Meet The Next Generation Of Australia’s Fashion Industry Set To Shine At AAFW 2022

We chatted to the four emerging designers ahead of the milestone occasion.

It’s a milestone only few will achieve, and a moment some spend their whole careers striving for. However, for four young emerging Australian designers, the opportunity to showcase at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week isn’t a lifelong dream, but a reality.

As part of AAFW’s 2022 emerging designer program, Next Gen, four creatives have been given the chance to showcase their latest creations on the most coveted runway in the country.

For Asia Hassan, Natasha Gordon, Phoebe Pendergast and Samantha Saint James, this accolade is the fruition of years of dedication, determination and what most of them call a dream come true.

Since 1996, the program has plucked these young creatives from obscurity and placed them on an international stage.

With industry veterans including Bec & Bridge, sass & bide and CAMILLA AND MARC making their start through this talent incubator, the upcoming fashion show has them marked as ones to watch.

So, don’t be surprised when you see the names ASIYAM, CLEA, Phoebe Pendergast and NOT A MAN’S DREAM in lights.

“Next Gen recognises the new guard of innovators influencing the future of fashion design in Australia,” said Natalie Xenita, Vice President-Managing Director of IMG Fashion Events & Properties Asia Pacific said in a press release.

“The 2022 winners have demonstrated talent not only in design, but in harnessing fashion’s power as a tool for communicating social and environmental messages that influence culture.”

With the runway show set to take place on site at Carriageworks on Friday 13 May, we sat down with the four designers to discuss their respective labels and love of fashion.

Phoebe Pendergast

(Credit: Courtesy of AAFW)

1. Hi Phoebe! How old are you and where are you from?

24 years old and Melbourne.

2. How did you discover your love of fashion?

I have always been fascinated with the transcendent aspect of dressing and how it facilitates the ever-evolving performance of identities in everyday life. Fashion allows us to explore different aspects of our personalities; with the unique ability to inform the way we move, our body language and attitude, to act out a character or fantasy, enabling the wearer to step into another reality. Fashion has always felt like the best medium for my own self expression because I can create my own world around it. Throughout my childhood, I gravitated towards hobbies such as knitting, embroidery and sewing so perhaps my love of textiles originated from there.

You can then imagine 8-year-old Phoebe’s elation upon discovering the latest instalment of her favourite book series was entitled: ‘Phoebe the Fashion Fairy’. It seems my fate had already been decided for me, and I must have considered this a clear sign from above.

When I reached high school, I took the first opportunity I could to enrol in a fashion design class at age 14. Later that year, I remember dragging my parents to the RMIT Open Day because I’d heard it was the best place to study fashion design in Australia. I spent many nights scrolling through Youtube for catwalk videos, and became totally infatuated with the fantasy realm of the runway. I loved the sense of theatricality and the intoxicating atmosphere that’s like slipping into another universe.

This is when I really knew I wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry and have remained focused and dedicated to this dream ever since.

3. Tell us about your label. What are your inspirations? Who are you designing for?

Phoebe Pendergast is a Naarm/Melbourne-based womenswear label which is highly influenced by romance and sentimentality. Personal storytelling remains at the core of my practice, with a focus on highlighting the narratives behind what we wear.

It feels most natural to approach the design process as if I were writing a journal. My work is best described as a series of vignettes that breathe life into a plethora of personal experiences and memories. It’s almost like creating a map or constellation of all the moments that are most poignant in my life. My latest collection focused on the experience of first love, capturing the innocent, naive spirit of girlhood. The design process behind this collection followed a recuperative nostalgic routine, documenting the lingering aftertaste of a former relationship and translating it into a wearable experience.

I think I’m naturally very inspired by the women around me, so when I envision the wearer of my clothes I think about my friends and how they would like to dress, what makes them feel empowered and celebrated.

4. Who are your heroes in the fashion industry?

It’s pretty difficult to answer a question such as this without mentioning McQueen, who for me is one of the greatest storytellers in fashion history. The hauntingly beautiful hologram from McQueen’s Fall 2006 show is an image that will always stay with me. It must have been a hair-raising moment to witness the ghost of Kate Moss, hovering over the stage like a messenger descending from the heavens. When I reflect on what I want to achieve as a designer, I would just hope that one day I can create a fashion experience that is truly moving.

5. What does it mean to you to win Next Gen and show at AAFW 2022?

Winning the 2022 Next Gen award is a truly monumental occasion in my fashion journey to date. I feel incredibly humbled to be recognised by the likes of Next Gen which is such an instrumental support system and platform for emerging designers such as myself.

I hope to utilise this opportunity to kick start the growth of my label whilst upholding responsible fashion practice and uplifting local makers and craftsmanship in my community. My driving purpose in life is to realise my dreams of running my own womenswear label, so being able to present my collection on the runway at AAFW feels like a very special milestone.

CLEA, Natasha Gordon

(Credit: Courtesy of AAFW)

1. Hi Natasha! How old are you and where are you from?

34 years old and Melbourne.

2. How did you discover your love of fashion?

There wasn’t a singular moment whereby I fell in love with fashion, I always had an interest in the creative and my love and appreciation for fashion has developed over a journey. I was fortunate enough to have an incredibly supportive family who nurtured my creative and encouraged me to pursue this passion.

My mother taught me how to sew and came from a creative family, her father a photographer and mother a dressmaker, creativity was encouraged from a young age. My father is from a business background and has grown multiple businesses over his lifetime, establishing my own label where these two worlds meet was always a dream.  After 10 years of industry experience in some amazing roles, I felt the time was right to put my creative voice out there.   

3. Tell us about your label. What are your inspirations? Who are you designing for?

Clea is a premium womenswear label, distinguished by an appreciation for exceptional quality, cut and finish.

Designed to be cherished, classic silhouettes and wardrobe staples are reimagined with a modern approach. Embracing an aesthetic which proposes a fresh balance of opposing elements – masculine and feminine, textural and clean, strength and softness, intricate and minimal.

With meticulous attention to detail and carefully considered creation, each garment is designed with enduring elements and longevity at its core.

We are appealing to a discerning consumer who seeks clothing which can evoke a sense of empowerment and confidence.  An appreciation for refined luxury, she is drawn to quality and considered design through all aspects of life.

 4. Who are your heroes in the fashion industry ?

I am incredibly inspired by Gabriela Hearst, her forward thinking and responsible vision for Chloe are coupled with a considered design approach which favours a slower creation process and attention to detail. Striving for eco-responsibility and sustainability within Chloe, she is crafting a vision of honest luxury, an ethos which I greatly admire and strive towards with Clea.

5. What does it mean to you to win Next Gen and show at AAFW?

Winning Next Gen and showcasing CLEA on a global stage at AAFW is an incredible honour and very exciting.

Samantha Saint James, NOT A MAN’S DREAM

(Credit: Courtesy of AAFW)

1. Hi Samantha! How old are you and where are you from?

32 and Melbourne. 

2. How did you discover your love of fashion?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a love for fashion. Growing up I was very shy so fashion for me was a way to express myself to the world without having to speak. I found that even if I was having a bad day, putting on a killer outfit made me feel good, which is what led me to want to design my own and be able to spread the good vibes. Being able to translate my creativity into fashion and have people feel confident and like themselves when wearing my designs is a beautiful thing, and what I strive for with every piece that I produce.

3. Tell us about your label. What are your inspirations? Who are you designing for?

NOT A MANS DREAM is a luxury androgynous streetwear brand that is all about empowering people, especially women. Defying the rules of gender archetypes and implementing diversity and oneness is what the brand ethos is about. I want people to feel confident in my designs and ensure everyone is able to stay authentically themselves, which is why NOT A MANS DREAM pieces are available to humans of all sizes, genders, and cultural backgrounds. As I always say – walk to the beat of your own drum baby.

I can be inspired by anything ranging from raw emotions of everyday life, old movies, to all the diverse cultures I have experienced whilst travelling around the world. The elements of Japanese aesthetics such as wabi-sabi, finding the perfect within the imperfect, has also influenced a lot of my designs. My work combines traditional customs with modern innovation, while implementing sustainable creation into high-quality garments that are supportable to the environment, whilst existing as an honest and transparent brand.

4. Who are your heroes in the fashion industry?

There are a lot of designers that I look up to in the industry, there are just so many amazingly talented people out there. My top three would include Alexander McQueen, Chitose Abe and Yoji Yammamato. I’ve always admired Alexander McQueen’s mind, technique and creativity, and the way he translated his imagination into his shows, which I think has been unmatched. I have a love and admiration for Japanese designers such as Chitose Abe who designs for Sacai. Her design, skill and deconstructive techniques have elevated the fashion game. Lastly, Yoji Yammamato is someone else who I absolutely respect and idolize. He revolutionised the industry when he stepped into the scene and he paved the way for up-and-coming designers with an innovative perspective on fashion design.

5. What does it mean to you to win Next Gen and show at AAFW?

Honestly, it’s a dream come true! I just completed my degree in 2021 so starting out as a new designer in the industry this opportunity is truly a blessing. To be able to showcase my collection during AAFW Fashion Week will allow the world to see my brand and what I’m all about as a designer. I cannot begin to explain how truly grateful I am and I cannot wait to see what’s in store next and what opportunities being in Next Gen will bring.

Asia Hassan, ASIYAM

(Credit: Courtesy of AAFW)

1. Hi Asia! How old are you and where are you from?

31 and Melbourne.

2. How did you discover your love of fashion?

My love for fashion is something that came to me naturally, I don’t think there was ever a time in my early memories where I was not amused by fashion, even when I didn’t know what the word “fashion” meant. I don’t have one defining moment because they’ve all accumulated into this passion that I have today. As far back as I can remember I’ve always been drawn to beautiful fabrics , I’ve always been infatuated with structured cuts I just didn’t know why? I’ve always been captivated by new designs and for as long as I’ve known, I knew I wanted to be part of that.

3. Tell us about your label. What are your inspirations? Who are you designing for?

ASIYAM is about solving a very human problem, it is about finding balance in an industry that doesn’t welcome everyone. I am designing for the girls that chooses to wear long , loose silhouettes, the girl that chooses to show no skin in the summer.

4. Who are your heroes in the fashion industry?

My fashion heroes are Virgil Abloh and The Zimmerman sisters, Virgil inspires me because he gave me hope as a Black person in the fashion industry, there are not a lot of heroes and Virgil gave me hope to continue to do why you love, even when you are not being welcomed at the table.

5. What does it mean to you to win Next Gen and show at AAFW?

To win the Next Gen and show at the AAFW has been a dream of mine, which I never thought would happen. What this means to me is that Australian fashion industry is opening to diverse designers and giving everyone equal opportunity. If I was a any other Australian designer, I would just be glad to have won, but now I feel as if I have opened a door for so many other marginalised designers.

For everything to know about AAFW 2022, head here to read our roundup of the top designers and events.

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