EXCLUSIVE: Australian Fashion Foundation Announces 2021 Scholarship

SYDNEY – RMIT University graduate Vanessa Tan is the winner of the Australian Fashion Foundation’s 2021 scholarship, WWD can reveal.

Presented in partnership with the American Australian Association, Tan will receive a $20,000 cash grant and, pending global travel restrictions, assistance securing a six-month internship at a United States-based fashion company in 2021.

COVID-19 has clipped the foundation’s wings this year, with budget constraints allowing only one winner, instead of the customary two – and the competition’s two 2020 winners Kim Clark and Domenic Roylance still waiting to take up their international internships.

Australian Fashion Foundation co-founder Malcolm Carfrae, an Australian-born, New York-based fashion publicist, was obliged to conduct the competition in a digital format for the first time this year.

More than one hundred applications were whittled down to 10 finalists, with the competition’s judging panel meeting up via Zoom on Thursday to determine the winner.

The panel was comprised of Carfrae, who is currently based out of The Hamptons and was unable to travel to Sydney; with designer Dion Lee and AUSFF co-founder Julie-Anne Quay located in New York; and designer Nicky Zimmermann, Vogue creative director Jillian Davison, consultant Nancy Pilcher and stylist Brana Wolf all in Sydney.

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RMIT University graduate Vanessa Tan, winner of the Australian Fashion Foundation’s 2021 scholarship. 

Conceived in Melbourne during the city’s four-month COVID lockdown from July through November, Tan’s conceptual “Take a Seat” graduate collection captured the judges’ attention with its whimsical garment prototypes manipulated from repurposed IKEA chair frames and incorporating furnishing materials and techniques such as leather, wadding and trapunto quilting.

Asymmetric jacket mounted onto ‘Chesterfield’ cushion pad chair, from Vanessa Tan’s graduate collection ‘Take a Seat’. 

“Her vision was so extraordinary that we all were just blown away by that kind of originality” said Carfrae. “We all just felt that the prize really belonged to someone who was pushing the boundaries of fashion in a really international way and for me. Vanessa could have been a graduate of Central Saint Martins, she could have been a graduate from Parsons here in New York. It happens to be that she’s a graduate of RMIT, but her vision is global”.

Launched by Carfrae and Quay in 2009, the foundation has helped more than 20 Australian fashion designers and creatives gain valuable international experience via internships with brands such as Narcisco Rodriguez, Proenza Schouler, Louis Vuitton, Thom Browne, Alexander McQueen, Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein and Dion Lee.

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