Wiradjuri designer Denni Francisco wins second year grand prize at the 2022 National Indigenous Fashion Awards

Wiradjuri designer Denni Francisco wins second year grand prize at the 2022 National Indigenous Fashion Awards

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A Wiradjuri designer whose philosophy of “Yindyamarra” – fashion that “shows respect, is polite, considerate and gentle to the land” – won Designer of the Year at the National Indigenous Fashion Awards.

For the second year running, Denni Francisco of Ngali won the Fashion Designer Award for her elegant, tailoring-focused womenswear that features digital prints and hand-embellished details inspired by the work of First Nations artists from across the country.

Francisco’s latest collection, presented at Australia Fashion Week in May, featured the work of North West Kimberly-based Gija artist Lindsay Malay.

Related: Country to Couture 2022: Indigenous fashion hits the runway – in pictures

Francisco, a Wiradjuri woman, describes her design philosophy as “Yindyamarra” or “fashion that is respectful, polite, considered, country gentle and honors cross-country collaborations with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives .”

Francisco has become a key figure in the Australian fashion industry, advising on projects such as setting up an Australian fashion brand.

From a hand-knotted mókko (bark skirt) to statement streetwear, the breadth of Indigenous design excellence was celebrated on a warm dry season evening in Darwin on Wednesday at the National Indigenous Fashion Awards (Nifa).

Held as part of the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in Larrakia Country, Darwin, the awards recognized outstanding contributions in six areas: from traditional jewellery, textile design, fashion design and wearable art to community collaboration and business achievement.

Esther Yallarlla won the traditional ornamentation award for a mókko (bark skirt) commissioned by the Bábbarra Women’s Centre. Yallarlla is a Kunibidji artist living in Maningrida, Arnhem Land. Her traditional woven and knotted works are made from banyan trees that grow next to her home, which she hand harvests and processes to make bags, mats, baskets and sculptures.

Models walk the runway wearing designs by Clothing The Gaps during the First Nations Fashion + Design show at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, Australia in May 2022.  (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

Models walk the runway wearing designs by Clothing the Gaps during the First Nations Fashion and Design Show during Australia Fashion Week in Sydney in May. Photo: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

Laura Thompson from social enterprise streetwear label Clothing the Gaps was honored for her commercial achievements. Clothing the Gaps’ ethically sourced garments and accessories celebrate indigenous identity and sovereignty, and the brand’s stance on cultural appropriation has an impact beyond the fashion industry.

Artist and weaver Philomena Yeatman won the textile design award. Yeatman uses a combination of modern materials and pandanus, cabbage palm and natural dyes to create her textile works inspired by her Gungandji and Kuku Yalanji family history. Based in Yarrabah in far north Queensland, Yeatman’s art is widely collected, including by institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia and the Queensland Art Gallery.

Textile and fashion designer Lillardia Briggs-Houston of Ngarru Miimi was nominated for her work in both textile design and wearable art, winning the wearable arts category with a hand-printed, hand-painted jumpsuit. The costume, which also included reed ornaments, a printed veil, and bottle brush earrings, was created in Wiradjuri land in Narrungdera/Narrandera. Briggs-Houston’s ready-to-wear fashions also graced the cover of Vogue Australia.

Mimili Maku Arts, Linda Puna and Unreal Fur were recognized for their community collaboration. Puna’s capsule collection for Unreal Fur, which took 18 months to work on, was supported by the Copyright Agency to maintain best practices throughout the design process. The result was a collection of pastel printed down coats, a reversible faux fur jacket and a black overcoat embroidered with Puna’s artwork Ngayuku Ngura (My Home). The collection’s campaign shoot took place at Country in Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands and included behind-the-scenes opportunities for young women in the community.

Related: Australia Fashion Week 2022: 10 key shows – in pictures

The Nifas are part of a series of events this week celebrating Aboriginal art, design and culture as part of the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, which opens on Thursday.

On Friday, the winners of the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards – the nation’s richest art award, with prize money of $190,000 in seven categories – will be announced as the sun sets on the lawns of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

On Saturday, the National Indigenous Music Awards will induct Gurrumul into the Hall of Fame. A tribute to the late, great Archie Roach is being planned.

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