Throwback Thursday – Shoulder pads and early Yeezy in the ’86 Benson & Hedges Fashion Awards

Tara Ward revisits the high fashion of the 1986 Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards, complete with wool, leather, and bold shoulders.

The Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards was to fashion what The Dog Show was to farmers: the premier showcase of what made our country great. Which was mostly leather and wool, apparently. New Zealand had millions of sheep and cows in the mid 80s, and most of them ended up on the stage of the Michael Fowler Centre in one form or another.

Broadcast live to air, the B&H was a serious event. The hosts were serious, the set was serious, the audience clapped when they were told to. Rachel Hunter modeled, while former Miss Universe Lorraine Downes presented an award. “Do ya want to say something?” she asked the winner. The winner did not.

Reliving these awards 30 years on is as glorious as this hot pink oversized shirt-dress and headscarf ensemble. Feast your eyes, my pretties.


We are welcomed into the 1986 fashion world by hosts Bob Parker and Maysie “a lady who comes from Auckland” Bestall-Cohen. That’s how big a deal these awards were: women from Auckland were involved. Maysie did all the hard work, while Bob announced the winners and therefore claimed all the glory.


Award categories included Leisure Lifestyle (“active and spectator sportswear, casual daywear and play-clothes for women”) and my personal fave, the Leather Industry Award. The 1986 awards promised “a whole new attitude to leather”, which made me feel sorry for the 1985 attitude to leather, probably lying in tatters beneath Bob Parker’s polished brogues.


The fashion was, as Bob repeated, “zooperb”. The ’80s woman was colourful, she was confident, and holy crap, did she love leather and wool. Turbans were everywhere, silhouettes were either “tailored or capacious”, and Maysie reminded us “the shoulder is always bold”. This is excellent life advice, FYI.


But this wasn’t just a fashion show; it was a piece of performance art. Models writhed and swiveled their bold shoulders to the Pet Shop Boys and the Miami Vice theme song. They walked the stage like it was Lambton Quay at lunchtime, their confident promenade climaxing in the classic helicopter spin – arms outspread to allow for full clockwise rotation. It was incredible.


Let’s drool over the more memorable moments.

The knitting was amazeballs

Nice work, sheep everywhere.


There’s good reason fisherman-knit jerseys were banned from future award ceremonies


The Gareth Morgan woollen dress

Everyone loves cats and it’s a travesty this designer wasn’t even Highly Commended. The cat is wearing a bowtie, for crying out loud.


Giants love fashion too

Terrifyingly stylish. (Also, am worried this is actually one of Roald Dahl’s witches).


Whatever you do, don’t look up

“Let’s pose under this giant T.rex, because we’re confident women with no fear of dinosaurs, be they sculptures or otherwise”.


Sweet baby Yeezy – were the B&H’s a fashion influence on Kanye? 


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Nothing says ‘high fashion’ like an open-air hydroslide


Calling all Sister Wives: fashion is for you, too

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Nothing epitomises the glamour of the fashion industry like a garden gnome and a faceless concrete hen

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Never had New Zealand fashion been so accessible to our armed forces

Quietly confident we could take the world by force in these outfits.


Bloody genius, Rach, but how would it go on the hydroslide?

“By adding a headwrap and tying it in a bow, Andrea Cobb of Auckland has created a look straight out of A Chorus Line”.


Reliving the 80s through the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards is like wrapping yourself in a 100% merino wool blanket of warm nostalgia. We tried so hard to be great, with our leather swimsuits and apricot sheepskin coats, and bloody hell, New Zealand, we were.

The B&H’s were – just like Bob promised – zooperb.

Click here to watch the 1986 Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards courtesy of NZ On Screen

Please note that the occasionally troublesome opinions expressed above are not those of our wonderful sponsors at NZ On Screen. 

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