On the inside of Fashion Week

KIM KNIGHT
Last updated 11:28 09/09/2012
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AMANDA MIDGLEY

BOLD STATEMENT: Colin Mathura-Jeffree at New Zealand Fashion Week with a t-shirt which reads "Eating Isn't Very Chanel".

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PHIL DOYLE/Fairfax NZ
CHIVALRY AIN'T DEAD: Mayor Len Brown stands to aid a model who fell while wearing very high heels in a catwalk show.

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Fashion Investment advice for next winter? Buy socks.

You'll need them to cover the 5 to 8cm of leg that will be sticking out of the cropped, narrow, mostly single pleat, scoop front pocket pants that showed on high rotate at New Zealand Fashion Week.

Virtually no collection was safe from the silhouette that will, next winter, make every woman in the world's bum look big. Fashion. The great democratiser.

It was my first Fashion Week. I lasted until midday Thursday. There were moments when it felt like international travel. Glamorous, but more time in the waiting room than the air. Key questions: If my pants cost $425 can I wear them with a Kmart top? If I bought a Trelise Cooper shirt 10 years ago, does it count as vintage? If I'm not in the front row, do I count?

On day one, Petra Bagust (maroon pantsuit) arrived fashionably early for Ruby/Liam. Antonia Prebble (blue lace top) was inscrutable for Cybele. Colin Mathura Jeffree gave good straw-face, sucking on bottled water from the front row of everything.

Three things you might not have known about Fashion Week. It's not actually open to the public - the week-day designer shows are for buyers, media, sponsors and friends of sponsors. The clothes won't be available until next autumn-winter because the point of the event is to sell to the wholesale market. Goodie bags, apparently, aren't what they used to be. Also, Fashion Week is dying.

Last week, doomsayers were thicker on the ground than the short pants. Why weren't Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester and World showing? Why were there so few international buyers? Were the crowds at Auckland Viaduct's events centre smaller and less fashionable?

Thursday morning, and Dame Pieter Stewart, Fashion Week founder, was over it. 'It takes the shine off the whole week. I'm constantly having to defend what I'm doing, which is, I think, setting up a great platform for creativity and design in New Zealand. I'm questioning it a lot at the moment, because I set it [Fashion Week] up with pure intentions, and those intentions are still the same. We still do it as well as we possibly can.

'Eventually you say, 'Am I knocked down or not?' I'm going to need a few days, a week or two to recoup. It's hard. I feel very battered . . . the thought of it right now, of putting yourself in that situation, of your whole staff, everyone working their guts out to deliver and me having to front everything that's apparently wrong, when I don't think we've done anything wrong.'

On Friday, media pressure forced the release of sponsorship figures from Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development - $225,000 to the event which it says will bring $694,935 'new money' into the Auckland economy.

Organisers say that sponsorship represents 'less than 10 per cent' of Fashion Week's operating costs. Will Stewart make money this year? 'No.' Will she break even? 'That would be good.' She softens her approach. 'It's borderline, depending on the weekend.' (Fashion Weekend, which closes at 6.30pm today, is the public part of the event - this season's collections on the catwalks at ticketed shows and seminars.)

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Will there be a Fashion Week next year? Stewart is careful not to say no, but she predicts changes. More days devoted to showing in-season fashion, for example.

'A couple of designers have talked to me and said the wholesale thing is still really important, but they'd love to do something straight to retail as well.'

She's planning focus groups, and has been talking to Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye about the possibility of a fashion council - similar to the British one that saved London's fashion week. Stewart imagines a large fashion competition (like the now defunct Benson and Hedges and Smokefree shows), and designers on trade missions, adding the 'zhush and sexy' to official delegations.

'Fashion Week has been a great vehicle, and it's been strong and good, but it's ended up doing more than its job. I don't want to be the default voice for fashion. There needs to be a strong group of people with good heads on them.'

A waiter brings bottled water. The speakers announce the next event. Stewart has seen every designer's collection this week. What's it like when the doors open and fashion's most fabulous take their seats? At Zambesi, the Sally and Jaime Ridge show entertained itself by surreptitiously snapping pics of media seated a row back.

At the twenty-seven names and Ingrid Starnes breakfast show (mini buns and fruit salad), Mathura-Jeffree sent an assistant for Lemsip. He was losing his voice.

'All this talking about nothing,' he confided. At the Stolen Girlfriends Club off-site show, models were partly illuminated by the audience's mobile phones. A model with cramp in her foot took a tumble into Auckland mayor Len Brown's arms off the Charlie Brown catwalk.

Brown-the-latter, an Australian-based designer, said 'absolutely nothing can beat that feeling of being at a fashion show, the glitz and the glamour and witnessing a whole season's fashion unfold before your very eyes'.

NZ's Next Top Model judge Sara Tetro ate the dry muesli from the Juliette Hogan goodie bag (her Dad made it) after tweeting, 'I'm hungry. That's so fashion.' Journalist Ali Ikram tweeted too: 'Many of the clothes make a statement, it appears to consistently be 'I would prefer to remain celibate, thank you'.'

Trelise Cooper attracted a power crowd - the mayor, Judith 'Crusher' Collins MP in a Wedgewood-blue patterned jacket, Mike Hosking, etc. Former model turned face of Soul Bar, Geeling Ching, sat next to me and said, of a head-to-toe floral number parading in front of us, that it reminded her of something she'd worn for World in the 90s.

'I wonder what [hyper-real flower painter] Karl Maughan would think . . ."

Scattered through the front rows are 10 international media (mostly bloggers, including 'Frockwriter' Patty Huntington, Mark Hunter, aka 'The Cobra Snake' and Olivia Lopez of LustForLife fame) and eight buying houses (from the United States, Ireland, China, Hong Kong, Australia and online) whose trips Down Under are paid for by Fashion Week.

Hong Kong-based Nels Frye, who writes for Asia Tatler and runs Stylites. net, says: 'I can't lie. I didn't even know there was a New Zealand Fashion Week. In some ways what I find even more startling, is that there is a New Zealand fashion scene. This is really impressive.

'It's much more commercially viable than I would have expected. Less avant garde . . . is that a concern?

"If it's too viable, would it be able to break in [to other countries]. I can think of a lot of mainstream brands in the US that are selling stuff that has a similar spirit, but in China less so . . . there are less similar rivals.'

Back on the cream leather couch, Stewart says her reasons for setting up Fashion Week - to promote apparel sales overseas - have not changed. But the market has. She says the event would usually fly in up to 20 international buyers.

'But these stores are not buying any more. They're trying to survive, they're not going to come to New Zealand and buy something new. They're cutting their budgets, not increasing them. Consequently, designers have lost quite a bit of the international wholesale market they might have once had, so they're concentrating far more on their own retail.'

Yesterday, NZ Fashion Tech lifted the embargo on a report into the state of the country's fashion, garment and sewn industries. A survey of 136 companies - including the fashion powerhouses - predicted they would create between 53 and 128 new positions in the next year. They reported 25 per cent of their production is offshore, with 70 per cent of them involved in export. The main market is Australia (41 per cent), followed by Britain/Europe (20 per cent), Asia and Japan (15 per cent), the United States (13 per cent) and the Pacific (11 per cent). Challenges: 95 per cent said it was moderately to extremely difficult to find well-trained, experienced staff. 'We will soon be very short of trained machinists and cutters - not designers,' said one respondent.

Stewart says every show from every designer at Fashion Week has been posted online. 'We understand that physically, people don't have to be here to buy any more - and we're making it easier for them to not be here at all.'

For this first timer, being there was everything. When the house lights went down and the music cranked up, when the impossibly tall and skinny strode the catwalk like it was the only place in the world that mattered, it was absolutely fabulous, darling.

- Sunday Star Times

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