Melbourne Fashion Festival acting CEO Yolanda Finch discusses the behind-the-scenes of bringing together this year's Festival.
What does it this year's Melbourne Fashion Festival mean to you?
This year’s MFF is very special for me, being the one that we definitely worked hardest to bring to life in unusual circumstances, with no certainty around the format that we would be able to deliver it in.
Bringing it to life has taken every trick I had in my book after 19 years working in and on this Festival, in addition to the innumerable learnings I think we’ve all crammed into this last year.
But it’s also provided a multitude of silver linings and I feel proud that the team and I have tried to capture them all in a program that is diverse, inclusive, chic, cool, sensitive to the times we are all in together, and ultimately, fun and inspiring.
I worked as a runway production assistant on my first ever Festival in 2003, and with an evolution from there to runway producer, to a management role, being a part of this Festival has really shaped my adult life.
I even met my partner working on the shows!
Due to our CEO’s neck cancer diagnosis at the start of 2020 and subsequent journey back to good health, I’ve stepped into the acting CEO role during this time as well.
So suffice to say, the learning curve in this past year was steep and the road to March was rocky for many reasons.
I’m proud to have learned and worked alongside my team and network of suppliers – my Festival family – and it’s on their behalf that I’m so delighted we’re here delivering beautiful live events in Melbourne again.
Romance Was Born - photo by: Lucas Dawson
How did last year’s lockdowns and restrictions impact the Festival?
Because MFF is an annual Festival each March, we were fortunate to be able to use most of 2020 to plan how we could stage live events safely by March 2021, if we possibly could.
So it wasn’t as much the inability to be live that was challenging for us, but rather the uncertainty of how to put the enormous logistics and planning that a Festival takes, into a longer range strategy that could take a range of scenarios into account.
We had to create several possible Festivals at the one time, without access to our usual resources and even without the water-cooler conversations in the office that always lift our projects to the next then next level again.
We were financially impacted by the event sponsorships market being hugely affected, and ticket revenue disappearing along with venue capacity restrictions.
And like most businesses, it was hard to put our arms around team members that may have been doing it tough mentally or emotionally, without the usual support of in-person human connection.
One of the critical impacts that cannot be underestimated across the events industry is the devastating impact to our workers; our suppliers, our freelancers, our teams without whose skills we cannot produce any of our niche, premium activities.
The fact that they all lost their year’s work in the blink of an eye has led to the threat of loss of skills in the State, which is devastating on a societal level, and is a concerning impact that requires careful recovery consideration from an industry perspective.
My reason for getting out of bed on the tough days has therefore been to try to create a Festival for now, that our people can put their skills toward creating this year, that plants seeds for growth into the future.
Runway 2 Finale - photo by: Lucas Dawson
How has the Festival adapted this year?
The first decisions we made to adapt within COVID settings were devising a hybrid live and online program, in order to deliver a digital Festival if there were no events allowed, and planning to stage the live shows at different venues around Melbourne with smaller seating capacities.
We’ve enjoyed the creative challenge of bespoke runways in iconic venues, and the chance to ‘show off’ the Melbourne we love.
It’s also been bold new territory for us to create digital runways, our Australian Fashion Summit as a 3-day online program, and to introduce an e-magazine to support our efforts to promote Australian designers to our runway fans with the Shop The Runway publication.
There’s been constant adaptation in large and small ways in every aspect of our business, and we’ve realised that the healthiest way to reflect on how challenging that has been, is to appreciate the opportunities created by thinking through the way things can be done.
We are laser focused on what really matters, we don’t sweat the small stuff quite as much, and we celebrate all the small wins that add up to great outcomes.
Backstage at Vogue Runway - photo by: Lucas Dawson
What are some of your highlights from the Festival so far?
On a personal level I've enjoyed dressing up and being amongst friends again.
I'm thrilled about our premium runways at key iconic locations around Melbourne, seeing the designer collections on the runway (there’s nothing like it!) and the Independent Program of exhibitions, talks, workshops, runways and events that truly shows us what our diverse Melbourne fashion scene is all about.
I’m proud of offering audio descriptions through Vision Australia for our digital runways, so that even more fashion enthusiasts can enjoy them; I fan-girled over meeting Karen from Finance when she hosted the Fashion Weekend Live Stage; and, I can’t wait to shop at the First Nations Fashion + Design pop up store in Melbourne Central.
Karen From Finance at Fashion Weekend - photo by: Lucas Dawson