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Writing Fashion

Tuesday, 10 March, 2015

“Fashion isn’t just something that comes from a runway,” says Alana Kushnir, the Cultural Program executive at Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF).

Fashion Writing Series is a brand new program that has kicked off this year, giving emerging writers a golden opportunity to be mentored by fashion journalists.

“In writing and fashion industries, it can be quite difficult for aspiring young writers to get their foot in the door. We wanted to help them.”

This year, the fortunate and talented finalists get one-on-one mentoring by experienced professionals: Dana Thomas (Harper’s BAZAAR France), Mitchell Oakley Smith (Manuscript), Janice Breen Burns (Voxfrock) and Yasmin Nguyen (Vault Art & Culture Preview Magazine).

The four mentors considered all the applications, each of them choosing a budding young writer they would like to mentor. Kushnir says the selection process brought in a good variation.

“Each of the [mentoring] writers has different interest and different backgrounds, so I think they were attracted to different applicants.”

After the initial introduction between the chosen finalists and the experts, it is up to individuals to decide how they will develop their relationship. In doing so, the mentoring process evolved organically. Each mentee got the chance to contribute to the publication with which their mentor is associated.

The Fashion Writing Series also has a public discussion element, exploring the critical nature of fashion writing.

“So often now, the way blogging culture is developing, lot of fashion writing is really about whether someone likes something or doesn’t like something… So what we want to really dig in is whether fashion criticism can actually exist,” explained Kushnir.

A panel discussion Fashion Critique: Fact or Fashion? (13th March at The Wheeler Centre) features mentors Thomas, Breen Burns and Nguyen and is open to the public.

One of the finalists, Hung Tran, puts strong emphasis of this critical nature of fashion writing.

“I don’t like to praise people. It’s like the boy who cried the wolf. If you constantly praise anything, people won’t believe you. I never write to tune up a press release.”

Tran is a recent graduate of University of Melbourne, completing Media and Communications last August. His mentor is Mitchell Oakley Smith from Manuscript, an Australian magazine with a focus in menswear. Tran has already published some articles on Manuscript with the support of Oakley Smith, writing on Men’s Fashion Week.

Tran’s fashion review won’t be limited to visual image; he tries to reflect the ideology behind the design and place a collection into a historical context. He devotes much time to researching, often reading interviews with designers.

“We all have eyes, so we don’t want to be told what the clothes look like. My job is to make sense of a collection which you cannot make sense of immediately.”

Tran’s dream is to be an established fashion journalist who can document culture.

Another finalist, Simon Goncalves has a different background: he works full-time as a building control officer at the Hume City Council.

“I’ve never really considered writing as a career. I’m from a very simple family, simple background. Creative expression as a career; I’ve never thought it is a possibility for me.”

Gonclaves says he is not too sure what set him apart to be chosen as a finalist.

“I was never formally educated in writing…. I was so shocked when I got the call that I was successful.”

Despite this, fashion has long been intriguing him. He used to work in menswear at a boutique store on Collins St, making his own clothing.

“But as time progressed, I realised that being designer wasn’t probably what I wanted to do.

It was more like expressing excitement or appreciation for what I really liked in menswear. So I thought maybe fashion journalism is for me.”

While continuing the full-time administrative work at the Hume council, he started a fashion blog on Tumblr last year. He is now being mentored by experienced fashion journalist Janice Breen Burns, who is well known for her work as a founder and editor of Voxfrock blogzine.

Gonclaves has already found work reviewing Men’s Fashion Week and writing about his style icons and designers for VAMFF blog In Detail.

Freelance writing is a new world for Gonclaves. Breen Burns recommended that he pitch his stories to his favourite blogs and webgines.

“That was a shock to me. I didn’t know that would be a possibility. It makes me think impossible is somewhat possible.”