INTERVIEW – Graeme Lewsey, CEO of the Melbourne Fashion Festival

Man of Many was lucky enough to chat with Graeme Lewsey, CEO of the Melbourne Fashion Festival, and it is fair to say that this man knows more about fashion than anyone we’ve ever met. Graeme is a proud Melburnian. After graduating from his BA Degree at RMIT University he was awarded ‘Australian Young Designer of The Year’ by Woolmark, which was followed by a decade of work with leading fashion brands and marketing agencies overseas.

Returning to Australia in 1997, Graeme was involved in the development of ‘Australian Fashion Week’ in Sydney and subsequently joined the global team at IMG as a Senior Executive for the Asia Pacific region and was instrumental in the establishment of a range of events including the ‘Singapore Fashion Festival’, ‘Hong Kong Luxury Week’ and the ‘Sydney Fashion Festival’.

Where did your love of fashion come from?

I think it’s a natural evolution of being inspired by creative industries and the yearning to be a part of it. I wanted to be a graphic designer but a weird force came over me. I applied for RMIT Fashion and that was it; I found my place of passion.

Tell us about your experience in Europe. What lessons and inspirations did you draw from your time over there?

When I arrived I was in my early twenties and was really hungry to be a part of the scene. I had a cultural cringe for Australia at that point and wanted to be as far away from it as I possibly could. The driver was to entrench myself in the inner workings of ‘cool’ London. Think Alexander McQeeen, Corine Day, Kate Moss, Dazed and Confused… so with this determination however I found a pretty tough world. One that thrived on creativity (tick) but one that was relentless in the pursuit of the ‘in thing’. It was all about who you knew and climbing the social ladder, being ‘scene’ at the right places. Every now and then you would find someone who provided that extra bit of nurturing, advice and focus. I didn’t know it then, but they are what we pretty much call ‘mentors’ nowadays. I learnt to maximise these ‘mentor’ relationships and to this day they help guide my professional and personal decisions.

You’ve been involved in quite a few including Australian Fashion Week, Singapore Fashion Festival and Hong Kong Luxury Week. What do you think makes a good Fashion Festival?

People. I could write a book on the differences between an industry Fashion Week and a consumer Fashion Festival, and there is a major difference. Looking at a consumer Fashion Festival, in particular, it is the people who rally together to curate a program that is visually thrilling and inspirational. This is why the Melbourne Fashion Festival is all about ‘fashiontainment’ and presenting the best designers, models, stylists etc. to consumers in a compelling way. A consumer Festival has an economic stimulus and drives consumer engagement.

And another thing…lots of passion to bring our industry together. People and Passion.

What was your highlight from this year’s Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival?

Always a hard one. There are three pillars that make up the Festival. Runways, Culture, and Business Events.
So in order; Josh Goot’s and Romance Was Born stand alone runways were world-class, I was so proud of my A-team that produced each of them; Nixi Killick show in an old Tram atop a warehouse in Collingwood was totally out there; and, James Curleigh’s (President and Executive Vice President of Global Levi’s) talk at the annual Business Seminar was the most motivational brand spiel I‘ve ever heard.

And what’s in store for the VAMFF in 2016?

It’s going to be a big one. It’s the twentieth Festival to be staged by the not-for-profit, for purpose, organisation I’m proudly the CEO of. It’s not just significant for the Festival, reflecting on so many great moments and celebrate the Festival’s incredible teams and supporters of the past, but it’s also a true milestone for our industry to pause and reflect on where it’s heading and the incredible reputation Australian designers are earning globally.

Next year will motivate so many stakeholders and it’s our job to continue to provide world-class events that rival and/or outdo runway productions seen around the world. Watch this space!

Could you tell us how you’re helping to promote the development of Australia’s creative industries and why it’s so important?

It’s all about building confidence. If we can engage all facets of industries where creativity is at the core and provide a platform for inspiration, conversation and interaction then it’s going to generate huge momentum. That’s what we do and that’s what’s going to help our next generation. Importantly there’s also a bit of attention seeking. To enable creativity it needs support so it’s also important to put great talent on a pedestal so that funding, business commence and Governments can gravitate and support these talents too.

How do you think Australian fashion has changed over the life of your career, and where is it going?

We’ve calved out a great niche. A genuine sophisticated casualness, one that’s transeasonal. These all echo our lifestyle here in Australia. It’s a unique selling position we’ve now got and is enabling fresh new brands to stand out in a really competitive global market place.

Do you think Australian men generally dress well or poorly? What advice would you have for them?

Our sense of style is getting so much better. We latch on to great ideas and I think the old tyranny of distance means we like to grab an emerging trend and take it up quickly. The access to imagery and trends via digital amplification is helping educate men faster then before and they have more confidence trying new trends and styles, when there’s a bit more practical information at their finger tips.

It’s been helpful that many of our sporting heroes have adapted a better sense of style and understands it as part of their own personal brand building. These are positive images for Australian men’s style. Add to that, we’ve got some killer emerging men’s wear labels now fromSTRATEAS.CARLUCCI, through to Vanishing Elephant.

What are three fashion items every man should own?

1. Hand made tan leather Brogues
2. Quality white tees (Bassike is doing these really well) in all sorts of styles and fit
3. The right bag for the occasion (A-ESQUE is nailing it)

And finally, what are three things you can’t live without? They don’t have to be fashion related.

1. Mindfulness
2. Gratefulness
3. Good health

Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival

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