History Making First Nations Fashion and Design Show 

June 17, 2021

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 02: A model walks the runway in a design by Clair Helen during the First Nations Fashion + Design show during Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2021 Resort '22 Collections at Carriageworks on June 02, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)


Sometimes you realise that you are a part of a moment in history and time. I experienced one such moment at the very first First Nations Runway Show. Let me share what happened. When I arrived in Sydney this show was not on my invitation list. You must be invited to individual shows and most are ‘ locked in’ in the weeks or days before Fashion Week. Serendipity was at work for me again in 2021. 

I always make the most of Australian Fashion Week by not only attending the shows but ‘ The Talks’ and exploring ‘ The Suites ‘ where different designers have ‘ Pop Up ‘ showcases. I love this aspect because it allows me to touch and see the garments up close for myself. I also chat with the designers and pick up some great little snippets to add to my stories.  

Speaking to a lovely young woman called Grace she asked if I was attending the First Nations Shows. When my answer was no, she asked for my card and within minutes several invitations arrived. “ Boy, Grace is quick! “ I thought before replying an emphatic “ YES “

Little did I know that the lovely young woman I’d been speaking to was Grace Lillian Lee, fashion designer and Creative Director of the First Nations Fashion and Design Show, and I was about to attend the highlight of Australian Fashion Week. A huge crowd gathered outside the recently renamed Carla Zampatti Gallery 1 as the 9 am start approached. The excitement was palpable. There was Julie Bishop in gold animal print and sky high heels and the beautiful Erin Holland in cream with a gold chain belt. I was dressed in gold and black.

Taking my amazing seat (Thanks, Grace) I spotted Jessica Mauboy in front of me and next to her was gorgeous indigenous model, Samantha Harris. The sounds of the bush echoed throughout the gallery which was beautifully decorated with native plants. I smiled as the scent of the bush assailed my nostrils and as the sounds of native birds reached a cacophony, it echoed the sounds of the guests preening and chatting as they took their seats. 

The Universe worked its magic again as I chatted to a pair nearby. They just happened to be Grace’s proud Aunt and cousin who’d flown in from the Gold Coast to cheer her on. As a hush descended over the crowd an electric energy crackled through the air and we all knew we were in for something special. 

Out came our handsome host, Jarron Andy. We were welcomed to country and a didgeridoo player and dancers arrived to the sound. William Barton and Luke Currie Richardson explored the notions of contemporary creative expression , whilst we explored fashion that was based on the upcoming exhibition Eucalyptusdom. Amazing designs from Paul McCann, Jarawee, Ngarru Mimi, Rukaji, Aarli and for this proud Queenslander, my friends at Murrii Quu Couture. I’d first noticed Murrii Quu at Brisbane Fashion Week 2019. Designer Cheryl Creed only designs in black as it reflects who she is as an Aboriginal woman. It was a very special fashion performance curated by Grace Lillian Lee which brought goosebumps to this writer. 

Beautiful models swathed in the colours of Australia walked in and we were next awed by the amazing designs from Aarli, Amber Days, Sown in Time, Nungala Creative, Clair Helen, Ngarru Miimi and Grace Lillian Lee. Grace is a weaver, whose designs incorporate traditional grasshopper weaving techniques in contemporary form. I loved her brilliant green and blue creations. Sown In Time designs were accompanied by rapper, DRMGNOW. His performance was outstanding and made this audience pay attention to his message. Fashions from all were unique encompassing swimwear, leisurewear and gowns plus some traditional prints and cutting edge design. 

Tears were shed as Electric Fields shared a haunting and powerful rendition of ‘ From Little Things Big Things Grow ‘ one of Paul Kelly’s beautiful songs, before the crowd leapt to their feet for a standing ovation. This moment in time will stay with me forever. For the very first time in its 25 year history there was an all Indigenous runway, led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and starring an all – Indigenous cast. I will never forget this amazing show where fashion provoked a critical conversation and provided an immersive experience and a window to our First Nations culture. Thank you Grace Lillian Lee. Fashion can be a force for change.


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