The coveted National Designer Award, presented by David Jones, celebrates the country’s most promising fashion design talent. Meet 2021’s winner and finalists.


About the Award

Now in it’s 25th year, the Melbourne Fashion Festival’s National Designer award provides an important platform to showcase Australian fashion’s emerging names. Now, more than ever, is the time to support the local industry and recognise the excellence it continues to deliver – it’s why this important initiative holds pride of place on the Festival schedule. This year’s judging panel comprised industry leaders Graeme Lewsey, Melbourne Fashion Festival CEO; Chris Wilson, general manager of menswear at David Jones; Bridget Veals, general manager of womenswear at David Jones; Jillian Davison, Vogue’s creative director; Gary Theodore of Scanlan Theodore and Emily Taylor, editor of Shop The Runway magazine. The Award, supported by Australian retailer David Jones, is offered to an emerging Australian designer who receives mentorship, networking opportunities, a business development prize pack and critical industry exposure to help shape the next phase of their career. ▾

and the winner is... COMMAS

According to its founders, Sydney husband-and-wife team Richard and Emma Jarman, the name COMMAS means to pause and catch a breath. “It’s about being present; through the clothes, the messaging and the campaigns,” says Richard. “We think of it as a vehicle to change the way people experience life,” Emma adds of the duo’s unwavering vision for their brand. Since it’s launch in 2017, the men’s swim and resortwear label has been making waves across the world thanks to its unique elevated aesthetic and strong sustainability credentials. In its first year alone, COMMAS secured luxury online retailer Matches Fashion as a stockist and was selected as the first ever swimwear brand to represent Australia at Pitti Uomo. Fast-forward to 2020 and it was named as the number one swim brand by Vogue Hommes Paris. With stylish men including Chris Hemsworth, John Legend, Jordan Barrett and Jarrod Scott spotted in looks, it’s little wonder the popularity of COMMAS continues to grow exponentially. ▾

At present, the brand is keeping it local when it comes to manufacture. “Everything is made and designed in Sydney and we make to order, which eliminates a lot of waste,” Richard explains. “It’s a lot more expensive to do, but it means we can always delivery on quality,” he says. It’s true that sustainability is an integral part of the business and the reason why COMMAS also took out the Honourable Mention for Sustainability at the National Designer Award this year. Vogue Italia, too, has called out the brand’s efforts. “At the end of the day, the ocean is one of the most important things to our brand,” explains Emma. “ The natural world lies at the heart of what we do and sustainability is at the core of how we operate.” Their approach is anchored in three key areas: timeless design, ethical manufacturing and the use of sustainable textiles. The swimwear is cut from recycled polyamide while Australian-grown organic cotton is employed in the over pieces. High-tech and high-quality zips and hardware ensure strength and are made to last a lifetime.

The office and studio are carbon positive and all our freight is carbon neutral,” says Richard. And the brand has initiated a five-year Warranty and Recycling program for its swimwear pieces. “The program is one of our most important initiatives – we are creating a product built to last and if it doesn’t, we fix it,” Emma adds.

Combined, these factors only serve to make the COMMAS offering even more compelling, reflected in a strong international e-commerce portolio where it’s positioned alongside well-known global luxury brands. Asked about the brand’s achievements, though, Richard is quick to acknowledge his supporters. “The Australian fashion industry is an incredible landscape where people are happy to [assist] and answer questions,” he says. “We stand on the shoulders of successful people who’ve gone before us and have helped us navigate the industry.” We can’t help but think the success this unique and mindful brand is currently enjoying might be only the beginning. ▾

Visit commas.cc

Meet the 2021 Finalists



Passionate about sustainability and ethical fashion, Sophia McMahon launched autark in 2016 as a response to both the needs of the modern woman and the wide-ranging impact of the fashion industry on the world. “My idea was for people to reconnect with the value of their clothing,” she says. The brand’s investment pieces, made locally in Adelaide, are cut from luxurious silks, cotton, linen and natural fibres and are designed for those who want to shop according to their values.


E Nolan

This boutique Melbourne brand delivers bespoke suiting for women and and LGBTQIA+, bringing Savile row tailoring to the modern day. “Made-to-measure is a vehicle for my clients to be creative,” says designer Emily Nolan. “It’s really important that we emotionally connect with how our clothing functions for us.” Her made-to-measure trousers, jackets and outerwear pieces are accompanied by a tightly edited ready-to-wear range of sharp shirts and cotton knits, designed to be worn with the tailoring.


Holiday The Label

Designer Emma Mulholland founded her new brand in late 2016 as a side project that quickly gained momentum. “It combines a lot of elements I really love about dressing,” says Emma of the relaxed aesthetic. “I get a lot of my inspiration from travel, music and movies.” Featuring nostalgic clashing prints with a retro feel - including the yin yang symbol, hibiscus flower and the enduringly popular checkerboard design, the label is young, fun and fast gaining a cult following across the world. All the joyful designs are carefully screen-printed by hand.



A love for Australian wool fibre provided the drive for Valerie Jantz to launch premium knitwear and accessories label, LEOPHIL. Inspired by “strong women who have their own sense of style and like to express themselves through their clothes,” the Swiss-born designer and former stylist creates pieces from the highest quality natural materials sourced across the globe. An understated colour palette and a strong focus on detail driven yet pared back silhouettes round out the compelling offering from the up-and-coming Sydney brand.


MAARA Collective

Founded by Yuwaalaraay creative director, Julie Shaw, this luxury resortwear label embraces a collaborative approach to design. Working closely with Indigenous artists and creatives, Julie draws inspiration from Country to present within the context of contemporary fashion. “We bring an Indigenous perspective to the Australian fashion industry,” Julie explains. Proceeds from every purchase support digital training and education in remote Aboriginal communities.