How VAMFF aims to become Australia's biggest and best festival

A European tapas style dining restaurant, a live music stage above a runway and a closing night Block Party comes to this year's Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival – proof that it takes a lot more than a catwalk to sell a fashion parade these days.

Now in its 23rd year, VAMFF is now a major tourism drawcard – those who look to Melbourne for its food and live music scene and hook up the fashion set with a curated menu bigger than meets the eye.

Side shows

Taking a leaf from music festivals like Laneway, and Food & Wine concepts, VAMFF aims to give consumers more bang for the buck.

"It's about elongating the experience for consumers," says VAMFF CEO Graeme Lewsey who has been at the helm for the past eight years.
"A runway show typically only goes for 20 minutes, and we see many attendees get dressed-up and excited for the occasion. The value of adding extra entertainment is a huge drawcard because who wants to get dressed up and then go straight home after the shows are done," says Lewsey.

Stylish beats

And in a festival first, a music stage will host a massive line-up of acts including Dami Im, Owl Eyes and Huntley on separate nights. And if that's not enough, there's DJ sets by The Avalanches, Kaiit, Chela Bebe and Australia's contemporary dance company Chunky Movie will perform at the Nocturnal X Melbourne Museum tomorrow night.

"We want people to feel they have somewhere to hang out and to be seen, take their selfies and have fun," says Lewsey.

"Our consumers want more. They love fashion, but also love music and food – the scenes are intrinsically linked," he adds.

Food for thought

In the hands of Tommy Collins comes Admissions – a fabulous top end experience where you can wine, dine and hang out – be it in the restaurant, with a bento box and glass of rose at the pop-up caravan or peacocking handsomely in the wine bar where cheese and cracker plates get a luxury makeover.

"This is so much more than a fashion festival – it's a whole new way of delivering a festival that captures food, drinks, fashion and Melbourne's great European culture," says co-director Tommy McIntosh.

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Admissions can seat 75 while a further 45 spots are available outside. This is where you can indulge in patatas brava, spicy corn ribs, poached tiger prawns, sliders, tapas bento options and more and a handsome cocktail list too.

"The European feel of the Plaza precinct at the Royal Exhibition Building is the perfect backdrop to us to work with," adds McIntosh who also offers a variation of an Aperol Spritz which sees an olive and mandarin come into the equation.

Pass the platter

There's the Cabin Fever zone serving gourmet toasties with coffee, cheese fondue and braised onions and cheesy BBQ short ribs while Le Petite Rose Wine Garden and Rose Bar, presented by Jacob's Creek gives you a chance to enjoy a cheese board and wine while watching it all unfold on the big screen.

"My whole ethos with food is the first bite is with the eyes and then it has to have substance behind it," says McIntosh.

"We've curated a menu that works for the fashion set, but it's substantial and you can have as much or as little as you like."

Party zone

The addition of the closing night Block Party will give ticket holders a chance to party like it's 2019 in Melbourne.

Dubbed Carlton's very own Birdcage (thanks to its position in the grounds of the Royal Exhibition Building), the Plaza precinct is where you go before and after the shows and what the heck, you just go to be seen, but not necessarily heard.

"This area has the potential for guests to really make a night of it," says Lewsey.

Get festive

Lewsey also wants to attract more interstate guests and by pitching the festival concept as opposed to the traditional sartorial hook-up, he's hoping to boost numbers.

As an incentive to head to Melbourne, Virgin Australia is offering VAMFF goers a chance to check-in three pieces of luggage (up to 67 kilos) at no extra cost upon their return home.

"VAMFF is one of Australia's largest fashion events and we want to show other States that this is worth coming to. We're about fashion but so much more, you need to be to survive in a competitive market and get people interested to participate."

VAMFF runs from 1 March to 10 March.