All Style & No Substance: MFF'S Power Runway Missing that Spark

International Women’s Day is a recognition of the power possessed by all women, not just those that wear sparkly dresses.


Walking to the Melbourne Fashion Festival’s Power Runway at the Royal Exhibition Building, I can’t help but laugh, watching the usual skater boys that haunt the museum courtyard juxtaposed with the arriving influencers in designer shoes. It’s a strange sight, yet I can’t help but think there’s something aggressively “Melbourne” about it. However, this comedic contrast is lost once I enter the festival grounds–and I emphasise the term “festival”. The outdoor space is packed with pop-up bars, ambient fairy lights and a talented DJ (not to mention ample opportunities for attendees to snap that perfect fit pic for the ‘Gram). It’s a lively atmosphere packed with famous faces (I was mildly starstruck after spotting some influencers I follow) and incredible clothes. In fact, you don’t even need the runway to spot some seriously glam looks, with the attendees providing some of the most memorable fashion of the night. Oversized denim, watercolour ball gowns; I felt fashionable just by proxy.

The interior of the Royal Exhibition Building is similarly decorated and is as always a stunning sight (provided you’re not too traumatised by the memories of your exams). I usually enjoy runways in more novel locations like aquariums or car parks, interesting places that link to the fashion itself, but the classical aesthetic beauty of the Exhibition Building can’t be denied. Although, now that I think about it, perhaps the traditional building was the perfect backdrop for the looks that were presented. Because while they were all objectively beautiful, to indulge my inner Carrie Bradshaw for a moment: I couldn’t help but wonder, did this show play it too safe?

Taking place on International Women’s Day, Power tells attendees to “expect assertive pieces that break through boundaries,” but fails to fully deliver on this promise. The runway is covered in bows, floral patterns and satin fabrics—not exactly reinventing the wheel when it comes to femininity. Is femininity powerful? Of course. But representing womanhood as bold pinks and flowing silhouettes feels like a limited perspective. I’m aware the runway is a show for “consumers” as opposed to a more avant-garde affair, but you don’t need spray on dresses a là Bella Hadid or the couture gowns of Viktor and Rolf to create a thought-provoking show. Just a little imagination and willingness to push the boundaries, neither of which were fully displayed on the runway. As our perceptions on gender as a society continue to shift, International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to expand our horizons on womanhood beyond the traditional heteronormative lens and celebrate all types of female-identifying folk. To restrict women to slip dresses and rhinestones on a frighteningly homogenous line-up of thin body types doesn’t scream “breaking the glass ceiling” to me.

There were some exceptions, of course, with some designers more willing to break down the binary than others. One particular satin blazer in striking fuchsia was a playful blend of the masculine and feminine, the combination of the soft fabric and traditionally feminine colour with the more stereotypically masculine blazer providing a more complex view on womanhood in the modern era. And the more gender-fluid pieces presented by Jason Grech ultimately finished the runway with a bang, showing dresses in the commonly ungendered colours of fluoro yellow and neon orange (though these colours do evoke images of tradies in their hi-vis, a traditionally male-dominated industry.) These looks were arresting, highlighting how powerful it is when women are allowed to be so much more than just allusions to spring (which unfortunately was the bulk of the night’s catalogue).

As an event I must admit I found it dazzling. The festival certainly knows how to create an atmosphere and the people-watching alone is worth the trip to the city. While I acknowledge the price is considerably steep for our target audience, if you’re interested in fashion (or just keen on feeling like a Devil Wears Prada extra for an evening) I can’t deny it’s a fun night out. However, when considering the Power runway itself, I ultimately have to question if the show has anything new or exciting to say to a younger generation that increasingly prides itself on diversity and gender exploration. International Women’s Day is a recognition of the power possessed by all women, not just those that wear sparkly dresses.

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