Held annually at the Powerhouse Museum since 1993, the Student Fashion display showcases the work of Sydney’s top local fashion design graduates, providing insight into the skills and potential of the next generation of Australian designers. For over 25 years, Student Fashion has exhibited the work of more than 160 students, many of whom have gone on to highly successful careers in fashion, including RMIT graduate, Toni Maticevski, and Fashion Design Studio alumni, Dion Lee.
The Australian fashion industry generates millions in domestic and export earnings, making it a key component of our creative industries sector. Fashion design schools prepare graduates to take on diverse roles in the industry, fostering creativity, critical thinking and entrepreneurship.
This year’s display includes outfits drawn from the final-year ranges of top students from four Sydney-based fashion design schools:
- University of Technology, Sydney
- Whitehouse Institute of Design, Australia
- Raffles College of Design and Commerce
- Fashion Design Studio, TAFE NSW, Ultimo Campus
One of the designers profiled in this year’s display is Fashion Design Studio (TAFE) alumna Valeska Dominguez, whose collection was inspired by the distinctive architecture of the Sydney Opera House. Here MAAS Curator Kristina Stankovski speaks with Valeska, about her pathway to fashion, her inspirations and design approach.
What led you to study fashion design?
I had a 25-year career in both graphic and jewellery design, and after licencing my jewellery designs to a multinational distribution company, I decided to take some time off to study and followed my passion for fashion.
Who are some of the designers that inspire you?
Dion Lee is my biggest fashion crush right now. I love the simplicity of his silhouettes with the clever use of fabric manipulation and contrasting fabric choices. He’s a very sophisticated designer and he went to the same fashion school as me, so I may be a little biased!
Describe your design approach.
I always look outside fashion to start my collection brief. Working with three influences that will help guide the collection to a new perspective. Architecture, music, art or even a poem may start the narrative. I find it so much easier to design around a story. If the idea doesn’t fit the story, it’s shelved for another collection.
Can you share some of the inspiration and features of your graduate collection with us?
After winning the Woolmark Sponsorship Prize in 2017, I was exposed to the wonderful benefits of Australian merino wool. Cool in summer and warm in winter, merino is the perfect trans-seasonal fibre that is sustainable, biodegradable and will last for generations. I was keen to showcase the diversity of wool in my final collection, so using only sustainable, biodegradable fibres became the foundation on which to build.
Secondly, I wanted to create a quintessentially Australian collection that paid homage to our most iconic landmark, the Sydney Opera House. Reinterpreting the linear interiors using multidirectional pleating; mixing merino wool with silk organza to portray the juxtaposition of the concrete shells enclosed by glass; and allowing the colour palate and interior finishes that JØrn Utzon created (such as brass hardware and timber matchstick panelling) set the stage for a fresh, sophisticated story that we as Australian’s could identify with.
Lastly, as the Sydney Opera House was officially opened in 1973, I chose a clean 70’s silhouette for the designs. It allowed me to put a lot of colour, print and detail into the garments without competing with a complicated silhouette. It’s all about balance. If the colours and prints are loud, the silhouette needs to whisper.
You were selected to showcase your collection at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week 2019 as part of the Innovators parade. Can you tell us about your experience?
I loved every minute! We were asked to extend our initial eight body graduating collection to 12 bodies for the catwalk, but as it happened I ended up creating seven fresh looks, wanting to reinterpret the collection as ‘Resort’. This allowed me to highlight the diversity of Australian merino wool, but also incorporate silk, linen and recycled ‘fish net’ Lycra to emphasize that sustainable slow fashion needn’t compromise luxury. The end-result was a vibrant, colourful and sustainable collection that I believe fulfilled my intention.
What’s next for Valeska?
I have re-launched my brand VALESKA and am offering a bespoke, made-to-measure service with an emphasis on sustainable, Australian, luxurious fashion, along with studying my Masters Degree in Paris, but I haven’t confessed that to my husband just yet! Lol.
Written by Kristina Stankovski, Assistant Curator