IS THERE such a thing as a truly Australian approach to fashion any more?
At a lunch in a Greek restaurant in Potts Point on Wednesday, a British chief executive unveiled a new direction for the veteran Australian brand Sportscraft, which today manufactures mostly overseas, including China.
Daniel Bracken, who was previously in a senior role with British luxury brand Burberry, revealed a campaign shot in Broome was designed to emphasise the Australian heritage credentials of Sportscraft and to reinvigorate the 98-year-old brand.
''Sportscraft will regain its position as the Australian lifestyle brand,'' said Bracken, the chief executive of the Apparel Group, which owns Sportscraft.
The fashion landscape has changed immensely since Sportscraft was founded in 1914. Back then the apparel environment was parochial at best, and shoppers continued to have limited access to overseas designer fashions, shoes and handbags until well into the 1980s.
It is a different story today. International imports are freely available and thanks to online shopping they are but a click away on the internet. Global fast-fashion chains Zara and Topshop have hung their shingles in Australia, and Sweden's H&M and Japan's Uniqlo are on the way.
Australian fashion brands are being forced to adapt to the new landscape. On the same day as the Sportscraft event, Country Road bought Witchery for $172 million. The deal is aimed at strengthening the position of both brands in the troubled retail climate, as the consolidation will enable cost-cutting for each as well as the accessories store Mimco, which is also part of the Witchery Group.
A glance at the current collections of all three fashion brands, however, shows nothing that could truly be described as uniquely ''Australian''.
Sportscraft's paisley pyjama pants tick two international trend boxes, as do its colourful silk print shirts and seersucker suits. Country Road stores are stocked with powdery pastels, minimal suiting and cropped tapered trousers, while Witchery is offering spray-on leather leggings and edgy leather T-shirts.
Even heritage brands such as R. M. Williams and Driza-Bone have increased their fashionability. Australian style is now in sync with what is happening globally, rather than operating as an outpost, and while industry figures will always grumble about copycats, the variety of international trends now available in Australia is undoubtedly a win for shoppers.
Australian companies that were once complacent are now also delivering better quality at lower prices. Competition from international arrivals has made this inevitable, but it is particularly cheering to see the superior fits and finishes of local brands, such as Sportscraft, compared to some of their international counterparts. There is still a way to go - pricing remains an issue for some labels and customer service is a vexing issue for many more of them - but overall the fashion consumer is far better off here than a decade ago.
If discerning and distilling a specific ''Australian style'' is more difficult than it used to be, that is a good thing when it comes to the range and value of fashion choices now available here.