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Nicol & Ford’s Fashion Week Show Was Pure Sex | ELLE

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In the midst of Australian Fashion Week (AFW) the Carriageworks bathroom transforms into something of a safe space. After shows, editors, models, influencers and other attendees convene (this year, often with a canned San Pellegrino in hand) by the sinks, and relay their thoughts and feelings about whichever show they’ve just witnessed. It goes without saying that the feedback for any show can be varied, but just before 9pm on Wednesday, the third day of AFW, praise bounced off the mirrors.

The revellers crowding the sink had come from Gallery Three, where Nicol & Ford had just presented their latest collection, Thorn.

Last year, Katie-Louise and Lil Nicol-Ford opened their sophomore AFW show with a picture of grace. House of Silky’s Mia Dennis, garbed in an ethereal white dress and otherworldly headpiece, moved among spatial decor to the tune of a sweet melody. So when this year’s show opened with a witch, played by the electrifying Fetu Taku, on the runway, it was immediately evident the designers had opted for a sharp shift in tone.

As one writer in the bathroom noted; “I was expecting something angelic, this was sex.” This was a most wholehearted compliment.

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For their latest demi-couture collection, Lil and Katie-Louise—who are partners in both life and design—took the infamous ”Witch of Kings Cross,” Rosaleen Norton as their muse. Nicknamed ‘Thorn’, Norton was an artist and occult pagan witchcraft practitioner who was “persecuted for the dark and sexual dreamscapes she exhibited in the 1950s. Her personal life, spirituality and sexuality became the subject of extreme public interest and scrutiny, which she came to reclaim in time, weaponising her infamy to build her community and share her work with the world.” She was, they also note, “an endlessly fascinating human.”

The pair told ELLE Australia ahead of the show: “We have approached Rosaleen’s story through three lenses; her underworld liberal sex life informed by the kink illustrations of Bizarre Magazine (1946-1956); the hybrid human-animal bodies of Norton’s paintings celebrating the possibilities of an alternate pagan world; and the history of persecution, delving into the historic persecution of minorities.”

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These three takes fused on the runway, with the first the most immediately evident. Nicol & Ford’s interpretation of John Willie’s BDSM illustrations manifested in fetish-look garments, with dresses constructed from layers of rope and chain; and hair plaited, serving to tie wrists of models behind the back, or gag their mouth. Then there were the shoes: claw slingbacks and gravity-defying mules created by cordwainer Matea Gluščević, whose interpretation of the brief manifested “as sleek, sexy, with a touch of beast, danger and awe.”

Despite Norton having been persecuted for her involvement in these subcultures, Nicol & Ford are not interested in furthering any stigma. In fact, as they have a penchant for doing, in their retelling of Norton’s story Nicol & Ford underscore the beauty in otherness.

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Nicol & Ford’s collections tend to be rooted in deep historical research. Lil, who studied art history and theory, and archaeology at university says she feels, “that there are many stories of the past which can provoke thoughtful conversations in the present.” She adds, “Nicol & Ford’s ongoing project to question historic queer erasure asks how these individuals might flourish in our world today. In taking figures from the past as our muses, we are able to dive into rich historic references when researching silhouettes and subcultures.”

Gluščević, who has collaborated with the pair for the past three years, said, “I really appreciate Katie and Lil’s approach to aesthetics, which isn’t trend driven, but rather comes from a historical perspective that is usually tied to something loosely or not so loosely personally relevant to them.”

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When you combine that research with an ongoing commitment to celebrating queer identities and platforming queer stories, the result is collections and runways that are not only beautiful, but deeply important.

In Nicol & Ford’s design, the bodies that wear the clothes are just as important as the garments themselves. The duo locked their cast in four months ahead of AFW and created for their bodies as they designed.

Without bodies—the bodies of people who know us, our work, our dreams and our concepts—our designs are simply just clothing

They explained, “Without bodies—the bodies of people who know us, our work, our dreams and our concepts—our designs are simply just clothing. The process of bringing people together, creating an opportunity for safety and celebration, is the best part of what we do.”

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Despite the darker palette of this year’s collection, there was still something so deeply joyous about Nicol & Ford’s runway. The duo are, first and foremost, for community. To sit aside a runway and watch members of the crowd whistle and cheer for their friends as they make their way down; to see the story of a demonised, bisexual “witch” told with such care; there’s no question that Nicol & Ford’s creations go far beyond fashion.

The duo themselves described it best when they explained their label as, “a fashion design practice which uses the vehicle of clothing to share, challenge, and incite dreams.”

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