VAMFF CULTURAL PROGRAM: Fashion Writing Series Workshops



It’s 9.30am on a Sunday in March. Spending the morning lying in bed, eating croissants and watching trashy reality TV seem like the perfect trio. Instead I’m awake, fully dressed and entering the glass doors of the Melbourne Museum. No, I’m not here for the dinosaurs. The museum is the site for the first fashion writing series as part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival. An entire day hearing talented speakers talk about fashion and writing? I’m all ears.

The day opened with Janice Breen Burns from Voxfrock. A truly inspiring speaker with over 30 years of experience from being a journalist with a typewriter, to producing on-the-spot videos of fashion week in the taxi on the way to the next show. One can not sum up her career in a mere sentence, but let’s just say as an aspiring fashion journalist, Janice has the biography of dreams (it might’ve taken everything in my power not to write #goals). Janice is very writing focused, and as a journalism student, I found myself nodding along to her as she spoke. Here are a few key points she made:

  • you must have good basic grammar (a given, but sometimes overlooked)
  • a daily reading habit (every morning wake up and scroll through some articles, easily done and crucial in improving your writing)
  • a fashion library/archive (Janice alluded to an entire wall in her house dedicated to fashion titles- my fantasy! Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion and The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion were her top, though pricey, recommendations)
  • commitment to accuracy (interesting; though integral to journalism, something that we should also commit to in fashion writing)
  • friends in fashion (something that has become my focus over this year. Not only about building connections and contacts, it’s sometimes just nice to be able to sit down and talk about fashion over a coffee!)

Janice spoke about the use of words that make a piece “sparkle”. “They make your reader want to romp to the next sentence,” she said. To do this she highlighted the importance of reading, reading, reading. From anywhere and everywhere. She found inspiration from reading a piece about surfing which described the ‘bubbling’ waves, the perfect adjective to describe the hem of a particular Elie Saab dress.

And while writing about fashion is sometimes seen as frivolous, Janice explained that fashion is a “visual history of what’s happening in the world, of the human race”. I thought that provided the perfect ending to her talk, and really left me with the reassurance that I’m not the only one out there thinking fashion is more than just a great dress or a pretty skirt.

Speaker and the day’s mediator Alison Kubler spoke next. Listening to her career accolades was awe inducing, having released a book titled Art/Fashion in the 21st Century on top of countless art curations and freelance pieces. What I really took away from her speech was the importance of good manners, something that the modern world is lacking. A polite email, a nice phone call and a simple thankyou are the differences between landing a job and being let down.

Editor of i-D magazine Australia Wendy Syfret gave a highly engaging, thought provoking and downright hilarious speech. So much talent and intelligence for someone so young. It was brilliant to hear from a girl who grew up in the same generation as myself, doing the same thing, achieving great things and starting really interesting conversations about very important issues. The session was very much focused on the conception of story ideas and finding sources, which my journalistic brain attached to immediately. Here are some of the best bits:

  • the best stories are usually very big or very small
  • find the voice in the story that hasn’t been heard
  • play devil’s advocate- what if I took the wrong angle? What if the person if the person I thought was the hero is the villain?
  • what has the mainstream missed?
  • what are the questions people aren’t asking?
  • does this article need to exist?

Definitely a refreshing talk to really train myself to look deeper into an issue and not take the easy angle. If I’m not contributing to a conversation, then they’re just empty words!

Last up were brother-sister duo Matthew and Laura Bannister of independent magazine Museum. To sum them up in a sentence they are a pair of cool kids doing awesome stuff. But they’re so much more than that. Creating, designing, writing and editing a magazine that is published and distributed in newsagents and museums globally? That is the stuff of magic. If anything, their talk made me appreciate my editors at Catalyst ten fold because of all of the planning and stress that goes into making a publication. A seriously impressive accomplishment that made me feel small in comparison. A magazine versus a blogpost? It’s all about the small things here.

Overall a highly informative, inspiring, though provoking and entertaining day of fashion talk. See you this time next year?





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