Aboriginal fashion designers scour Europe to tell Australia’s ‘real story’

Members of a group of all-Indigenous fashion designers say a series of shows in Europe have become a thought-provoking – and sometimes confrontational – opportunity to rectify foreign misconceptions about First Nations and Australian history.

The group of designers and models had been invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to hold fashion shows in a series of European cities.

A photographer and a dancer were also part of the group.

Jack Collard performs in a museum in Brussels.(Provided: Rob Hookey)

Model Shannon McGuire said it quickly became clear their impact would go beyond promoting talent in the fashion industry.

“[It] ended up being really powerful in the way of educating those internationally about who we were,” Ms McGuire said.

“There were people telling us they didn’t even know we existed.

“It was crazy to think that there are people in the world who see Australia as a European country.”

Ms McGuire was among the models who took part in a fashion show at the Museum of Art and History in Brussels as part of an exhibition of Aboriginal art called Before Time Began.

A didgeridoo played by dancer Jack Collard was heard among the pillars and stone walls of the historic building as creations from remote Australian communities were modeled before a crowd of non-traditional fashion dignitaries.

A model stands in the foreground with the catwalk crowd behind her in a hall framed by tall pillars.
The designs of several Aboriginal designers are modeled after a crowd of dignitaries.(Provided: Rob Hookey)

Influential people watching

Chief executive of fashion brand Kirrikin and tour organizer Amanda Healy said influential people were watching the show.

“The audience included people from NATO, EU policy makers and high level UN policy makers,” Ms Healy said.

Other labels on the show included Liandra Swim, Ngali and Maara Collective.

Ms McGuire said all the designs had links to the country, culture and stories.

“It was about really telling a story, or the story, the real story of Australia, and I think we found a lot of strength in that.”

The tour also included fashion shows in London and Dublin.

Arouse interest in history

Ms Healy said the shows had sparked a lot of interest in Australian Aboriginal history, particularly in Ireland.

Cassie Puruntatameri and Shannon McGuire pictured wearing stylish patterned clothes in a garden.
Cassie Puruntatameri and Shannon McGuire are among the models who have traveled to Europe.(Provided: Rob Hookey)

“The other thing that I think is really important is that the experience that this group had was life changing for so many people,” she said.

She said she and Ms. McGuire are looking for more opportunities to showcase Indigenous fashion and culture overseas.

“We’ve realized that, in the way of telling the world about us, we haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” Ms McGuire said.

Jack Collard plays the didgeridoo sitting on the steps of the Museum of Art and History in Brussels.
Jack Collard plays the didgeridoo at the Museum of Art and History in Brussels. (Provided: Rob Hookey)

“So we came back with guns almost lit, ready to find funds to enable us to make the next trip.”

She said ensuring that interest in First Nations work is sustainable was also a priority.

“Aboriginal art and design is really in, so the fashion industry and the media are picking up on it…but we don’t want it to just be a trend,” she said .

“We want it to be real.”

Job , updated

Mary I. Bruner