First Fleece to Fashion Awards show held in Armidale

WINNING WEAR: Supreme prize winner Gina Snodgrass, Phil Gream from Roberts & Morrow, with models
WINNING WEAR: Supreme prize winner Gina Snodgrass, Phil Gream from Roberts & Morrow, with models

MEN, how would you look in a pleated dress set off with dangling earrings?  Women, what about a chic costume, ideal for a day at the races, or a multi-coloured swimsuit?  And all (except the earrings) made from at least 80% merino wool.

These were some of the winning entries at the inaugural Fleece to Fashion Awards last weekend. 

The gala fashion awards program celebrates Australian merino wool production and its esteemed presence in the top fashion and textile manufacturing capitals across the world. It replaces the Australian Wool Fashion Awards (TAWFA), which ran from 1997 to 2015.

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Nearly 500 people attended the awards night at the Astra Arts Centre, PLC Armidale, on Saturday. Farmers from outback NSW and Queensland happily mingled with fashion designers from the big cities.

“Fleece to Fashion starts at the grassroots, at the farm gate,” organiser Liz Foster said.

“Farmers love to see the end product of their hard work on the farm. Particularly at the moment, with drought, they're really happy to see something positive happening in our community, and for their own wonderful product.”

Designers – including school students and university graduates – submitted 100 entries in seven sections, including racewear, active / outdoor wear, sustainable wearable art, and bridal wear.

The prize-winners may be among Australia's top couturiers and fashionistas in years to come.

“Our aim is to educate and encourage young up-and-coming emerging designers to use wool and to achieve their dreams,” Liz said.

New England was well represented in the awards. First and second prizes in the active and outdoor section went to Armidale’s Tracy Wright and Katherine Cranfield.

"Tracy's design was magnificent,” Liz said. “It was beautiful fabric, and I guess it ended up selling her. She'd obviously paid a lot of money for a very classy fabric, and you get what you pay for.”

Rita Showell (Armidale) received first prize in bridal wear, and Julie Harris (Uralla) second prize.

“The brief was a cathedral wedding,” Liz said. “The clothes were beautifully made, and the judges loved them.”

WHAT THE BRIDE WAS WEARING: Sam Berry and Maddie McFadyen model Uralla designer Julie Harris's bridal wear.

WHAT THE BRIDE WAS WEARING: Sam Berry and Maddie McFadyen model Uralla designer Julie Harris's bridal wear.

Conceptual fashion designer Gina Snodgrass won the supreme prize of $5000 in cash, and first prize in the emerging designer section.

Her creation was playfully androgynous: five strapping young men wearing what looked like women's skirts – a daring mixed lace and suiting fabric outfit, inspired by kilts.

The University of Technology Sydney-graduate, her website reads, “believes clear distinctions between masculinity and femininity aren’t necessary”, and “constantly challenges conventional gender perceptions”.

“It was edgy wear,” Liz said; “it was suiting fabric, but certainly not something you’d see walking down the street of Armidale or Walcha!

“In today’s world, it was right there. We weren't a country show; we were right in there with the fashion shows of the bigger cities like New York, Sydney, and London.”

Brisbane schoolboy Connor O’Grady won first prize in the secondary school and racewear sections, and a three-month internship with fashion designer and judge Akira Isogawa.

His racing outfit was inspired by the Duchess of Cambridge's Ascot wear, with a hat à la Audrey Hepburn. Smashing, positively dashing!

Connor has form; he won the 2016 TAWFA as a Year 10 student, and was Queensland’s Young Achiever of the Year for Arts and Fashion.

Isabel Lamph and Maggie Smith, both students at Kinross Walaroi School, Orange, were awarded places in a week-long workshop at the Whitehouse Institute of Fashion Workshop in the January holidays.

"Fashion designers aren't just born,” Liz said; “they have to come through the ranks. They learn to sew at secondary level; some start at Year 7 and love it, others continue right through, and go on to fashion school. We're nurturing them through those steps.

“Some of our applicants have actually been entrants since they were in Year 7. Each year they put in something, and each year we notice the change in quality, the techniques have improved, and the garments are looking better."

Liz already has plans for next year's Fashion to Fleece awards, again held at the Armidale PLC.

“It's a great opportunity for Armidale,” she said. “We've had new supporters come on board, which is fabulous, and on Saturday night we had a few come up and say they wanted to sponsor us.

“We know we've done our job correctly if people walk away talking about it. On the street, people were pulling me up into the supermarkets saying 'My goodness, that was a good night, we're ready to buy our ticket for next year!'”