L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival
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L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival

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“This festival I’m really looking forward to a few things,” says Cultural Program Manager of L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival, Mikala Tai. But she’s thinking of events far from the runway.

"This festival I’m really looking forward to a few things," says Cultural Program Manager of L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival, Mikala Tai. But she’s thinking of events far from the runway.

"There’s an online exhibition by Milly Sleeping [and Absent Design] called Loved And Lost where you’d place a wanted ad [on an online notice board] for a missing glove or a missing sock and it tries and reunites people with their lost things across the city. You wouldn’t usually talk about that being fashiony but you’re sad when you lose your clothes so I think it’s really nice."

The L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF) Cultural Program allows those of us who don’t usually interact with fashion on runways to take in the festival. The 2011 LMFF Cultural Program includes a diverse range of over 70 events over 10 categories including in-store activities, temporary retail concepts, online activities, lectures, forums and floor talks, exhibitions and installations, classes and demonstrations, fashion and film, fashion and food and fashion happenings.

James Nolen is the curator of the Fashion Models on Film season at ACMI which brings together films about modelling from inside an agency during the 1980s, to the heady supermodel era of the ’90s, and present day models. "We collaborate the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival every year with a film program as part of their cultural program," says Nolen. "We’ve covered a few designers and I just wanted to shake it up a bit and do something that takes a look at another aspect of the industry. I thought the discussion about models was quite interesting and it seems to have gotten even bigger with Andrej Pejic, the local Australian Serbian model who’s made it really big at the moment."

"Once you’re a model you’re always a model, it seems," says Nolen. "The National Trust are doing a big show on models of Melbourne who worked in the ’50s and ’60s at Como, so that’s partly why I thought I’d do a film season, slightly in response to that as well, just to capture a bit of the zeitgeist. There’s lots to be learnt about it."

Nolen’s been watching fashion films for a long time, but wasn’t sure how the collection of films about models would come together until he saw Picture Me: A Model’s Diary. "That’s often how it will come together, one film that will spark off the season," he says. The documentary was made by New York model Sara Ziff and her former boyfriend Ole Schell and uncovers some of the grittier aspects of life for young models. Ziff has gone on to campaign for model rights and is working with Fordham’s Fashion Law Institute to develop a Model Alliance and an industry code of conduct.

"She discovered that these girls are not protected, if they’re underage, they’re meant to be sent out with a chaperone," says Nolen. "They’re sending young girls all around the world to these model houses where there might be eight girls, so I guess they expect them to look out for each other. But they just don’t have the capacity, they don’t have sometimes even just the idea of what’s right and what’s not quite right on photo shoots, especially when male photographers expect certain liberties."

Despite the fact that ‘model’ in some circles has become a dirty word, and some aspects of the lifestyle certainly don’t seem appealing, Nolen remains enamoured with the fashion world. "There are moments that are what you call ‘fashion moments’ and you go ‘wow’, you see a runway show or you see one of these documentaries, and your breath is literally taken away from you. There is something that is often inexplicable about why thousands of people work in this particular industry. It is a serious industry and people make a lot of money (and also don’t make a lot of money). We churn out graduates like we’re some massive country and I don’t quite know where they’re all going to work," he says. In terms of ACMI’s interest, Nolen says, "As a cultural institution, we look at it because it is still a cultural phenomenon as well. It is a weird sort of crossroads of culture and commerce, that’s why the National Gallery of Victoria curates shows and there’s museums all over the world who have textiles and fashion collections. There is a lot out there to love, I certainly do."

For more information and a full list of Cultural Program events please visit the LMFF website at lmff.com.au/culturalprogram