Photos: Katherine Lowe
It was an ambitious move to show off-site a good 15 minute drive from the downtown RAFW venue, and one that could have resulted in a sea of empty seats. But Kate Sylvester’s show site was well-populated when I arrived; filled with Australians and Kiwi compatriots, including designers Marc Moore and Luke Harwood of Stolen Girlfriends Club, Juliette Hogan and Sherie Mujis. Held at a horse stable in Randwick, we sat on tiered seats in the circular auction ring. Spotlights suspended from above flashed at random intervals, illuminating your seatmate for a split second before dancing in another direction. Sylvester favourite Julia Nobis opened, walking straight into the sawdust centre of the ring. She stood deathly still as moody spotlights hit her from every direction, then circled the pit, followed by dull light.
Therein lay a problem: the lighting was dark to the point that it became difficult to actually see the clothes. Shapes and silhouettes weren’t a problem, but details and colours were tough.
The show notes spoke of a young lady moth enthusiast who travels to a speedway to collect specimens beneath the giant floodlights, and meets (and beds) a handsome racer in the process. Meshing their respective outfits, prim and perfectly cut belted blazers contrasted with overalls worn shirtless; bags and skirts had stitched-on wings to suggest moths, but more closely resembled the flames a petrolhead might paint on his car. Silk dresses and tee shirts had elongated cap sleeves that flew out as each model walked.
Sylvester excels at pretty, ladylike clothes with just the right amount of subversion (no doubt testament to her long term working relationship with stylist Karen Inderbitzen Waller). This collection will be a hit at retail – there were enough beautiful pieces within to keep the fussiest Kate Sylvester customer satisfied. But as far as shows go, sometimes a clever spectacle can trump the raison d’etre, which, let’s not forget, is to present the clothes in plain sight. Next time turn the lights up, please.