Justin O'Shea has a problem with Australian fashion.
"[We] don't recognise that Australia, to the outside world, is exotic and one of the most desirable places in the world that a lot of people don't get the chance to go to."
The now-infamous style guru grew up in a rural Indigenous community and went on to become creative director of Italian heritage label Brioni before being sacked mere months later.
Back in the country for the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and boasting about his recent purchase from Lowes (a Hawaiian-print shirt), it's easy to forget from his softly-spoken drawl that he's one of the most influential men in the industry.
"One thing that I would love to see is Australian brands forming more of their own identity and asking what is it about Australia that people love so much," he says. "That's what people want to buy more of from overseas. And I know that when I come back to Australia, I want to buy iconically Australian."
People are definitely dressing outside their batting average.Justin O'Shea
Turning a corner
Australian menswear is at an interesting crossroads. Gents are taking a vested interest in what they're wearing (should they roll that cuff or what colour pocketsquare should they sport?). But have they – and the menswear industry in Australia at large – lost something of themselves in the process?
This was the biggest question to come out of the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week held in Sydney and one that jumped out at O'Shea in particular, whose previous role as buyer for global online fashion retailer MyTheresa.com helped hone his eye for both the commercial and aesthetic sides of the market.
Both on and off the runway, it seems like the direction for Aussie menswear has gone from a "looking good" sense of style to going balls-out, bells and whistles catch-me-on-Instagram levels of ridiculousness.
Gone is the laid-back, unaffectedness that was so integral to the Australian male's aesthetic. Instead, we've got gladiator sandal-inspired sneakers and drop-crotch shorts so low they almost hit the ground; faux fur jumpers; novelty sunglasses and farm animal printed overalls - and that was just the guys there to watch the shows.
On the runway it was a different kettle of fish altogether.
Either due to market trends, timing, or simply just distance, Australian labels have often found elements of international designers creeping into their collections. Which in and of itself is fine when you're giving the customer what they want. But recently, it's becoming increasingly less of a subtle influence and instead just outright copying.
So what's gone wrong?
Dressed to impress (others)
In the rush to catch up with the rest of the globe, O'Shea feels that Australian blokes - and the local menswear industry at large - have become so caught up with "fitting in" globally that we've forgotten our heritage and the very thing that originally endeared us to the world to begin with.
This isn't to say that ditching convention and dressing to the beat of your own drum is a bad thing, although in many cases it comes across as being somewhat unauthentic.
"People are definitely dressing outside their batting average," he says.
"They're not dressing for themselves, they're dressing for other people. You've gotta be cooler than the other guys or you can't be a bogan."
A bright future
But for some, like Sydney-based PR Adam Worling, the fanfare of the week and the growing numbers of men willing to really take some risks with their style is a beacon of hope for the future.
"I think this year was a great start – from minimal participation last year, to five or six inclusions this year is encouraging! The timing is right as we are witnessing men showing an increased interest in what they wear."
Worling, who was responsible for putting together one of the more memorable shows of the event ( at Andrew Boy Charlton Pool) does agree however that brands need to re-identify with what makes them uniquely Australian.
"I would like to see more brands capture the essence of the Australian lifestyle – many people around the world envy this lifestyle and we need to capitalise on it."
That "essence" of Australian style, and our lifestyle, can be summed up fairly easily according to O'Shea.
" [Australian style] is about not trying...I know that sounds really dumb because not trying is such a difficult thing to interpret and what does it even mean? I think about my mates at the pub just going 'who the f--k are you, what is that'. It's those moments that really speak the truth and it's nice to have those experiences that remind you who you are."
Have Australian men have lost their sense of style? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.