Thought Australia fashion week was probably all about surfer chic, board shorts and bikinis? Well, where have you been? Since 1995, AFW has been nurturing fashion talent in the form of Sass & Bide, Akira, Collette Dinnigan and Alice McCall and more, with future fashion superstars such as Dion Lee and Josh Goot getting floor time too.
Taking place in Sydney each spring the event has seen more than its fair share of slightly odd PR stunts in the past – we're thinking Ksubi releasing rats on to the catwalk in 2001 and a model draped in an enormous, writhing snake the same year – but with an increasingly talented array of designers, AFW is now poised to take a serious place in the fashion show calendar. Here are our top three designers to watch this season:
Who: Karla Špetić
What: Unexpected, cartoony and playful, Špetić makes über-cool pieces with a fresh but feminine sensibility.
Tell me more: Croatian-born Špetić came to Sydney at the age of 10 and after graduating from the Sydney Fashion Design Studio, launched her eponymous label at Australia fashion week 2008. A genius at creating modern it-pieces that women really want to wear, Špetić merges a sense of nostalgia with sharp lines to create collections that are intrinsically cool and effortlessly laid-back. Previous pieces have included dungarees, relaxed suiting, lace dresses, floor-length tanks and silk shirting. Špetić also has a knack for poppy, interesting colour palettes (acid tangerine and bubblegum pink, anyone?) and often takes inspiration from the art world, collaborating with illustrators and artists to create unique prints: in autumn/winter she made use of Lichtenstein comic strips; her most recent collection was inspired by the work of William Eggleston. Špetic let it slip to the Guardian that her forthcoming spring/summer 2014 show will draw on her roots with references to Croatian national costume. We can also expect embroidery, embellishment, beading and "an explosion of colours".
Who: Christopher Esber
What: Prodigious minimalism with a crisp, clinical feel. Esber loves clean lines and monochrome.
Tell me more: Esber is talented and, at 26, a bit of a wünderkind. This coming season will see his fifth collection. Another Fashion Design Studio grad, Esber also made his Australian fashion week debut in 2008 and last September he hit the runways at NYFW for the first time in a joint on-schedule show with fellow rising star Kym Ellery (who got rave reviews). Esber's aesthetic is that elusive thing – cool, contemporary femininity. There's a minimal, precise feel to his clean lines and deceptively simple tailoring, but with some thoughtful surprises thrown in. Esber's adroitness for all things technical comes out in experimental shapes, raw edges and dresses that are unexpectedly slit at the back. Known for his stark colour palette (strictly monochrome with a splash of blue and/or grey), Esber likes to really let it rip in with texture, working with textile weaving specialists to create futuristic fabric mash-ups (see the invisible mesh panelling on his A/W13 collection) or mixing bonded tweed and reversible knits or silk with velvet devoré to thrilling effect.
Who: Michael Lo Sordo
What: Future-classic tailoring with a great grasp of construction that's just a little bit sexy.
Tell me more: He originally trained as a chef, but Sydney native Lo Sordo ditched cooking for fashion after eight months and has been showing his sophisticated brand of pared-down luxe at Australia fashion week for the past five years. In 2012 he won the Qantas Spirit of Youth award, and a year-long mentorship with Zimmerman. Lo Sordo is good at the thing we like to call grown-up mysterious-sexy, mixing plush textiles in rich colours and creating innovative digital prints. Construction is key to this confident designer, who favours precision pleats and panelled skirts, tailored suits with a masculine cut and streamlined silhouettes that hug the female form. Most recently for his autumn/winter 2013 collection, Lo Sordo got creative in the fabric department by inventing a unique print effect by marble-dyeing silk and wool. For his forthcoming collection, we are instructed to look out for a collection "inspired by traditional tailoring and nuns". Excited.
• Australia fashion week runs from 8-12 April 2013
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