First Nations Fashion + Design: Walking In Two Worlds Fashion Show at Brisbane Festival

Choreographer Tyrel Dulvarie opened the FNF+D show with a smoking ceremony and dance. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

The First Nations Fashion + Design: Walking In Two Worlds fashion show was a celebration of diversity, inclusion, storytelling and connection to Country. It took place in Meanjin (Brisbane) on Sunday September 5th at the South Bank Piazza as part of the annual Brisbane Festival. The FNF+D show opened with a mesmerising traditional smoking ceremony, accompanied by traditional-contemporary fusion dancing, and a powerful poem by public figure and Waanyi, Djiru, Kuku Yalanji and Yindinji man Jarron Andy. Walking In Two Worlds celebrated culture with an all-Indigenous range of contemporary garments and textiles, dance, film and live music from hip-hop artist Kaylah Truth (Brisbane Festival, 2021).

Murri boy Quaden Bayles opened the FNF+D Walking in Two Worlds fashion show with a smoking ceremony with dancers Kahli Coolwell, Vanessa Coolwell, Zachariah Ketchup, and choreographer Tyrel Dulvarie. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

Murri boy Quaden Bayles opened the FNF+D Walking in Two Worlds fashion show with a smoking ceremony with dancers Kahli Coolwell, Vanessa Coolwell, Zachariah Ketchup, and choreographer Tyrel Dulvarie. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

The fashion show even included Elaine George, the first Aboriginal model to feature on the cover of Vogue. 20 years after retiring from modelling, the Bundjalung and Arakwal woman had the opportunity to grace the catwalk once again (NITV News, 2021).

Elaine George on the cover of Vogue Australia’s 1993 September issue. Image credit: The Vogue archives, 2021.

Elaine George’s whirlwind success story has made her an inspiring figure to many First Nations fashion designers and models, especially that of First Nations Fashion + Design’s founder Grace Lillian Lee and chief executive Teagan ‘TJ’ Cowlishaw. Lee and Cowlishaw were ecstatic to have George not only walk in the show, but mentor the up and coming models who featured in the show. Seeing and experiencing the sheer talent and camaraderie between the models was something that hit close to home for George (NITV News, 2021). In an interview with Vogue (2021), George talked about her many unfruitful experiences of ignorance, isolation and downright racism whilst modelling:

“When [people in the USA] thought of Australia, they [thought] of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed lady...I had to educate [people] wherever I went around the world, because they did not know First Nations peoples. I couldn’t even get a book for education or anything like that, because our history and our story was not told in Queensland education. I think I was doing more of that than actually modelling.”

In Australia, what really turned me off modelling was when I used to say, ‘I’m Aboriginal’, and they used to say, ‘and what else?’ That really irked me because what does an Aboriginal person look like? To me that was really offensive but being 19 and young, I had a mouth on me, so I kinda said, ‘What are we meant to look like? We come in all shapes, sizes, colours, everything, just like other people in other countries. You don’t have a typical American, or a typical Canadian, so why does an Aboriginal person have to look a certain way?’”

Elaine George (furthest right) and other First Nations models (left to right) @earthtokeeley_@chanel_c_cartel, @sharnae_rose, @senemaluwapi, @theperrymooney walking for Murrii Quu Couture FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

After listening to George talk about her horrible past experiences in this interview, Cowlishaw - a Nyikina, Bardi and Nyul Nyul woman - responded (2021) by saying:

“There were no other models, photographers, stylists, makeup artists. Look at the industry now, we’re slowly building that, and [First Nations people can] start to feel more comfortable, because it’s like, ‘Oh, I have recognisable faces in the industry I’m working in, but it’s still going to take a while to get there. That’s why we created this, because we wanted a safe space that is inclusive, and a national platform.”

These issues of isolation, racism, ignorance and lack of recognition are the core reasons why this not-for-profit Indigenous corporation FNF+D exists. It exists to create a safer, more culturally aware space for the next generation of First Nations creatives to be properly recognised and represented in the fashion industry (Vogue, 2021).

“For me, I love just seeing and meeting how different we all are, and all the different storylines that are being told across the country, to come to one platform and be able to share that diversity," said Lee (2021) - a Mirriam Mer descendant - to Vogue.

Leading the show was Quaden Bayles: a 10-year-old Murri boy born with Achondroplasia who went viral in an emotional video last year. This viral video sparked international attention, exposing how harmful the impact of school bullying towards children with a disability can really be (NITV News, 2021). In an interview with NITV News (2021), Lee explained what Bayles’ involvement throughout the entire show represented and why it was intrinsic to the show’s narrative:

“He’s taking us through a journey of a dream of his out on Country.”
[The show is] not just for Quaden, it’s for all of us to be able to relate to our community coming to surround us and supporting us and walking alongside us...We’re really showcasing how important it is for us to have connection to Country, and maintain our cultural integrity and knowledge and preserve our storylines.”

 Quaden Bayles closed the FNF+D Walking in Two Worlds fashion show with a dance and final walk from the models and musician Kaylah Truth. @jamainew18, @piercexjones + @theperrymooney in Paul McCann. @chanel_c_cartel in Ihraa Swim. @boysiepower in Lisa Waup x VERNER@kashanaslyfe in Yarrabah. Zachariah Ketchup + Tyrel Dulvarie in @pritayeganeh. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

Not only did the show create an immersive atmosphere of community and empowerment, it also acknowledged and paid respect to Elders and other First Nations designers and creatives that have paved the way for the next generations into the fashion industry. Now, FNF+D has taken it upon themselves to continue that legacy (NITV News, 2021). One of these significant figures involved in the show was Elverina Johnson, who presented her collection under the brand name Yarrabah. The Gurugulu and Indinji Gimuy woman is one of Australia's most respected Indigenous artists, with her creative talents spanning the spectrum of visual and performing arts for over 30 years (NAIDOC, 2017). Johnson was one of the 11 designers featured in the Walking in Two Worlds show.

Models (left to right) @kaycitg@sarimachong, @sharnae_rose, @mariepaigejones, @__bbbrookem, @piercexjones, @kashanaslyfe + @boysiepower walked for Yarrabah FNF+D with a hip-hop performance by Kaylah Truth. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

@kashanaslyfe walked for Yarrabah FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021.  

“The designs I have in this show, Walking in Two Worlds here in Meanjin, are all about my story and where I come from,” Elverina Johnson explained to NITV News (2021). 

“A lot of my artwork depicts the rainforest and the ocean - the reef, because Yarrabah sits between the rainforest and the reef. We’re rainforest people as well as saltwater people, so a lot of my work is about the rainforest and the ocean.”

So, as we can see, Johnson’s brand name ‘Yarrabah’ is centred around storytelling, and for her that is how she intends to carry on her legacy into the fashion world. This legacy doesn’t stop with First Nations designers; models also have a tremendous role to play in bringing significant First Nations stories to life (NITV News, 2021). For Johnson this is one of the things she loves most about the narrative of fashion:

“Everything that they do in their strides, their movement and their facial expressions is all going to be part of that storytelling...I think that’s something that people tend to miss, this is not just about fashion, it’s about telling our stories.”

@mariepaigejones walked for Yarrabah FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021.  

The range of fashion in this show was phenomenal; from swimwear, to casual everyday wear, to office-appropriate attire, to evening wear and even avant-garde couture inspired gowns. With Summer fast approaching, the flattering cuts and vibrant shades of blues, pinks and oranges from Native Swimwear Australia and Ihraa Swim, and the feminine, frilly fits from Indii Swimwear were particular standouts. 

@mariepaigejones (left) and @senemaluwapi (right) walked for Native Swimwear Australia FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021.

@chanel_c_cartel, @senemaluwapi, @theperrymooney, @ruby.hunterbrown, @mariepaigejones + @lisa.fatnowna (from left to right) walked for Ihraa Swim FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media 2021.

@chanel_c_cartel@ruby.hunterbrown, @mariepaigejones + @senemaluwapi backstage (from left to right) for Ihraa Swim FNF+D. Image credit: Ihraa Swim, 2021.

Jarawee’s showstopping Quandamooka collection, in gorgeous gemstone colours, was elegant, yet boss and catered to all shapes and sizes, while Murrii Quu Couture’s collection spoke of old-Hollywood glamour and classic sophistication. 

@senemaluwapi walked for Murrii Quu Couture FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

Paul McCann’s collection presented voluminous layers of delicately hand-painted organza, with the shape and silhouette of the gowns reminiscent of 1950s fashion. The iridescent fabrics shimmered in the lights, as well as the variety of gold accessories crafted from native gum nuts.

@ebony_doyle_, @earthtokeeley_, @lindynrowland@theperrymooney, @jamainew18 + @piercexjones (from left to right) walked for Paul McCann FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

@lindynrowland walked for Paul McCann FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021.

On the other hand, Karen Rogers’ collection presented casual everyday wear in fun, playful graphics, and Lisa Waup x VERNER’s collaborative collection featured contrasting duotone geometric prints from head to toe in comfortable, utilitarian shapes. Lastly, Fiona Wirrer George’s collection consisted of flowy, delicate satin slip and wrap dresses and sheer silk scarves and sarongs.

@dyamiahwang, @kashanaslyfe@sarimachong, @sharnae_rose, @lindynrowland + @kaycitg (from left to right) walked for Karen Rogers FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

@sharnae_rose + @lindynrowland (from left to right) walked for Karen Rogers FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media, 2021. 

@__bbbrookem @piercexjones (from left to right) walked for Lisa Waup x VERNER FNF+D. Image credit: Lewis James Media.

First Nations Fashion + Design: Walking in Two Worlds fashion show not only created an uplifting space and atmosphere for strong Indigenous voices and leaders, it also spotlighted the ever-growing creativity and innovativeness of the up and coming Indigenous Brisbane fashion scene. It was amazing to see the First Nations models involved in the show celebrating all types of beauty and bringing significant Indigenous Dreaming stories to life on the runway. 

At Yarn, we also celebrate inclusive beauty, catering to women and men of all shapes, sizes and age ranges. We would absolutely love to see First Nations fashion break into mainstream fashion, which is why we provide a platform for Indigenous owned businesses, all-friendly businesses and Indigenous artists to share their culture and unique stories with our customers. We showcase one of a kind designs, designs that speak of country, culture, and the Dreaming. From luxury womenswear, to homewares to outdoor apparel, we offer it all. We are passionate about showcasing authentic Indigenous artwork and stories so that all Australians can develop an understanding and appreciation of First Nations culture.