Last year, after almost two full years since their last runway show, Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett of Romance Was Born decked the largest Carriageworks gallery out with a vintage carousel, the runway space lined with pastel-dyed baby’s breath, psychedelic lights illuminating the cavernous old railway site for their Resort 22 runway.
Their return to the runway was triumphant, as it always is with Romance Was Born. Each year, as Sydney’s fashion week rolls around, we can always count on Sales and Plunkett to launch us into the full Romance Was Born fantasy, transporting us into a world where art and fashion collide in a glorious amalgamation of colour, volume, and ideas. This year was no different for the design duo, whose Resort 23 collection was presented at the Ken Done gallery. Done, the artist and designer best known for his vibrant paintings of Australia’s most famed places, has become somewhat of a consistent collaborator with the brand. “This is kind of concentrating on the whole of Ken's career,” Sales tells me just a few days out from the show. “The other collections we've been doing have been segmented into different little things. Like we've got one coming out in October, that's all about all of his flowers, and then we've got another one this summer, which is more based around a certain prints and things in the sea. So, that's why we're calling Done Zone, because it’s just everything.”
As soon as you pass through the doors at Done’s gallery on show day, the sentiment makes sense. The world of Romance Was Born collides with Done’s. The “media wall” (if you could even call it that) is transformed into a psychedelic, glittering reef by Rosie Deacon, a theme carried through the gallery space reflecting the collection to come.
“Showing at the Ken Done gallery, it's kind of a smaller show. I just feel like we kind of do these big shows every year, but this is more focusing on that you don’t need to make a million things to tell the story, you know what I mean?”
As time goes on, Sales and Plunkett have firmly cemented the Romance Was Born brand as one that consistently offers the show of the season. From Hollywood Regency at Darling Point’s Carthona house (one of Sales’ favourite shows to date) to the disco deco girls of their Resort 19 collection at Hubert’s, to a nude Oli Henderson marching down the runway in nothing but a lace thong and a pair of satin Del Kathryn Barton-printed boots, covered in black text lifted from Barton’s paintings; each year, hundreds of guests filter out of the show venues, smiling for the days ahead of what’s just been witnessed. This year, however, was about more for Sales and Plunkett.
“As we get older, I feel bad about over-buying like fabrics, and even just wasting people's time and wasting our time, resources, the environment,” Sales points out, noting that each year has been a lesson in what they can do to minimise their impact through the collections by upcycling some of the pieces in the show, while also supporting the factories they have worked with for years in India – factories that, through the pandemic were not able to work – by printing Ken Done’s work onto fabrics.
“I've always wanted to do something with Ken and and reinterpret his work, so that's been really exciting to be able to help sustain their business, but also realise something that I've wanted to do for a really long time.”
The result, was a tight, trippy collection that spoke to the essence of what exactly it is that makes Romance Was Born, Romance Was Born. Patchwork lace jumpsuits were layered underneath spangly (a necessary descriptor if you saw the way it moved) beaded jackets; dresses with structured wire ruffles in mini and maxi options printed with Done’s signature brushstrokes flounced through the gallery space. One dress – Sales’ favourite – moves like a jellyfish, where one of Done’s paintings of neon fish is transferred onto sheaths of rainbow organza that moves like water as it travels through the space.
As the exits continued, more serious evening wear emerged, alongside matching opera gloves to complete the looks. There is a black strappy evening gown with black tulle that spills out from a rainbow beaded torso; a gold waterfall gown printed with Done’s work which reaches each seam, even the voluminous ruffled shoulders carry the print. A favourite, is a black beaded strapless gown with a sweetheart neckline, finished with individual ostrich feathers suspended from the body, accessorised with matching oversized beaded bangles.
No one ever criticised Romance Was Born for not doing enough, and even for a season where practising restraint was key for the brands evolution, they put on quite a show. See all of the looks, below.