It had all the ingredients of a fashion lover’s death-row dinner party. There was US Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Australian film director Baz Luhrmann and a cast of top local fashion designers. In fact, the room was so charged with fashion power players that some guests may have overlooked the presence of federal MP and self-confessed fashion tragic Julie Bishop.
But the former foreign minister with a penchant for Louboutins and blingy earrings had a serious message for the visiting magazine dynamo: when it comes to fashion, Australia punches way above its weight.
“I will tell [Wintour] that Australian designers are among the most creative in the world,” Ms Bishop said on Thursday, ahead of Wintour’s speech at an Australian Open event in which she joined calls to change the name of Margaret Court Arena over the tennis champion’s controversial views on same-sex marriage.
Ms Bishop hoped Wintour, who is on her first visit to Australia, would appreciate Australian designers’ “edgy approach”.
“They are innovative, highly creative and talented and they can match, in fact best, anyone in the world,” Ms Bishop said.
Wintour freely admitted her knowledge of Australian fashion had been, before this week, slightly under par.
“I’m not as familiar with Australian designers as I should be so I am looking forward to changing that,” she said on Thursday.
On Friday morning, the New York-based magazine dynamo went to the fashion equivalent of cram school when she met 11 of the country’s up-and-coming designers at the National Gallery of Victoria.
The designers invited to show their work included Chris Ran Lin and Albus Lumen’s Marina Afonina, who next month will represent Australia at the International Woolmark Prize in London.
In an unscripted moment straight from a Hollywood set, Luhrmann jumped in to art direct a class photo of Wintour with the young talents – to chuckles from Wintour from behind her trademark Chanel sunglasses.
Luhrmann, who acts as creative director for the Met Gala (which is chaired by Wintour), said the visit to the gallery by his close friend was a “testament to the idea that fashion can no longer be relegated to the basement of cultural institutions. Fashion has its own legitimate place in the language of culture.”
Wintour’s week-long visit has largely been spent watching the Australian Open, with the self-confessed “tennis stalker” not missing a session since she touched down last Sunday. She is a close friend of Roger Federer and Serena Williams who are both out of the tournament.
In a coup for Melbourne, Wintour has donated two of her Chanel pieces – a classic cream suit, and her 2008 Met Gala gown – to the gallery’s permanent collection.
Wintour’s comments on Court’s opposition to same-sex marriage prompted a lively debate on Friday among senior Liberals, some of who accused the visiting editor of interjecting into matters where she is not welcome.
“I thought it was a bit tacky actually, to be honest,” home affairs minister Peter Dutton said on Today on Friday.
“Somebody coming here to criticise, to make a statement that wasn’t factually correct anyway, is pretty shabby. I mean, she thrives on media and attention … Good luck.”