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STREET SMITH: How to catch Liz Sunshine’s lens on Oaks Day

From candid to campaign, everything looks better when Liz Sunshine is shooting. Famed for her people project STREET SMITH, Liz has documented style on Australian streets for more than half a decade. On May 5, Liz will shift her scope from curb to field, as she joins us at Morphettville to snap the looks at Oaks Day. Discover what Liz looks for on the streets, the allure of Oaks Day and the evolution of Australian fashion.

Before launching STREET SMITH, Liz worked with Green With Envy in a studio environment for their online store, until six years ago when an opportunity presented itself to shoot street style - then a very new concept - for their social media. “I started to take more notice of the way people put together their outfits, a form of unrealised self-expression and naturally, photography being my medium, started to loosely document people when I was out and about,” Liz said. “I was interested in the honesty of the approach as opposed to the heavily styled and curated looks I was surrounded by professionally,” she said.

“Social media was a relatively new platform at the time as well and I guess I was just lucky that my creative evolution worked in a timely alignment with platforms like Instagram and Facebook,” Liz said. “Suddenly I had a place to curate and publish my passion,” she said. “Next came the audience and the rest evolved from there.”

For Liz, good street style exemplifies the person in front of her lens, providing an insight into their real self, or the identity they wish to play with for as little as a day. “Good street style for me also has the ability to serve a documentary purpose,” Liz said. “A body of street style photographic work has so many ramifications for depicting and documenting social, economic and political trends,” she said. “Even beyond the subjects, the urban backgrounds say so much and have a real poignancy and ability to resonate on so many levels; this really intrigues me.”

A great ensemble simply is not enough to inspire Liz to capture you, especially in a metropolis where fashion is at its saturation point. “There is a really understated confidence that hangs around a stranger who really manages to harness their personality and persona and communicate it through their clothes, styling and poise,” Liz said. “It’s those few people who manage to pull together a completely cohesive and curated look from head to toe that fascinate me and leave me reaching for my camera.”

Those few people are not always A-listers. Though Liz frequently adores the looks exhibited by Rozalia Russian, Vydia Rishie and Jessica Gomes, Liz often finds it’s a stranger who becomes the subject of her favourite images from a racing season or fashion week. “There is a real level of engagement that happens,” Liz said. “These are not models or women whose professional lives necessarily revolve around the fashion industry,” she said. “They are the ones who capture the essence of street style for its rawness and accessible appeal; the ones who really understand the identity they are presenting to the world and use style as their medium to communicate it.”

However, on a race day Liz looks for the moments embodying all the intricate details meticulously planned by racegoers. The thing that sets race days apart from other fashion events is the history and etiquette that is still so respectively upheld,” Liz said. “There is an extra challenge for women (and men) to consider their ensembles from a really multi-faceted angle.”

“Seeing the results of those who succeed in styling their look to encompass layers and layers of considerations (current trends, personal style, millinery, etiquette, regulations, comfort, cohesiveness) is something unique to race wear,” she said. “Accepting and respecting the regulations whilst completely harnessing personal style and trend and then curating that into an effortless look is no easy feat!”

All of these aspects are epitomised on Oaks Day, Liz’s most treasured aspect of which is watching women exude their version of femininity. “Oaks Day is the perfect stage for showing off the sheer scope of feminine expression and how one style differs from another,” Liz said. “A pastel pink ladies tux paired with a sheer lace brim depicts an easy effeminate charm while full floral is merely a different translation,” she said. “Oaks Day is a serious melting pot of femininity.”

On May 5, you will find Liz looking to frame her subjects in a way that expresses their feminine energy in a way that is both relevant and socially aware. “Being ladies day, I aim to ensure each image really personifies that idea and ideally leaves the viewer in no doubt of when the image was taken, even if it’s not necessarily viewed in context,” Liz said. “I also really try to document the way Oaks Day trends evolve over time.”

“Little consistencies become obvious early on usually and these trends can define the standout moments for that specific Oaks Day when viewed in hindsight,” she said. “I feel like this loops really beautifully back to using street style as a depiction of time, so I’ve learnt over the years to look out for those common threads that are seen over and over one year and are gone the next.”

And it doesn’t have to be pink to fit her theme. Liz believes femininity can translate to a black tux with the correct tailoring and accessories. “I’ve stood in front of the mirror plenty of times in a dress I love and a beautiful piece of millinery that only unite in a finished look when I grab the right clutch or pop on just the rights shoes for example,” she said. I also love picking out trends and these are just as often seen in accessories as with clothes; last year the feature clutch was such a stand out I ended up doing an homage to it!”

A mega-fan of Fashions On The Field and the Style Stakes elements of race days, Liz often works on brand content creation months ahead of major race meets, giving her an understanding of what trends she can expect to see when the day comes. “You can never imagine what the amazing talents of seamstresses and milliners will come up with though, and each year it seems the looks competing in the fashion stakes are even more amazing than the last,” Liz said. “Literally hundreds of hours can go into just one outfit and, outside of couture, it’s rare to see the level of workmanship that can go into each look,” she said. “The colours and styles always are so unique and amazing; repeatedly over the years Milano Imai has been the subject of lots of ‘moments’ for me.”

For those looking to avoid Liz’s attention, wearing inappropriate garments and dressing down are an excellent place to start. “I think race-wear etiquette has persevered through many decades for a reason,” Liz said. “The rules and regulations can translate to new trends quite easily and help maintain the level of respect that the racing platform continues to enjoy in terms of fashion,” she said. “Australia is such a melting pot of fashion that there is so much opportunity for exploring different looks and styles and race days are just not the right opportunity for some, yet the perfect place for others.”

“Australians tend to have a ‘give it a go’ attitude across the board which, when it comes to fashion, is really exciting,” Liz said. “It means we are really starting to define our own trends but these usually evolve through an individual having influence that grows into something more,” she said. “I love this about Australia and it fuels my passion to get out there and shoot street style as much as I can.”

Liz has observed Australians moving from an interpretation of global trends with a heavy influence from Europe and the US markets, to embracing our local designers increasingly. “Only a few years ago, most of the styles and brands I saw in subjects were from overseas, more and more now I see Aussie brands punctuating the landscape here and pushing through,” Liz said. “Hopefully in the next five years they will come to dominate and that’s a really exciting thought.”

With themes of sustainability and production sensitivity becoming more valuable to Australian consumers, Liz feels we are getting better at creating garments reflecting these ideals in an accessible manner. “The aesthetic is a general reflection of those ideas too and I see this spilling out into street style through clean lines, timeless fashion and garments that translate through multiple looks and styles to be heavily adaptable, but still give huge opportunity for personal style to take centre stage through those really stand out personal fashion choices,” Liz said. “It’s a good time to be a street style photographer in Australia at the moment.”

If you want to cast your outfit in front of Liz’s discerning eye, secure your tickets to Oaks Day at Morphettville here - you may just earn the best compliment a day at the races can offer.

Sift through the gallery below of Liz's Oaks Day work from 2016 at Flemington for Vogue. 

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