The 2008 edition of Air New Zealand Fashion Week (ANZFW), the first fashion week in the world to showcase designs for the FW 2009 season, came to a spectacular conclusion on Friday night when Huffer presented its fishing-themed collection on an outdoor pier here in Auckland.

While the collections presented were, for the most part, strong, the overall consensus was that this was not their best year. In chronological order, here are some highlights:

Cult brand WORLD opened the week (and returned to ANZFW for the first time in four years) with a collection entitled “There is No Depression in New Zealand” that was marked by bright colors and six final looks that were so completely covered with Swarovski crystals that they looked as if they were lit by electricity. While these pieces were more “wearable art” than wearable (unless you are Elton John), there were several cool offerings, including a pencil skirt in faux black fur, men’s red satin slipperlike shoes and sequined black-and-white evening gowns.

KIRRILY JOHNSTON was the first Australian designer to ever show at ANZFW and offered a pretty, if somewhat thrill-lacking, collection of contemporary women’s dresses and separates marked by nice draping techniques and a palette of mostly black, white and rust.

STITCH MINISTRY, which is best known for its intricate and well-made knitwear, showed a women’s collection that also featured non-knit pants and dresses with feather accents and sheer peek-a-boo panels in skirts. Unfortunately, these looks came across as “last season.”

Designer CYBELE Wirren had one of the week’s best shows and showed a beautiful women’s collection that featured her interesting shapes and signature abstract prints, one of which resembled Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Wirren gets better with each new collection.

Known for her classic Park Avenue debutante aesthetic, designer JULIETTE HOGAN showed another collection that oozed class and simple beauty. However, despite the fact that the collection was named “Mind Your Manners,” Hogan’s ladies this time seemed slightly younger and sexier than in prior years. Case in point: they are now pairing high-waisted pale denim skirts with ladylike printed blouses and pearls.

Based on the infamous British insane asylum Bedlam, the fall NOM*D collection was awash in the label’s signature deconstruction, dark checks and multiple layering. Strong as always, it was offset with color pops such as chartreuse Nike high-tops, a sky blue knit sweater coat and red baggy shorts. The insanity theme was also driven home with sleeves that were tied around the models to resemble straightjackets. The show’s standout piece was its final one: a white bubblelike “wedding dress” created by stitching several traditional Irish fisherman sweaters together with satin ribbon.

Designer Adrian HAILWOOD ended Monday’s presentations with a collection that featured strong dark tailored denim items, several little black (or navy) satin dresses and a lovely short white strapless dress with a Peter Pan collar. His final few looks, which featured a graphic of a skull and yellow tulip, were not as strong, however, and led to an ending that was something of a letdown.

Twentysomething designer and Kiwi fashion wunderkind JAEHA Alex Kim was under immense pressure this year to outdo his star-making presentation in 2007. While his newest offerings (presented Tuesday morning inside a church) were eyecatching, beautiful and remarkable for such a young designer, they seemed to slightly lack the tight focus his clothes had last year. That said, there were numerous standout pieces, including draped silk dresses, tie-dye jeans with asymmetric zips and a huge “stuffed animal” scarf that humorously wrapped around the entire body of a male model. Although Kim may have had a mild “sophomore slump” this year, there is still no doubt that he is probably New Zealand’s most talented and promising young designer.

DEBORAH SWEENEY showed a collection that will undoubtedly please her mix-and-match and vintage-loving customers. As usual, her outerwear, including plaid wool coats and capes, were the best things she showed. Her show did have some misfires, however, including a cream bustier with a tiered tulle skirt worn over acid-wash leggings.

The young design pair behind TWENTY-SEVENNAMES sent out men’s and women’s looks that were immensely wearable and on-trend (they featured dark tie-dye, fringe, ruffles and buffalo checks), although far from revolutionary. The tuxedo-inspired items, while nice looking, came across as something of a rehash.

While her collection was not perfect, designer ALEXANDRA OWEN gets major props for being the most original and conceptual designer to show at the week. Playing with volume and creating unique shapes and silhouettes, she showed fantastic sheer asymmetric bubble skirts stuffed with bits of balled up fabric at the hems (which brought to mind delicate items in a wash bag during a gentle cycle) and gorgeously draped red dresses in leatherlike material. Created with high-quality fabrics, her collection was the most daring and creative one shown.

Probably the most prolific of New Zealand’s designers, TRELISE COOPER showed more than 100 looks in her show. While several featured her signature ruffles and glitz (one red and green number made its model look like a living Christmas tree), there were also numerous beauties to be found, including numerous pieces in a terrific gray and red big daisy print and a black slip dress with jeweled shoulders that epitomized 1930s glamour.

Inspired by Mrs. Robinson of “The Graduate” for fall, CHELSEA THORPE showed some knockout sexy black frocks (worn with black sunglasses and knee-highs) and a series of golden-olive dresses with triangular collar fronts.

Taking several steps forward from last year, STOLEN GIRLFRIENDS CLUB incorporated a somewhat trite punk/tartan “Pretty Vacant” theme but nonetheless showed several winning pieces, including a heart-front bustier, black scarves and hats that resembled barbed wire, shredded denim jeans with a double backing layer and a killer pair of blue denim leggings that were made by cutting off the top part of a pair of extremely tight jeans. While the use of safety pins and leopard prints came across as “been there, seen that,” the collection more than made up for its stylistic clichés with clever jackets made from nubby wool and humorous graphics including a “Pretty in Pink” movie poster that was changed to “Pretty Vacant.”

The first show of Thursday, SALASAI, showed drapy women’s apparel in dark bright shades of purple and blue and abstract splatter prints in the same general palette. Far from groundbreaking, the collection did have some great pieces, though, including a pair of wide-leg, acid-wash pants with a knit sweatpant-like cuff waist.

A sinister carnival was the springboard for MICHAEL PATTISON this year, and he hit the mark with men’s and women’s red pants, striped suits, graphic tees and printed tops. A scooter-riding dwarf and a male model whose face was pierced with a miniature sword added to the circus-like fun.

Grunge and motocross was the look at LONELY HEARTS this year, and its collection included a great mix of printed tights worn with protective black plastic kneepads, moto-inspired jackets and yellow buffalo plaid dresses with oil-like stains at the skirt. What could have easily been a trite theme was wonderfully executed and its fresh look was helped by some terrific knitwear.

True to form, ZAMBESI sent out another wonderful, complex collection that designer Elisabeth Findlay later explained was inspired by simplicity, futurism, medieval times and a “waste not, want not” idea (hence the numerous multi-fabric panel and patchwork pieces in the show). Standout items in the consistently fantastic collection included a textured patterned black bomber made from a strong polyvinyl-like material, leather laser-cut pullovers that resembled chain mail, bomber jacket shapes reworked into a podlike cape, a green jacket made from loops of rabbit fur and beautiful men’s and women’s knits in wide-stitch mustard-yellow yarn.

Finally, HUFFER ended the week with an extremely strong and appealing outdoor show on the pier next to the Hilton Hotel. Using a palette of mostly navy and gray with color pops of safety orange, the tightly edited men’s and women’s collection was immensely wearable. Touches such as fish shack graphics on tees and scarves with fishhook graphics added to the overall appeal. Well done!

—Christopher Blomquist