A model walks the runway at Fashion Week.

The Spinoff goes to New Zealand Fashion Week 2019

Last week was New Zealand Fashion Week 2019. The Spinoff sent along two Fashion Week novices – culture editor Sam Brooks and staff writer Josie Adams – to cover it. Here are their wildly varying experiences of the annual fashion event.

Sam Brooks attended NZFW from Monday through to Thursday. Josie Adams attended Friday through Sunday, including Fashion Weekend.

Monday

I love the idea of fashion – but I’ve never actually engaged with the industry of fashion. I don’t keep up with trends, I buy what I think will look good on me (bright florals, long coats, loud shoes) and ignore the rest. So the prospect of engaging with NZFW was a little bit daunting to me. I didn’t know if I would have anything in my wardrobe that would fit in – shout out to Miss Crabb for dressing me in a suit that did absolutely fit in – and that I would be an obvious outsider right from the get-go.

I needn’t have worried. Nobody’s looking at me. People are looking at the runway, and failing that, whatever famous people happen to be in the front row, inexplicably well lit as though they’re on the runway as well. I realise, belatedly, that this is why front-row celebs are dressed for fashion week – they’re just part of the show.

Models walk the runway during the Kate Sylvester show during New Zealand Fashion Week 2019. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

The first show of the week, Kate Sylvester, also sets up what will inevitably be the routine for the week: Go to Aotea Square, figure out what venue around the Town Hall the show is in. Spend fifteen minutes in line, then ten minutes being seated, and sit for a roughly eight minute show. As a theatre person, who is used to showing up five minutes before the doors close, so I don’t have to talk to anybody, and who is similarly used to shows either being a civilized 50 minutes or an absolutely barbaric 75 minutes, it’s hard to get used to this new rhythm.

This is especially true when the shows feel so enormously high stakes – one eight minute window to show everybody who might want to partake in one year’s worth of your art-slash-business. It’s stressful even watching this as an observer with no money or art in the game.

As the show starts, the theatre person in me starts to critique intensely. Not the clothes – I couldn’t tell you the difference between a wrap and a shawl. The actual production of the show. In the main space of Fashion Week, the Runway, the seating is raked so poorly that you can barely get a good view of the garments unless you’re in the front row – which is fine if you’ve got a blue tick next to your Instagram handle, but for the rest of us peasants, it makes for an awkward viewing experience. 

An elfin man at the end of the runway puts pieces of paper (Kate Sylvester’s line is called Love Letters, a tribute to her parent’s courtship) in front of a Beyonce fan to flap limply on the runway. I shook my head sympathetically – if only he had a few more rehearsals.

Before the big clock in the square dongs nine times, everybody is spilling back towards the bar in the Town Hall – the stars (Antonia, Kanoa), the ghosts (various cancelled people) and the ghouls (Jevan, Hannah). The clothes seem all but forgotten. / SB

Tuesday

On Tuesday morning I go to Jojo Ross in the Concert Chamber – and it’s here that I have to commend Fashion Week for their use of the Town Hall, which gives the entire event a borrowed grandeur just thanks to the beauty of the venue’s architecture – and while the space is smaller, it’s a no less tense affair. On one side of me, a woman casually chats to me about where she’s from (The Frock Shop, Kapiti Coast) and what they do. She rattles off ‘sustainable, ethical, New Zealand made’, which feel like the words du jour. It’d be an interesting, if unpopular, point of difference if someone was vocally into unsustainable, unethical and internationally made clothing. 

On the other side of me, a woman tries to get photos of the show and gives up when she can’t get a good angle. It’s a reminder of how high stakes these shows are – one woman not getting good photos could be the difference between some of these garments ending up on a store shelf, and then in a wardrobe, somewhere and not.

It’s here that I start to get used to the bizarre practice of watching a runway show. That is, the feeling of ‘my fashion is down here’ rather than ‘my eyes are up here.’ I find myself more drawn into looking at the models’ faces – performing anything from blankness to fierceness (starkly different from you know, ferocity) to a neutral warmth – than the garments they’re wearing. There’s also the strangeness of watching this happen in real time, rather than in a photo slideshow – it’s not just a photo of a person’s face that you’re not looking at, but a real life person sharing your oxygen and carbon dioxide. But it’s not about that. It’s about the clothes.

Geeling Ng walks the runway during the Hailwood show. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

That night I go to Hailwood, in the main tent, and it’s the first – and only – event of the week that I go to that feels like the platonic, stereotypical ideal of a fashion runway. There’s a live musician – Annabel Liddell – playing some appealing pop-rock tracks. There’s a little short film beforehand – a mannequin comes to life in Hailwood’s K’Rd store, and for some reason decides to spend her time on the North Shore. Famous women are mixed in with the models – Sonia Gray, Theresa Healey, Geeling Ng. The one outlier is when a mother chewing gum waves at one of the models on the runway, probably her daughter. In a week full of fashion and walking, it’s the one moment that dips into pageantry.

But even then? The wait in line was long, made even longer by the woman explaining to a rightfully disengaged usher that her mother ‘had left her ticket in the bathroom at the Stables’. Ten minutes all up, and then couple of hundred people spill out into Aotea Square, clutching goodie bags with a bizarre array of freebies (cat food, popcorn, face mask samples, for one show a copy of Hannah August’s No Country for Old Maids?). 

A man (cis, white, straight – the unholy trifecta) walking behind me says loudly of Geeling Ng: “Was that old China Doll?” 

His partner, who I have to assume is permanently aggrieved says, “It’s China Girl, and she has a name.” / SB

Models walk the runway in designs by Kyra Thomson during The Graduate Show show during New Zealand Fashion Week 2019. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

Wednesday

The Graduate Show was a blur to me – I’m seated in general admission, which means that the usher let you in after everybody else has been seated and it’s a free-for-all for whatever seats are left, and if you’re especially lucky you might get a seat with a freebie bag on it. As with any rush for free stuff, people handle themselves with less decorum than they would at the bowling alley bar that overlooks this very tent. Kyra Thomson and E33 are highlights, according to my notes.

As I leave, the woman sitting next to me, who spent the duration of the show complaining that she couldn’t find a coffee in the CBD to save her life, says that it was “for [her] taste, a bit avant garde”.

Models pose during the Juliette Hogan show during New Zealand Fashion Week 2019. (Photo by Michael Ng/Getty Images)

Later that afternoon, I go to Juliette Hogan. The same deal – fifteen minute line, ten minute wait to be seated, eight minute show. It’s unfortunately the only offsite show I manage to attend, which is a shame given that the murmurs and whispers indicate that those are the most exciting shows. Hogan’s show is in an idyllic warehouse in Morningside nextdoor to their workshop, all the gowns and models on display throughout, moving amongst each other. While its the most clearly staged and blocked out of any of the shows I saw that week, there was something realistic about it – garments and fashion don’t exist in isolation, they exist in relation to each other, and seeing an entire collection for the duration of a show actually existing together in the same space felt right.

As the show finishes, a woman whispers to who I assume is Hogan herself: “Do I clap?”

Designer Bobby Campbell thanks the audience following the Campbell Luke show during New Zealand Fashion Week 2019.

An hour and a half later, Campbell Luke, which was the first show of the week that I’d been to that had a significant amount of POC in the audience. It was also one of the few shows that felt like a celebration of the fashion, and the designer. People were cheering and clapping, the live music (a high school performing waiata, closing off with a haka that the audience joined in on) and the general attitude toward what was going on onstage was electric. This was a supportive crowd, and even though the first I’d heard and seen of this designer was that runway, it was hard not to get invested in it.

Isn’t this what the week is meant to be about? Celebrating fashion as much as it is selling fashion? / SB

Thursday

Even by Thursday, I was exhausted. I have no idea how the likes of Sarah Stuart, head stylist at Mediaworks and NZFW Ambassador, does it. She was at nearly every single show I was at, dressed and made up to the elevens, sitting in the front row, smiling,  and diligently taking photos. Meanwhile, I was exclaiming to unsympathetic friends every night how much I didn’t expect it to take out of me. “Go eat your free cat food” was the general timbre of the response.

A model walks the runway during the Cecilia Kang Couture, Face Me Make-Up show during New Zealand Fashion Week 2019. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

The first of the two shows I went to was Cecilia Kang x Face Me Makeup, where I ended up being shunted into the front row. It was the only couture show I attended and it made me want to see more of them. If the graduate show was too avant-garde for my coffee-deprived seat mate from Wednesday, then this would’ve blown her mind. Kang’s work was big, beautiful and statement-making – this fashion is for people who want to stand out for themselves, not stand in with the rest. (Read an excellent profile of Kang by our own Jihee Junn right here.)

The second was the Miromoda show – a half-hour showcase of Māori designers that ranges from avant-garde to streetwear to, as Aretha Franklin would say, ‘gowns, beautfiul gowns’. It was the perfect end to the week to me, being one of the few shows to break the length of your average Shortland Street episode, and the one of the few shows where I found myself taking down notes of designers not just for my memory, but because I wanted to wear them. Nash Karaitiana (profiled here by Alice Webb-Liddell), Cheremene Castie, Tash Sinclair (that orange coat!), Te Oribau Karaitiana, Nichola Te Kiri – you’re on my radar.

A model walks the runway in a design by Nash Karaitiana during the MIROMODA show during New Zealand Fashion Week 2019. (Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

As I rushed home from the main tent, I considered my own relationship to fashion. I’d worn Miss Crabb that week. I’d worn a custom jacket that I’d bought from my best friend’s sister at a pop-up gallery. I’d worn the free socks I got in my Fashion Week delegate pack. I’d worn a shitton of ASOS. I was wearing a lot of what I thought would make me fit in, but realised that amongst a lot of the men it still made me stand out – not a lot of white canvas at fashion week – and I liked how that made me feel.

As much as it is a business, and I’m leaving it to Josie to do the dragging on that front, fashion is something that we all inevitably participate in to some extent. And if we’re going to do it, we might as well feel good about our participation. / SB

Friday

Weirdly, NZFW is technically over. After four days we enter New Zealand Fashion Weekend, which is more accessible to the public and a little more fun, or so I was led to believe. I spent the morning fuming over a social sustainability seminar.

The Ministry of Social Development is one of Fashion Week’s “elite partners,” which is a subject that deserves an entire article of its own. They sponsored a Socially Sustainable Business event. Encouraging social entrepreneurship is just the government worming out of doing its job and I will not endorse it. Social entrepreneurship is a tiny bandaid on a hemophilic wound (capitalism) and I am willing to enjoy some haute couture but I am not willing to pretend it’s benefitting New Zealand citizens in any way but aesthetics.

The seminar was targeted at business leaders in the fashion industry, and discussed poverty in New Zealand, the rising cost of living, and an absence of job opportunities. Yes, businesses should be morally responsible for their actions, but the government is responsible for making them do that and sorry, MSD, but a fashion week seminar is not how you make businesses pay their employees a living wage.

I confess I did not see most of this seminar as I was boiling over with socialist rage. Instead of the Zambesi anniversary show I went to The Others Way. I realise now this was a neglection of my duties and I am very sorry to you but mostly to Sam, who I have let down. / Josie Adams

Saturday

There was another sustainability seminar today, but this time about the environment. The Sustainability Conversation is part of NZFW’s environmental sustainability focus, one that’s well overdue and very welcome. The international fashion industry literally burns billions of dollars of goods every year. Yes, they set it on fire. Fashion houses from Nike to Burberry would rather pile their unsold clothes and accessories high and burn them into ash than let poor people have a go with them. The given reason for burning clothes is that they need to clear the market for new lines. It goes without saying that this is very bad for the environment (but I said it anyway). 

I’m not saying Kate Sylvester is burning garments once a season passes, but I will point out it’s one of the brands that opted out of Tearfund New Zealand’s annual ethical fashion report this year.

Source: Farmers

In cuter news, today was the Farmers’ Kids Fashion Show. The same runway Zambesi’s 40th anniversary show had strutted down the night before was filled with models from just one year old up to 16, all showcasing the newest lines. The clothes are fine, I guess. Children’s clothing designers often assume anyone under 16 has bad taste, and that was as clear here as it is in any Pumpkin Patch catalogue.

The kids were having more fun than any adult models had all week. The tweens nailed their choreography, and the younger models were stoked to be dressed in something other than Fe-Cál Kids.

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Sunday

The runway shows on Sunday were curated with the general public in mind. Stylists at the K’ Road Presents show and the Fashion in the Heart of the City show hand-picked garments from local designers that paired together for some sick street style looks. I did not know Hailwood could be bought on K Road.

Models showcase designs during the Fashion In The Heart Of The City show during New Zealand Fashion Weekend 2019. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Heart of the City brought in stylist to the stars Kylie Cooke who, the event blurb brags, has been associated with Orlando Bloom. I was not aware Mr Bloom was a fashion icon, but I could see him in the Zambesi/Liam/Karen Walker/Adidas combinations Cooke threw together.

The day started with a pop-up designer sale, but I have put it at the end of the diary because that’s where it should have been on the schedule. I love a bargain, but they’re even juicier after getting a mad thirst from the Aotea Square runway. 


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