Aboriginal fashion creatives tour Europe to tell Australia’s ‘real story’

Members of a group of all-Aboriginal fashion creatives say a series of shows in Europe became an empowering, and sometimes confrontational, opportunity to rectify foreign misconceptions about First Nations and Australian history.

The group of designers and models had been invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to hold fashion shows in a number of European cities.

A photographer and a dancer were also part of the group.

Jack Collard performs in a museum in Brussels.(Supplied: Rob Hookey)

Model Shannon McGuire said it soon became clear her impact would go beyond promoting the fashion industry’s talent.

“[It] it ended up being really powerful in the way of educating people internationally about who we were,” said Ms. McGuire.

‚ÄúThere were people telling us that they didn’t even know we existed.

“It was crazy to think that there are people internationally who see Australia as a European country.”

Ms McGuire was among the models to appear in a show at the Museum of Art and History in Brussels as part of an Aboriginal art exhibition called Before Time Began.

A didgeridoo played by dancer Jack Collard echoed between the pillars and stone walls of the historic building as designs sourced from remote Australian communities were modeled in front of a crowd of non-traditional fashion dignitaries.

A model stands in the foreground with the catwalk crowd behind her in a room framed by large pillars.
Designs from various Aboriginal designers are modeled for a crowd of dignitaries.(Supplied: Rob Hookey)

Influential People Watching

Fashion brand Kirrikin’s managing director and tour organizer Amanda Healy said there were influential people watching the show.

“The audience included people from NATO, EU policy makers and senior UN policy makers,” said Ms Healy.

Other labels on the show included Liandra Swim, Ngali and Maara Collective.

McGuire said that all the designs had ties to the country, the culture and the stories.

“It was really about telling a story, or the story, the real story of Australia, and I think we found a lot of strength in that.”

The tour also included fashion shows in London and Dublin.

Generate interest in history.

Ms Healy said the shows generated a lot of interest in Aboriginal Australian history, particularly in Ireland.

Cassie Puruntatameri and Shannon McGuire photographed in elegant patterned clothing in a garden.
Cassie Puruntatameri and Shannon McGuire are among the models who have traveled to Europe.(Supplied: Rob Hookey)

“The other thing that I think is really important is that the experience that this group had was quite life-changing for a lot of people,” he said.

She said that she and Ms. McGuire were looking for more opportunities to showcase Aboriginal fashion and culture abroad.

“We realized that in terms of telling the world about us, we haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” said Ms McGuire.

Jack Collard plays the didgeridoo sitting on the steps of the Museum of Art and History in Brussels.
Jack Collard plays the didgeridoo at the Museum of Art and History in Brussels. (Supplied: Rob Hookey)

“So we’ve come back almost guns blazing, ready to find some funding for the next trip.”

He said ensuring long-lasting interest in First Nations work was also a priority.

“Aboriginal art and design is really in, so the fashion industry and the media are embracing it… but we don’t want this to be just a trend,” he said.

“We want it to be real.”

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