Australia and New Zealand: Fashion Down Under

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As I write this, I am about to go Down Under, which, of course, refers to Australia and New Zealand, half a world away.

The occasion: a Down Under family reunion with my kids.

My daughter, her husband and their two small children will join us from Thailand. My son and his wife will join us from France. We have planned a grand exploration of the nature, beauty and marvels of New Zealand, said to be one of the most gorgeous places on earth.

While I am beyond proud of who my children have become and what they are doing, I must confess that their residing in Thailand and France has its challenges. They are not exactly a Southwest Airlines flight away.

We chose New Zealand as a meeting place because (a) the travel distance from Thailand to New Zealand is manageable for children; (b) New Zealand is famous for its interesting culture and outdoor adventures; and (c) my husband Sam Paredes has been dying to go there!

You may know about the region’s stunning landscapes, but did you know that Australia and New Zealand are becoming a significant force on the international fashion scene?

Designer Camilla Franks in one of her signature caftans.

Designer Camilla Franks in one of her signature caftans.

At Tres Mariposas, we have been carrying clothes designed by Camilla, one of Australia’s best-known fashion designers. Her signature pieces are bold caftans capturing Australia’s global yet earthy identity with exuberant colors and prints.

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Camilla Franks first designed flamboyant costumes for the stage, but her entrepreneurial spirit inspired the launch of her own line 10 years ago. Today the beautiful, somewhat unconventional 40-year-old designer travels the world for inspiration and some of her collections reflect motifs from exotic places such as Turkey and Peru.

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When we were in her New York showroom a few weeks ago, she had just returned from an immersion trip in Africa. She has fans around the globe who love her silky fabrics and flowing designs, including Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Maria Carey, Sofia Vergara and mother-daughter style setters, Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson.

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When we were at the trade shows in New York, we checked out other emerging designers from Australia – and liked what we saw. Modern Australia has a unique fashion style that is clearly distinguished from European or U.S. fashion lines. Australian fashion has a more casual approach.

Many of the region’s top designers have been inspired by the extraordinary range of Australia’s unique cultural influences.

So, yes, when I’m Down Under, I’ll be enjoying our grandchildren, sightseeing, hiking, walking on the beach and eating “shrimp on the barbie.”

But I also plan to keep an eye out for what women are wearing and which designers are up-and-coming. See you when I return

Marc Jacobs: 30 years later

Last week I was in New York for a busy buying trip. Fashion Week had just ended and so the serious work of reviewing collections and making decisions was in progress in showrooms across the Fashion District.

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One of my favorite stops was the Marc Jacobs showroom. I was there to shop the handbag collection. This designer has long been a leader in this category and the Marc Jacobs line of handbags has been among our top sellers.

Handbags on display in showroom last week

Marc Jacobs, of course, is an American design success story like no other. A former designer for Louis Vuitton, he is a creative genius who knows what women want. Today he continually surprises the market with his creations and holds a significant role in the industry.

However, I first knew of Marc Jacobs 30 years ago when he was only 23 and just starting out. In fact, designs from his very first, very small ready-to-wear line were shown at Tres Mariposas in 1986. I’ll never forget how that showing came about.

Back then, once a year, our New York fashion consultant brought interesting items from a number of design houses to El Paso to present at Tres Mariposas. In 1986, her selections for us included a few wool sweaters from some unknown guy named Marc Jacobs.

I remember thinking, “Oh, my gosh, those shrunken little sweaters look like he found them in his grandmother’s attic.” Turns out, my impression was not far from the truth! Jacobs began his fashion career by learning to knit from his grandmother. Our New York consultant said, “His sweaters may look like moth-eaten nothings, but you watch, he is going to be big.” Boy, was she right!

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Marc Jacobs has always been known for retro-influenced designs and fresh takes on vintage looks. Frequently, his designer collection runway shows are full of things that are just fantastical and far out.

But they are also so on target. His show for fall 2016 was no exception and even featured Lady Gaga on the runway!

“Jacobs showed his extravaganza of fashion noir on a stark white set to the sound of single chimed notes by Japanese musician Keiji Haino,” wrote a reporter in Women’s Wear Daily. “The models’ eyes and lips were black. The clothes were dark, wondrous, inventive, eccentric pilings of tweeds, furs, silks, and endless decoration, Victoriana meets Goth meets Biker Chic meets Varsity Chic meets Red Carpet meets Violet Incredible and countless other girls of Jacobs’ runways past.”

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The collection was indeed flamboyant, fanciful and exaggerated. The showroom that we visited was set up like a runway with looks from his recent Fashion Week show, so we got to see some of the styles.

Sure enough, what we saw in the Marc Jacobs showroom set the tone for our entire trip. Fashion is moving to a Victorian-inspired trend for fall. Think high necklines, lace, femininity and some gothic darkness. This trend was also pleasantly interpreted at hip, contemporary lines like Elizabeth and James.

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This designer has certainly come a long way since I first saw his work 30 years ago – and I’m always curious to see what he’s going to come up with next!