Wizards of Oz

3 minute read
Michelle Hespe | Sydney

In the past 20 years, Australia has been quick to pick up on Asian influences. Laksa and satay are as much lunchtime staples as meat pies; school children take classes in Japanese; and Asian approaches to well-being, from feng shui to Chinese medicine, have found ready acceptance in well-heeled suburbs. Now, it’s the turn of the fashion business. The designers behind some of the country’s hottest young labels may call Australia home, but all share Asian roots and pay homage to them in distinctively Eastern designs. The new Asian wave in Australian clothing includes:

BOWIE (bowie.com.au): If Bowie Wong’s elaborate creations in satin and fine wool strike you as theatrical, that’s no coincidence. He was born in Hong Kong to an opera singer mother, and studied costume design in Canada. Wong also picked up a design degree in Japan and, displaying a prodigious appetite for academia, returned to his birthplace to earn another degree, this time in drama. Wong emigrated to Australia in 1997, enrolling in a fashion design course at an East Sydney college. But this time, further studies were superfluous—his teacher thought him so talented (and over-qualified) that she advised him to drop out and head straight into the rag trade. He took her advice, and started his own label. By 2000, he was representing Australia at Hong Kong Fashion Week, his audience instantly recognizing the rich, oriental-style fabrics and Chinese opera motifs that inspire some of his work.

Style Watch: Rattan Revolution

Diversions: All Talk

Food: Season to Taste

Outdoors: Comfy Camping

HIGH TEA WITH MRS WOO (highteawithmrswoo.com.au): The industrial town of Newcastle, two hours north of Sydney, is an unlikely location for a fashion label—but that hasn’t deterred the three young Foong sisters, Rowena, Juliana and Angela. The Chinese-Malaysians emigrated to Newcastle in 1988 but maintained strong Asian ties, absorbing everything from Asian movies to the tales of their goldsmith and craft-worker grandparents. High Tea With Mrs Woo, a name inspired by the girls’ idea of getting dressed up for an afternoon of dumplings, tea and conversation with their imaginary Asian muse, was launched last summer. At the moment, Mrs Woo is only in available in Australia, but the buzz is mounting: expect the label’s Eastern-style skirts, elongated sleeves and cheeky details to find an international audience before long.

AKIRA (www.akira.com.au): The rousing reception accorded to Kyoto-born designer Akira Isogawa at his first show during Mercedes Australian Fashion Week in 1996 was among the initial indications that the market was ready for designs with an Asian flavor. Since then, exhibitions at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and commissions to design costumes for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Sydney Dance Company, have shown that Isogawa’s elaborately-constructed, kimono-like ensembles are as much high art as they are high style. His clothes now retail in 14 countries, including his native Japan.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com