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Speech given by the Governor at a reception to launch the 2021 Melbourne Fashion Festival


First, I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we are gathering and pay my respects to their Elders past and present and to any Elders here with us.

Tony and I are delighted to welcome you to Government House for this very special event to launch the 2021 Melbourne Fashion Festival, in this, its 25th anniversary year.

Last year, on 11 March 2020, we attended the Runway 1 Show at the Royal Exhibition Buildings. As everyone connected with the Festival will recall, it was a night of mixed emotions.

We had held a launch event here at Government House a few months earlier, following an uplifting round-table with Victorian designers, talking collaboratively about the successes and challenges within our fashion industry.

Then, at that Runway Show in March, we witnessed an event that was as beautifully executed as we had come to enjoy at this flagship Australian fashion event.

The crowd was great: big and enthusiastic. But everything was mired in the cloud of a summer of massive bushfires, and the cloud of COVID… just in the process of bursting.

Here we are now, almost exactly a year from that challenging time and the difficult days and decisions that followed, including the premature closing of the Festival.

In that, just as it has done in its realisation of this year’s event, the Festival employed responsible but innovative thinking to meet the challenges and the opportunities of the time.

This year’s Festival will feature a cleverly reimagined program of fashion, arts and ideas. It will be held in a selection of iconic locations across Melbourne – but also taken to the world online. It will be different, but in no way ‘less’!

As Australia’s longest-running fashion event, the Festival will again be an integral part of Victoria’s renowned major events, and an indispensable part of Melbourne’s cultural landscape.

As well, the Festival will, as always, provide a significant boost to our fashion industry and to our State’s economy.

Never has that been more important. We know that this sector has been particularly hard-hit by COVID.

The Festival’s capacity to take fashion directly to international as well as to local audiences, and to create an opportunity for local designers and producers to exchange ideas, will provide a much needed boost.

As a contribution to that, and reflecting the Festival’s spirit of innovation, we are proud that Government House Victoria’s beautiful 145-year-old ballroom will be used this evening as a fashion runway.

The runway will showcase Victoria’s distinct take on fashion and design – from streetwear to couture – and provide us with just a glimpse of what the Festival will feature during its ten days in March.

I want to thank the Festival’s Acting CEO, Yolanda Finch, for stepping in so well at such an unusually difficult time.

Thanks too to the universally admired and respected Graeme Lewsey, for ‘sprinkling his magic’ as the Festival has come to reality, and congratulations to the Board for navigating so well through uncharted waters.

Let me take this opportunity to especially thank Chair, David Briskin, for his leadership. He is a towering figure in the fashion industry. He has led the Festival with skill and grace, and has been a steady hand across this last year.

Thank you and congratulations David. You will be missed when you step down in May. Congratulations too to incoming Chair, Launa Inman. 

Shortly, we will hear from David, and we are delighted that he will be joined by talented Victorian designer, Courtney Holm.  

That leaves me only to say that we hope that you enjoy yourselves this evening, and it is with great pleasure that I officially launch the 2021 Melbourne Fashion Festival.

Now I welcome Andrew Abbott to say a few words.