Kate Sylvester’s swaggering Romeos and ravishing Juliets

Kate Sylvester’s long-held fascination with the world’s most famous love story is brought to light…

Romeo 4 Juliet - Kate Sylvester's hand-written directive to models

A gang of swaggering Romeos and radiant Juliets channelled their inner star-crossed lovers as they prepared to pay homage to one of the greatest love stories of all time on the runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia in Sydney earlier this year. Kate Sylvester’s hand-written directive (above) was taped to the wall backstage, accompanied by images of an anguished Leonardo DiCaprio and his gun-wielding posse as an ode to the film by Baz Luhrmann, as well as Franco Zeffirelli’s classic that inspired Kate’s Spring/Summer 2015/16 collection.

‘Romeo 4 Juliet’ celebrates an enduring love-affair between the designer and Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy. On the runway, fearless Romeos strode forth dressed in matte leatherette armour and dagger belts, exhibiting the nonchalance DiCaprio’s character possessed when he gate-crashed the Capulets’ masquerade ball and sealed his fate. Swathed in billowing silk and achingly feminine ensembles, Kate’s Juliets were visions in white, bold greens and blues and passionate scarlet red, plucked straight from Zeffirelli’s world and given a Kate Sylvester twist.

Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo inspired Kate Sylvester's 'Leonardo' shirt

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo inspired Kate Sylvester’s ‘Leonardo’ shirt.


“In every Kate Sylvester collection there’s always a balance of masculine and feminine and with the two protagonists, you’ve got that mix-up happening,” says the “complete romantic”, who fell in love with the classic after studying it in high school. “It’s like I cleaned up the ideas [of the films] in a way to make them cleaner and more understated.”
The designer has a library of films, books and music in her head; an archive which she constantly adds to, waiting for the right time to take her idea and run with it. Previous cinema-inspired collections include A/W 2012 ‘The Secretary’ – based on the 2002 film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and A/W 2011 ‘Lost and Found’ collection, which referenced the Swedish arthouse horror Let the Right One In. So why now for Romeo and Juliet to step into the spotlight? “I wanted to do lace and I was liking the femininity and romance of it,” says Kate. “I guess that’s part of being a designer, you’ve got to have a feeling for the zeitgeist, for what’s happening in the world and you’ve
got to find your way of interpreting that.”

Leonardo shirt, Devota dress, Roseline dress, Hero singlet

By taking Luhrmann’s exhilarating world and combining it with the medieval-meet-70s styling of Zeffirelli’s classic, Sylvester built the collection from her signature Romeo floral print and the crushed silk of Juliet’s gown.
“What Baz Luhrmann did with Romeo and Juliet was so visually exciting and thrilling. It’s one of those iconic fashion movies. It’s so strong – it’s all about Romeo. I absolutely love menswear, we always have tailoring in the collections and the suiting was directly referenced from him, and the floral ties came from that movie as well,” she says.

“[Luhrmann] has put [the story] into a fantasy world whereas Zeffirelli is much more true to the time. I particularly loved all the nightgowns and Juliet wears a fantastic red dress in that film. The Rosaline dress references that particular dress exactly.” While many scenes in Baz Luhrmann’s film focus on costuming, embellishments and a sense of fancy – Mercutio’s sequinned miniskirt anyone? – for Kate it’s always important to focus on interpreting her collections for the modern woman: “It’s taking costumes and turning them into real clothes for real life,” says the designer, who is the recipient of this year’s ‘Mercedes-Benz Presents’ accolade at New Zealand Fashion Week 2015, where she presented her A/W 2016 collection. “It’s more about how to take the reference and translate it. Nobody wants to be walking down the road feeling like they’re wearing a costume.”

Backstage at Kate Sylvester's Romeo 4 Juliet show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia

Backstage at Kate Sylvester’s Romeo 4 Juliet show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia


With her penchant for film and literature and love for taking customers on her evocative journeys, costume design is a creative adventure she can relate to. “It would certainly be fun. If it was a project I aesthetically responded to then it would be fantastic because it’s similar to the way I approach putting a show together. So if anyone out there has any ideas…”

Backstage at Kate Sylvester's Romeo 4 Juliet show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia
Claire Danes as Juliet and Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo in Baz Luhrmann's version of the story

Words: Lucy Slight