"Anyone under 68kg - stand by the fireplace."
Andrea Plowright of 62 Models and Talent is joking, but in a courtyard cafe on a freezing Auckland morning, her skinny-jeaned charges comply.
There are 300-plus of them, all up. An apocalypse of black denim and blank stares. Model hopefuls from 12 agencies eating bagels, drinking coffee, adjusting bra straps. Waiting to become the next big thing.
In the car park, Cinderella already wears striped shoes by Chanel.
Auckland-raised Ashleigh Good missed the cut at her first New Zealand Fashion Week casting call. Yesterday, supporting RPD, the agency that discovered her at a North Shore bus stop, she recalled: "Maybe I just wasn't confident enough. Maybe I wasn't the thing they were looking for . . . I guess I was just overlooked. Unfortunately for them."
Last month, heavily pregnant, she closed Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel Haute Couture show in Paris.
"I feel like I'm able to inspire people because I am not shy, and I'm not afraid and I can bring a different thing. There aren't many of us New Zealand models overseas, so I bring a different attitude, a different personality, that is kind of refreshing for them."
What does a designer want?
Trelise Cooper: "We need someone who is going to portray our garments at their best. You get one walk, and you get one shot from that walk and that's on a website and that's it for the rest of the season."
The new model, says Plowright, "is a really smart intelligent girl who sees this as a platform to go and conquer the world, to travel and make a lot of money. They understand branding. I don't know if it's the Instagram generation, but they really get it."
Close to 60 designers will show at this year's Fashion Week - three days of trade shows where autumn/winter 2015 ranges will be revealed to buyers, celebrities and media, and three days of public events featuring current season clothes.
Dunedin label NOM*d will open it all on August 26. Designer Margarita Robertson says it makes no financial sense to be here - costs are rarely recovered, with even the most budget show coming in at $50,000.
"If you looked at the cold, hard business facts . . . if you talk to our accountant, it doesn't make sense.
"But from an aesthetic perspective, for the brand, from a personal level, and for completing that whole creative process, it's really important."
An early trend: The return of the big name designers. NOM*d is back after a two-year absence, Juliette Hogan after one year and Kate Sylvester after five.
"I guess we're fickle," says Sylvester. "We never do year after year . . . we thought it was definitely time to do a show again."
Sylvester, who just celebrated 21 years of her label, says for new designers, "Fashion Week is an amazing platform to get yourself seen and pick up new accounts, whereas for an established brand like ourselves, it's more of a PR exercise."
It's expensive: "But you can communicate your vision so directly, so clearly - it really is a great way to tell the world who you are."
Dame Pieter Stewart, Fashion Week managing director, says lineups change as designers evaluate their marketing strategies.
"It's great to have some of the better-known designers back. It shows the industry is strong and united."
As the car park fills with model aspirants, she notes some things don't change. "It's still lots of long legs. Lots of long hair."
- Sunday Star Times
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