Australians invented avocado toast, a breakfast that took style capital New York by storm a few years ago, so it’s only natural that we’ve also produced some of the best tastemakers in fashion.
The term “influencer” is now an oft-parodied hashtag, however rather than just a young person with an iPhone, this specific fashion persona takes many forms and has varying levels of legitimate influence.
In Sydney this week, the fashion set were blessed with the presence of the Holy Trinity of style: US InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown, style.com creative director and designer Yasmin Sewell and Vogue Australia’s fashion director Christine Centenera. This trio of Australian women are now influencing millions in a variety of ways.
Brown landed the role at InStyle 15 years after arriving in New York, a week before the September 11 attacks, and freelanced her way to the top. Her first issue as boss in March, where she had her “big-girl pants on”, featured cameos from celebrities such as Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Christy Turlington, many of whom she calls friends.
They “showed up for me”, she told the audience at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Centre for Fashion last week.
And why wouldn’t they? Through her magazine, Brown has an audience of 30 million across print, digital and online. That’s not to mention her social media following, which includes close to 200,000 dedicated followers, who seem to admire her for her down-to-earth qualities – and possibly her famous friends.
Nevertheless, Brown’s motto has always been: “It’s not about who you know, what access you have or if you have money. If you show up, get on with people and be a decent person, you’ll make it to the top.”
While she got her taste for fashion by styling her bath towel after stepping out of the shower when she was younger, Sewell – co-founder of cult fashion label Etre Cecile – excelled at “clean clothes day at school” whereas Centenera tried to “fight it” for a long time.
It’s a surprising admission from the woman who is now considered to be one of the world’s leading stylists thanks to her work with Vogue and time spent consulting for labels like Dion Lee and Kanye West’s Yeezy.
“I used to look at the girls in the fashion office and just thought I could never be part of that because I didn’t understand what it was or what styling was about,” Centenera said.
Fast-forward 10 years and she’s now advising the likes of Kim Kardashian West on how to dress, as well as shooting fashion editorials and styling runway shows around the world.
However, she’s not resting on her laurels. Having recently relocated to New York she’s still encountering setbacks. “As an Australian you need to work harder to prove yourself,” she said. “There is a feeling that the work is sub-standard. I noticed when I first moved to New York [in August 2016] there were certain photographers, Australian photographers, who were at the top of their game who were reluctant to work with me and the magazine,” she said.
“But once we actually did work together they were quite surprised at the level which we operate and work on. They were surprised at how prepared we were, surprised at the level of talent there was at the magazine and that it was not dissimilar to the editors they are working with in New York.
“I know for myself, we have fittings and certain processes that are in place before a shoot. Like even working with [Mario] Testino with Princess Mary in Copenhagen [for the August 2016 issue of Vogue Australia] he was shocked and told me that a lot of editors don’t do this anymore. So that made me feel quite confident and it was nice to hear.”
Sewell says Australians’ refreshing perspective – be it in design, styling or Instagramming – is what will continue to propel our talent on the world stage.
In her role at style.com, she’s responsible for identifying new talent, buying and then wearing the wares Conde Nast sells and promotes online. Like Brown, she has a huge social media following, which she credited with being part of the reason she landed the job.
“We’re not brought up with loads of history that we hold onto, we’re not stagnate in a way, every Australian is very much about the now and the future we don’t look bad too much. Whereas in France they’re always looking back, which is great, as they do in England – but we don’t have the same amount of weight and I think that makes us light. We’re present, we look forward, not back,” she said. “French food isn’t even the best anymore.”
The three were in town for Fashion Week Australia, which wrapped up on Friday following a colourful finale show by Romance Was Born.