The Spirit of the Black Dress has recently celebrated its fifth year as a not-for-profit project that has been exhibiting in L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival’s Cultural Program. While working to increase international appreciation for Australian design, this project also supports emerging designers and sustainable fashion within the Australian market.

This year, The Spirit of the Black Dress has received the highest number of nation-wide entires, showing there is a constant growth and wide recognition gained since its launch back in 2009.

The exhibition invites the public into the Intercontinental at the Rialto on Collins Street, Melbourne from March 18 to April 1 for a magnificent free exhibition. The initiative is to raise even more awareness within Melbourne, along with the Australia-wide community, given the success of the event previously. The organisers also want to help continue to drive this great initiative in future years for more emerging talent.

For all those who haven’t popped in to see all the wonderful sustainable fashion these talented Australian emerging designers have created, you must! Each year The Spirit of the Black Dress becomes even more innovative, creative and exciting, showcasing the final ten black dresses, photos and film.

Couturing was lucky enough to chat with the Managing Director, Jane Hays all about The Spirit of the Black Dress and how it came about, and its plans for the future.


C: Happy fifth birthday! Did you ever think way back in 2009 that The Spirit of the Black Dress exhibition would be so well recognised today?

JH: Thank you for the birthday wishes. I feel that it is the hope of any project to make it to such an age and still be relevant. When we first started the project in 2009 we didn’t know exactly where we were going to be at a later stage. We just hoped that we would still be around and bigger and able to make a real difference in the local fashion scene.

In 2013 we have been able to achieve so many things – from being recognized as a fashion platform both interstate and internationally to giving so many designers the chance to reach their goals and beyond, which is something the whole team is so proud of.

C: Emerging designers and sustainable fashion has become a large aspect of L’Oreal Fashion Festival. How will The Spirit of the Black Dress grow with the festival in the future?

JH: When The Spirit of the Black Dress started in 2009 there was no sustainable fashion show in either of the major fashion festivals. Looking at the fashion festival landscape today there are many programs that look at sustainability from different points of view, which is great to see. We are so proud to have been a founding sustainable project for the festival, and feel that we have played a big part in elevating the sustainable consciousness of the local fashion industry and consumers alike.

With regards to the future of The Spirit of the Black Dress, after five years of production, one year with Melbourne Spring Fashion Week and four years with L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, we are closing the event. However we are so proud of what we have achieved and look forward to creating further projects in the future.

C: How do these emerging designers innovatively create sustainable fashion in a way that is unique and contemporary?

JH: The ten winning designers from The Spirit of the Black Dress 2013 think outside the square with regards to their sustainable practices and what materials they use in the creation of their pieces. From a dress that is made up of human hair which can be disassembled and used as hair extensions, to another dress that has been made of two pairs of men’s pants and a dress that incorporates bold digital print elements, all the designers gave sustainable fashion a fun and contemporary edge.

C: Do you think there is a market both internationally and globally for these designs to become commercially viable?

JH: Each year The Spirit of the Black Dress sees designs that are a mix of art and design. Some of the designers’ creations are more commercially viable than others but every dress has components that would be popular on both the national and international fashion landscape. From expert tailoring, knowledge of how to best capturing the female shape to capturing a great depth of texture in an outfit, these designers are world class.

C: Sustainable fashion has developed from recycled vintage or materials to stunningly imaginative designs both in the form of fabrication and design detail. How have the ten finalists been chosen?

JH: The ten winning designers for 2013 have been selected for the way in which they have reacted to the application criteria, being innovative in an art and consumable sense and from the view point of our industry expert panel that selected the ten winning designers. Each year we select a diverse industry panel made up of experts in the fashion industry from many fields – from journalism, curatorial, sustainable design and millinery view points. Our luminous judges for 2013 were Paola Di Trocchio, Susan Dimasi, Richard Nylon, Nikita Papas and Sarah Willcocks. With each judge representing a different segment of the fashion industry, it makes for a diverse designer selection for 2013.

C: How did these ten finalists stand out?

JH: The ten wining designers for 2013 stood out for a variety of reasons. The way they reacted to the strict criteria that we laid out with regards to sustainability, colour palette and ethical production and the fact that they thought outside the square with regards to the production and design of their black dresses. The designers have to design a black dress and can’t use colour to bend the eye, they are forced to look at alternate means for drawing attention to their designs with the use of clever design, interesting lines and textures to make their creations stand out.

C: What do you think the consumer’s perception is of sustainable fashion today?

JH: I think the average consumer is much more educated now about sustainable fashion than in the past but there is still a long way to go. Many people think that sustainable fashion is still a hessian sack and that it can’t be sexy and fun. I hope that, with further education and the development of more projects like The Spirit of the Black Dress, this attitude can change and that people will be more conscious of sustainability when they buy that next item of clothing.

C: In mass production, do you think fast-fashion can inevitably become sustainable?

JH: I think there are many ways that mass produced fashion businesses can be sustainable. Packaging and transport are two big ways that mass fashion can be kinder to the environment. Think about the amount of packaging that is involved in the transport of mass fashion, all the plastic, paper and other materials that are used at this stage of the product life that could be reduced to not only save the environment but also businesses hip pocket.

Reducing the transport of material during the development of a collection could also be a way that mass fashion could be more sustainable. The washing process and the materials that are used in mass fashion production can also decrease the environmental damage caused by bigger companies.

C: Sustainability, not only within Melbourne but world wide has vastly developed the ideology of what we believe sustainable fashion is today. No longer is it just recycled materials and vintage clothing. The Spirit of the Black Dress is a fun and unique exhibition, showcasing innovative ideas and creates a creative and out of the box perspective into sustainable fashion.

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