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Melbourne Fashion Festival: models stop all fashionable stations

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 The dress code outside Flinders Street Station was considerably more upmarket than that of the usual nine-to-five grind when model Montana Cox paraded her slender midriff.

Led by drummer girl Nikki Vlahos​ calling pedestrians to attention, the David Jones ambassador sauntered in a Thurley outfit with her fierce-looking model squad to launch the 20th year of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival.

On the sloping cobblestones of Federation Square, the festival's chief executive, Graeme Lewsey, launched the program, which runs from March 7 to 13 and includes the largest line-up to date, with 200 Australian and international designers, first-time labels J'Aton, P.A.M, Caves, Collect and PAI, an opening-night runway with David Jones, and seven premium runways.

To mark two decades as a consumer-led festival, the spectacle is moving from Docklands to the Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum precinct.

"We are the sum of our past and now we're looking to the future," Mr Lewsey said. "We are ready to unveil the most credible, inspiring, largest creative community that the festival has ever been able to amass."

The horizontal blue and white stripes of French designer Jean Paul Gaultier are coming to Melbourne for his collaboration with Target and runway show on March 9.

Fashion blogger Siddharth Padmanabhan is an aspiring surgeon.
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As a way of democratising high-end fashion, his 100-piece Designers for Target range starts at $10. There will be pandemonium in Bourke Street on March 10 when Gaultier appears at Target to encourage shoppers to splurge in selected stores and online.

Gaultier said: "The laid-back street style and design ethos of Australians is refreshing – I love that there are fewer rules, and Melburnians in particular embrace diversity."

When the Frenchman was in town in October 2014 for his NGV spectacular From Sidewalk to Catwalk, it was a challenge to keep to the schedule because he charmed everyone who queued to chat and pose for a photo.

While Gaultier will provide a French accent to the festival, the Italian seduction will come from Renzo Rosso​, the founder of Diesel, who is a guest speaker at the business seminar on March 11.

As the music and fashion worlds mourn David Bowie, a performer who embraced the jumpsuit as a sculpture, there was an unexpected tribute to him in the festival's InDetail publication.

Rosso was asked: "If there was one person, dead or alive, that epitomised Diesel and what the brand stands for, who would it be?" He replied: "I think David Bowie. Always evolving, always breaking the rules, always innovating."

For the second year, elite Melburnians are signing up for the festival's Dress Circle patrons program run by business development and hospitality executive Shiva Singam​. Among the names are Robyn Baillieu, the wife of former premier Ted Baillieu, Fiona and Sidney Myer, and Danielle Besen.

With front-row seats coveted by bloggers and "influencers" based on their flock of Instagram followers, the power of social media continues to speed through the stratosphere.

During last year's festival, the social media community increased by 78 per cent and the #vamff hashtag went off like a hungry fashionista at a designer sale.

Up to 500 bloggers and online sites apply for accreditation, and a new entrant this year is Siddharth Padmanabhan​, a devotee of men's fashion and watches through his Bridge and Barrel blog.

Mr Padmanabhan is not someone whose mission in life is just to make the best-dressed list. He's out to save lives. The final-year medical student and aspiring surgeon knows how to dress up a white coat.

"I started the blog mostly because I wanted something that wasn't medicine," Mr Padmanabhan said. "It's something different for me and I have always loved watches."

Mr Padmanabhan will always know the time when someone asks him how long it took to get ready.

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