Carlie Waterman awarded Fashion Graduate of the Year

Graduate shows, as much as I love them, can be a little hit and miss sometimes. Hit: Emma Mulholland’s graduate collection in all its sequinned tropical fish glory at the Innovators show in 2011. Miss: The medieval ball gowns draped in fairy lights that I saw once at a Brisbane grad show. But that’s a topic better suited to a Nadine Von Cohen ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ column, ie DON’T: include fairy lights in your graduate collection unless they are in fact glow worms and you are the child prodigy of Hussein Chalayan.

Luckily, Wednesday night’s Australian Fashion Graduate of the Year show, as part of Mercedes Benz Brisbane Fashion Festival, was free of illuminated gowns. In fact it was the cream of the crop, with two star students selected from each of Australia’s most reputable fashion collages; Sydney TAFE, RMIT, MSIT, QUT and UTS.

The runway showing took place in a marque filled with mostly MSIT and QUT students, so naturally there was Brisbane-bias in the cheers. But despite the overclapping and bring-a-smile-to-your-dial plaid on plaid ensembles by QUT graduate Sally Edwards, the $5000 award went to a Sydney-sider in East Sydney TAFE graduateCarlie Waterman.

Granted, it’s a small prize compared to the impressive $50,000 that fellow East Sydney TAFE alumni and previous Australian Fashion Graduate of the Year award recipient Dion Lee took out this year for the Woolmark Prize, but to a recent graduate with tiny pockets and suffocating student debt, it’s a a valuable boost.

With a total of twelve designers showing, there was a lot to take in. Sheer nude layers and sculptural panelling seemed to be the focus du jour for the younger generation of designers – then again maybe it has always been like that. If isn’t floaty it’s fiercely cut. In amongst the draped nymph dresses were experiments in leather and laser cutting. The quality and direction of Waterman’s collection, which she showed as part of the Innovators show at AFW earlier this year, saw her work come in first place.

Looking to natural landscapes such as mountain rangers and sand dunes as her reference point, Waterman’s work is a study in texture, print and contour.

“It’s an ecclectic mix of textures,” she told me following the show.”I’ve worked a lot with smocking, knitting, embellishments, digital prints, hand weaving and raffia.”

Naturally, like most graduates free of commercial constraints, there is a lot going on in her range; hand weaving paired with sculptural peplums, raffia blended with delicate ruching. But with a citrus colour palette to bring the elements all together, the artisanal contrasts blend harmoniously.

You can tell just by looking at the woven textures on her sculptural blazer (part of a dynamite pant suit no less) that her attention to detail and technique is what will take Waterman far within the industry. Even the textured pastel visor headpieces worn during the show, upon closer inspection, are in fact covered in spray painted toy soldiers. “I went to every $2 shop in Sydney and cornered the market in toy soldiers.”

Two highly commendeds were also announced on the night. One for Anna Langdon‘s already celebrated Kitchfolk und Kindheit collection, which with koala knits, parrot prints and kangaroo embroidery, looks to be following in the Australiana styled footsteps of fellow Sydney TAFE students Romance Was Born and Emma Mulholland. No complaints here.

The other was for Whitehouse graduate Adrian Bressanutti, whose whimsical Enchanted Vine collection involved shear floor length fabrics in desert hues embellished with intricate plaited and woven twine.