It starts with disbelief: gaping mouths, wide eyes, shaking heads. “Well, that’s not true, is it?” says Ngali designer Denni Francisco.
Then it turns to pure joy: spreading smiles, elated laughs, stifled squeals. “I’ll tell the girls, they’ll be jumping for joy,” says Bima Wear artist Lucia Pilakui.
And finally, it erupts into overwhelming pride: blinking tears, praying hands, humble hearts. “My mob’s going to be so proud,” says Marrithiyel artist Paul McCann.
Finding out you’ve won a National Indigenous Fashion Award is an emotional rollercoaster, and the candid reactions of the six winners were the highlight of last night’s ceremony, held on Larrakia Country in Darwin.
“I found out [I’d won the Fashion Design Award] a couple of weeks ago when we filmed the package for NITV, I didn’t tell anyone, not even my daughter,” says Francisco, who immediately called her daughter after the event to finally tell her the good news. “She was very proud.”
The Darwin Convention Centre was awash with pride, bold prints and champagne last night as the 2021 NIFA winners were crowned, and all 31 nominees were celebrated.
The event, which is in its second year and supported by marie claire magazine, honours the creative talent of the world’s oldest living culture.
Pilakui has worked at the iconic Tiwi textile enterprise, Bima Wear, for more than half a century. And last night she was on Larrakia Country to accept the Special Recognition Award, which was dedicated to “all the Bima Wear ladies past and present, who work to support our Tiwi Islands community.”
“These strong women haven’t just paved the way, they had to make their own bricks to do it,” acknowledged Starwin Collective founder Karina Gray.
As well as recognising the creatives who’ve shaped the industry, the Awards provide opportunities for the artists of the future.
As a part of her prize, Francisco receives a 12-month mentorship with iconic Australian retailer Country Road, to help take her sustainable fashion label to new heights.
“The future of First Nations fashion is very exciting,” Francisco said in her acceptance speech. Bring it on.
Head to the marie claire Instagram account tonight to join us front row at the Country to Couture runway show.