Wiradjuri designer Denni Francisco wins top prize for second year at National Indigenous Fashion Awards 2022

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

For the second year in a row, Denni Francisco of Ngali won the fashion designer award for her elegant, tailoring-focused women’s clothing that features digital prints and hand-embroidered details adapted from the works of First Nations artists from across the country.

Francisco’s latest collection, presented in May at Australian Fashion Week, featured the work of Gija artist Lindsay Malay from the north-west Kimberly.

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

A Wiradjuri woman, Francisco describes her design philosophy as “Yindyamarra” or “fashion that shows respect, is polite, considerate, gentle to the land and honors the cross-country collaboration with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives.”

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

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

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

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

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

Models walk the runway in designs by Clothing the Gaps during the First Nations Fashion and Design Show at Australian fashion week in May in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

Laura Thompson of social enterprise streetwear brand Clothing the Gaps was honored for her business achievements. Clothing The Gaps’ ethically produced clothing and accessories celebrate Indigenous identity and sovereignty, and the brand’s stance on cultural appropriation has been influential 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, which draw inspiration from her Gunggandji and Kuku Yalanji family history. Based in Yarrabah in 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 arts, winning the wearable arts category with a hand-printed, hand-painted jumpsuit. The costume, which also included reed ornaments, a printed veil and bottlebrush seed earrings, was made on Wiradjuri country in Narrungdera/Narrandera. Briggs-Houston’s ready-to-wear fashion has also appeared on the cover of Vogue Australia.

Mimili Maku Arts, Linda Puna and Unreal Fur were awarded for their community collaboration. Puna’s capsule collection for Unreal Fur, 18 months in the making, was supported by the Copyright Agency in an effort to maintain best practice throughout the design process. The result was a collection of pastels, printed puffer coats, a reversible faux fur jacket and black topcoat 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 Nephi 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 richest art prize in the country, with $190,000 in prize money across seven categories – will be announced at sunset 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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