Appointed as chairman of VAMFF in September 2017, Briskin is a familiar figure in the fashion world. A shareholder and managing director of Mimco, he went on to become chief executive officer of Sass & Bide. In 2014, Briskin took on the role of shareholder and director of menswear label, M.J.Bale, and founded Briskin Investments and Advisory.

“Our industry is facing enormous structural change. It’s more important than ever to showcase our talented designers and retailers and help them thrive,” he said.

“We need to celebrate, promote and invest in Australian brands and that is why VAMFF is so important and ultimately why I became involved.”

In addition to the series of runways, Briskin praises the VAMFF Ideas program which involves business seminars, panels and workshops featuring local and global thought leaders as keynote speakers and panellists.

“With the many challenges facing our industry, it’s more important than ever to share and workshop ideas,” he noted.

While Briskin looks to the future, he also reflected on the past – hailing the “significant” Jewish contribution and recognising the European influence on Australian fashion as “so important”.

He continued: “Jewish immigration before and after the Second World War meant that the community played an important part in shaping the Australian shmatte business.”

Jackie Frank | Magazine mogul 

Photo: Lucas Dawson Photography.

FOLLOWING the recent announcement of her departure as general manager of fashion, beauty and health at Pacific Magazines, Jackie Frank (pictured above) joined a panel of powerhouse women at “An Evening with: Women in Media”, part of the VAMFF Ideas program.

Frank has been with Pacific Magazines for 23 years, the conglomerate responsible for bringing forth titles which include Marie Claire, InStyle and Women’s Health.

While Frank remained tight-lipped about what lay ahead next, the inaugural editor of Marie Claire reflected on her time at the magazine.

“When I started … I realised the power of the magazine and the power of the brand. I wanted it to be a voice for Australian women. I knew it was a
platform with an engaged audience, and we had the opportunity and possibility to connect and get the messages out to women.

Marie Claire was a fashion magazine, but we redefined what a fashion magazine was, and in doing so, we were more reflective of what women were, which was; we love our clothes – but we’re also interested in social issues. We are multifaceted.”

Held on International Women’s Day, Frank also spoke on what she perceives as the most pressing issues facing women in the workplace today: equal pay and work/life balance.

“I’d like to see more women in positions of power. One in four women are board members,” Frank added.

“What is really important is to follow your passion … and you will be successful at it and fulfilled by it. Follow the passion, not the pay packet.”

Yael Frischling | Graduate designer

Pieces from Yael Frischling’s collection. Photo: Lucas Dawson Photography.

IT is difficult to fathom that Yael Frischling was on the verge of giving up her fashion studies – and yet, just over a year later, the 23-year-old was selected to show her collection in the prestigious VAMFF National Graduate Showcase runway. She was one of the top 12 graduates to be chosen from around the country.

“It is a really tough course,” the University of Technology Sydney graduate told The AJN.

“I would often be up all night working on projects. My fingers were blistered, I was tired, and I didn’t want to pattern-make or sew anymore.”

But after an uplifting chat with one of her teachers, Frischling decided to embrace her adversity, challenging herself to create a collection that did not involve pattern making or sewing, and instead looked at other disciplines that use non-traditional fastening styles.

She landed upon Japanese architectural joinery techniques that do not use nails, and was inspired to translate the approach into fashion design.

The result was the use of laser and hand-cut strips of fabric, woven together to hold them in place.

“I wanted to intricately show textiles in a very dramatic and in-your-face way, that is both commercial and manufacturable.”

Frischling’s eye-catching collection presented as bold, linear, and minimalistic on the runway.

“I design for an idea. I don’t really know how to design for looks and beauty,” she said.

With VAMFF now behind her, what’s next for the Baltimore-born Sydneysider?

“I want to save to move to New York and hopefully work at a sustainable and innovative high-end women’s label. I hope to get experience and eventually start my own label.”

Watch this space.


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