While most of the world’s fashionistas looked toward London September 18-22, those who were adventurous enough to make Auckland, New Zealand their fashion focal point those five days were not disappointed. In addition to giving the world its first look at the fall/winter 2007-08 collections, the sixth annual Air New Zealand Fashion Week (nzfashionweek.co.nz) again proved that this tiny Pacific nation is home to a disproportionately large talent pool.

Held in the boatsheds–turned–catwalk tents of Viaduct Harbor Village, the event, which took place a month earlier than usual to better jibe with buyers’ schedules, featured more than 30 shows and attracted buyers and journalists from as far away as Paris, New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles.

Here’s a rundown of the event’s most interesting and noteworthy presentations.

Monday, September 18:


Still rather tired from her triumphant first-time showing at New York Fashion Week a few days earlier, Walker, who’s arguably New Zealand’s best-known homegrown fashion star, hosted a Monday opening night party to launch her fantastic new line of boxy/funky eyewear in lieu of presenting proper catwalk show. With microphone-covered podiums in the back of the room, she re-created the “press conference” set of the line’s VOTE-themed look book and invited her guests to have their photos taken while wearing a pair. Well lubricated by the party’s plentiful and powerful martinis, most did. Part silly photo session, part glam fashion gathering, the launch was a clever, quirky and fun way to introduce the eyewear – and usher in the week.

Tuesday, September 19:


Rising star Cybele Wiren offered an impressive collection of short dresses and separates, many of which featured a bold graphic of chain links. The theme worked best when she featured the oversized links in bright primary colors against a black background. And although her shimmering printed satin dresses and sheer black-and-red print pieces would certainly become a fashion-conscious rock chick’s wardrobe, one couldn’t help but think that similar designs probably already hang there.


In her “Sampler” collection, de Pont offered ’80s-inspired silhouettes on outfits that riskily mixed earth-toned tile-inspired patterns, boldly colored tights printed with random items such as seahorses, butterflies and airplanes, gold-and-black stripes and all kinds of accessories, from hats to leg warmers. While the on-purpose clash of themes and prints sometimes made the models look like ’80s club kids who were trying too hard to look kooky, at other times it really hit the mark, especially when it was toned down with solid-colored cropped pants, beautifully constructed jackets and various other layering pieces. Given its eclectic theme, the collection easily could have been an across-the-board mess of chaotic randomness but, for the most part, de Pont avoided that trap – and that’s no small achievement.


Hogan’s debut show at ANZFW was a winner; her collection of contemporary dresses and sportswear pieces was classic, simple and clean but it looked fresh, not boring. Items such a short, high-waisted gray flannel dress with of horizontal pink piping just above the hemline, a gorgeous navy trapeze coat and gray plaid short Empire dress exuded youthful elegance and effortless grace. Lovely!


Adrian Hailwood again proved his stature as one of the country’s most promising designers with a collection that blended sexy/dressy sequin and satin dresses, blouses or skinny pants with more casual tees and sweatshirts emblazoned with kitschy but cool images a Hummel-like smoking Parisian boho boy or a cartoon dog that appears to have been pulled off a birthday card from gran. Also included were cleavage-revealing dresses in a Wedgewood-like print and superslim silver jeans with buttons at the ankles. A fantastic perforated black leather bomber jacket and seam-front orange trousers were some of his winning men’s pieces. Although he said backstage that he was inspired by the 1970s, the show’s berets, azure-lipsticked models, slim silhouettes and seemingly ceramic-inspired graphics brought more of a shopping-at-a-French-flea-market-in-the-1980s vibe to mind. But whatever his inspiration, the outcome – while admittedly scattered – nonetheless succeeded.


Probably the Kiwi label with the most cult-like and hip following, Nom*D wowed the crowd with its new British aristocracy–inspired “Stiff Upper Lip” collection. Designer Margarita Robertson and her team gave their signature, gothic/streety/deconstructed spin to a rather traditionally classic theme (English aristocrats) and masterfully sucked any stuffy trace of Laura Ashley or Merchant and Ivory right out of it. The result? A characteristically dark and edgy – but totally wearable and beautifully executed – men’s and women’s collection that, this season especially, features numerous standout knit items such as a gray cable-knit dress with a blue geometric front made from old sweaters and oversized black or orange dresses and hooded sweater coats. Pops of plaid, tweed and hunter orange ran throughout and graphic tees featuring the image of an eerie playing-card king and queen added to the cleverness: Jolly well done!

Wednesday, September 20:


Young designer James Dobson said he based his “Everybody Loves Nobody Sometimes” collection of mostly black and white sportswear and dresses on Gregg Araki’s “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” films about angst-filled gay LA teens in the 1990s. The darkness and grittiness were indeed evident – especially via a broken heart T-shirt graphic, a sheer silk dress printed with spider webs and black tights and jumpers with oval cutouts to give a sense of “things falling apart” – but, to Dobson’s credit, the overall feel was more fresh than down-and-out and grungy. Quirky details such as an upside down henley front at the bottom of a T-shirt and extra dangling sleeves augmented the originality.


Shunning the dark moodiness that’s apparent in many of her countrymen’s collections, Deborah Sweeney showed a fun, colorful and girly group of vintage-looking sportswear, dresses and standout ’60s-inspired wool outerwear. Immensely wearable with just the right dash of idiosyncratic touches, the flirty outfits included pretty dresses and tops printed with small flying cranes and black and red puffy tartan skirts and matching trilby hats. Her one-shoulder dresses layered over black-and-white striped or solid yellow tees were also fine looks.


With its bleakly made-up, beret-wearing models and gorgeous assortment of somber, sharply tailored menswear, designer Murray Crane’s excellent Little Brother show (pictured, above right) brought to mind visions of a made-over Edward Scissorhands. (Only now Edward wears expertly cut London suiting pieces and studies existentialism at the Sorbonne.) While it sounds like an odd mix, the gray and black collection was actually quite traditional – there were numerous double-breasted jackets, heaps of clean dress shirts, several slate-colored V-neck sweaters and fantastic overcoats and parkas. But with their dark palette, precise cuts and often slim silhouettes, these “traditional” clothes were clearly and masterfully imbued with an innate aura of outsider cool.


“Now that was a SHOW!” gushed a local fashion journalist after Trelise Cooper’s highly theatrical show, which was held in a theater and featured a live angel suspended in the air, medieval torch-bearing monks, a court jester and several pyrotechnic effects. The lengthy, four-part event showcased the prolific designer’s diffusion line Cooper, her lingerie collection, her new kids’ collection and her main collection. At times, the onstage theatrics seemed a bit excessive, but thankfully they didn’t ever draw focus from clothes, all of which bore the mark of Cooper’s signature layered and oft-frilly femininity. Last fall's darker palette and more toned-down approach remained in place and again served Cooper well. Among the standout pieces in the epic presentation were the items with the large polka-dots in the the Cooper range and a pink and gray floral print overcoat in the main one.

Thursday, September 21:


Fashion snobs who whine that jeans, sweats and tees have no place on the catwalk might reconsider that stance if they attended the Federation show, which left many international editors coveting this casual street-skate brand’s slim dark jeans with side ankle snaps a la track pants. Using a “flight” theme, husband and wife designers Nick and Jenny Clegg showed fantastic jeans and somewhat basic street styles – hoodies, T-shirts, tights etc. – that were emblazoned with simply drawn graphics of birds and balloons. Although not revolutionary, the splendidly edited collection was a fine example of everything streetwear should be: young at heart, immediately wearable, nicely detailed and, for once, refreshingly free of irony or attitude. In a world chock full of too-cool-for-school street labels and copycat denim brands, Federation is a much-needed – and welcome – exception.


It was a tall order to top last year’s stunning “Stop Your Sobbing” fall show but über-talented womenswear designer Kate Sylvester did exactly that in high-energy off-site presentation (pictured, above left) that used Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf as its creative springboard. As a rock tunes pounded over the sound system, models aggressively marched down the path-like runway dressed in expertly crafted, mostly earth-toned capes, dresses, blouses and skirts. (These tough, sophisticated Little Reds in certainly don't need the woodsmen to save them.) Sylvester’s pieces often featured hoods, capes or terrific faux wolf fur accents, such as the furry cap sleeves on a voluminous pleated-front taupe chiffon dress. The outerwear – including a show-stopping scarlet hooded cape that brilliantly avoided being “too literal” – looked especially scrumptious in a collection that, from start to finish, was utterly delicious. My, what a big, creative eye Kate has!


Streetwear brand Huffer made its ANZFW debut with men’s and women’s styles that often had a rugged New England feel. Although the show suffered a bit from repetition (the same long scarf appeared at least five times, for example), there were plenty of praise-worthy pieces such as a terrific toggle-front red knit hoodie, nice plaid lumberjack shirts and a great men’s workwear-inspired jacket. Women’s highlights included cute denim vests and tie-front dark denim overalls. The brand’s outdoorsy looks were most interesting, however, when they were paired with the collection’s other prominent – and polar opposite – offering: a bold ’80s-style black-and-white or red-and-white zig-zag pattern, which appeared on tights, leotards, scarves and tops. The resulting look was a highly original one: country hunter-meets-trendy club kid.

Friday, September 22:


Group shows are often hit-and-miss affairs but Auckland-based Showroom 22 owner Murray Bevan’s showcase of the up-and-coming quartet of Beth Ellery, Des Rusk, MAW and Jaimie was a four-way winner. Ellery wowed with gorgeously structured dresses and coats, Des Rusk’s impressive menswear included a standout scarlet trench, MAW’s marionette-inspired women’s collection was playful without being cloying (and included some cool cropped striped pants with tiny bell shapes at the ankles) and Jaimie’s mostly black, white and red women’s collection included, among others, a killer pair of high-waisted black pants. These are four designers to keep one’s eyes on.


Closing the week with a perfect grand finale, great Kiwi label Zambesi unveiled another stunner under the roof of a mammoth, multilevel boat-storage facility that opened up onto the water. The collection’s mix of subtle nautical influences (overdyed or on-the-bias sailor stripes and a palette that was heavy on blues, black and orange), voluminous ’80s-inspired silhouettes that were reworked from original designs in the company archives and use of sublime prints and plush fabrics again showed why this 28-year-old fashion house is among the country’s most beloved and lauded – and that New Zealand fashion is continuing to sail triumphantly forward.

— Christopher Blomquist, North American Bureau Chief

Photos: Michael Ng/Air New Zealand Fashion Week