Not just a ‘nice work top’: After 55 years, Cue takes on fashion week

The term “fashionably late” is usually reserved for arrivals anywhere between 15 minutes, or nearly two hours, in the case of Naomi Campbell at Derby Day 2013. But in the case of Cue, and Australian Fashion Week, it’s more like 55 years.

Cue, the 55-year-old Australian brand known is known for two things: its workwear, and the fact it still manufactures a sizeable proportion of its range locally. But its owners hope a solo show at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week in May will show the industry and public ticket holders that it’s much more.

Fashion forward … Cue’s Justin and Melanie Levis (centre) with IMG’s Natalie Xenita. The brand is staging its first solo show at Australian Fashion Week.Credit:Louise Kennerley

So, why now? Melanie Levis, Cue’s co-executive director, says fashion week’s shift away from being solely a trade event to introducing several ticketed consumer events made it an attractive proposition. “[We want to] reestablish the brand’s relevance in more of a premium fashion market,” she says.

Her brother and co-executive director, Justin Levis, adds that fashion week may help shed Cue’s overriding image as a mass-market brand synonymous with department store Myer, where it has been stocked since the 1970s.

“We have restructured, and we have [exited lower performing Myer] stores because we felt it was brand damaging. We really want to be … more elevated for the future,” he says. “We see ourselves as affordable luxury fashion. There has been some misconception in the marketplace that we’re just workwear, or we’re the same as other Australian mass-market brands.”

To shift people’s perception of Cue as a brand that makes nice ponte de roma skirts or a “work top”, the siblings launched a subtle rebrand (the 2022 logo is sharper, less cursive), and injected higher-end pieces and fabrics.

Cue took part in a group show at fashion week in 2022 but is staging its first solo show this May.Credit:Getty

Melanie, who oversees design, says the fashion week runway, to be styled by the respected stylist Karla Clarke, will showcase Cue’s staples as well as event wear, casual denim and potentially even a few made-to-measure “showstoppers”.

Adds Justin: “We are trying to do some more expensive pieces to show the consumer we can cut it with the more elevated brands.”

So, how does a brand like Cue, which dresses working women, prepare for a possible recession or drop in discretionary spending in 2023?

Says Melanie: “We’ve been through recessions before … we have this vehicle and machine behind us to navigate through those times. Women are still going to need to shop.”

The inclusion of Cue at fashion week, which is owned by global events and talent agency IMG, says as much about the brand’s aspirations to be in front of the top fashion editors, buyers and influencers from Australia and overseas as it does about the event organisers’ imperative to expand the lineup beyond the traditional “darlings” of the industry, such as Camilla & Marc, Aje and so on.

“It is the most commercial brand we have on the schedule but there is so much heritage in that Cue business, and with the Levises as well. They are such an incredible Australian fashion family,” says Natalie Xenita, IMG’s Fashion Events and Properties Asia-Pacific’s vice president-managing director.

Rod Levis, father of Justin and Melanie, founded Cue in 1968 after a stint running a fashion emporium, Levis’s, whose house range was produced by none other than Australian fashion icon, the late Carla Zampatti.

Technically, it’s not the first foray into fashion week for the Levis family, who have a sizeable stake in Dion Lee, who has opened at fashion week, and their diffusion line Veronika Maine was part of the trade show at the very first Australian Fashion Week in 1996.

“Even though it is 55 years in business, this show will be very much about the future and where the brand is going,” Xenita says. “They’re a great blueprint for how we should be looking at local manufacturing as a priority in this country.”

Australian fashion week introduced public-facing shows ahead of the 2020 event, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. Other brands showing in the consumer program include Karla Špetić, Erik Yvon, Gary Bigeni, Iordanes Spyridon Gogos and Michael Lo Sordo. An Indigenous show, sponsored by David Jones, also joins the mix, as does the TAFE NSW student show and the Next Gen runway, whose alumni include Camilla & Marc and Bec & Bridge.

“Of course the international buyers come looking for the next Zimmermann, but then there are designers like Jordan Gogos, who command so much of the media interest,” Xenita says. “It’s fundamental we show the breadth of talent in the industry.”

Afterpay Australian Fashion Week is on May 15-19

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