International visitors want fresh designs at Fashion Week but Cathrin Schaer finds some of those synonymous with such styles are not showing

Fashion shows can be glamorous, innovative, exciting, sexy and dramatic events. They can leave onlookers fizzing with the joy of new sartorial ideas, the audaciousness of the showmanship and the genuine art that comes from making clothes well.

And then - deep sigh - there is also the tedium of watching good-looking people walk past wearing quite nice clothes. For hours. And hours.

For obvious reasons this can be boring for everyone involved. And this was a criticism heard from several international delegates at last year's Fashion Week.

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Australian fashion writer Patty Huntington, who writes regularly for the Sydney Morning Herald, put it this way: "I saw a lot of what I'd call middle-aged fashion on the runway. There was a lot of middle market-style fashion and I'm not sure whether it really needed to be there.

"I hate to say it like this but there was a lot of what I'd call 'lady' fashion," agreed a buyer based in New York, who wished to remain anonymous.

These two seasoned frock commentators mean there was a lot of the sort of clothes that most of us wear every day but which we wouldn't necessarily expect to see onstage.

And it's even worse for fashion pundits, who watch international shows in Paris, London and Milan before they travel here. For them, watching shirts and skirts all day is about as interesting as your average New Zealander watching a parade that's made up of mainly track pants and T-shirts. These people come here looking for something new and different, something with flair and drama.

Of course at last year's Fashion Week, everyone found something to enjoy. For instance, Huntington, who has been to the Auckland event several times before, discovered labels such as Cybele, Mala Brajkovic and Lonely Hearts Club.

Other visitors, who hadn't been before, were enthused by stalwarts the locals already know and love, such as Zambesi, Little Brother and Karen Walker.

But looking at this year's schedule, what's worrying is there seems to be less of that new and exciting talent, a few stalwarts are missing, and there seems to be more of what you'd call middle-market clothing on parade.

While the Cybele label is showing again, some of the other talented individuals who were often singled out for special mention last year - Lonely Hearts Club, Miss Crabb and Mala Brajkovic, who put on her own off-schedule show last year - are nowhere to be seen.

Even Karen Walker, whose runway shows are always highly anticipated, is not doing a full show.

Most of the aforementioned designers have personal reasons for not being part of the line-up. Karen Walker, who had an off-schedule show at New York Fashion Week this month, says "we're not doing girls walking up and down a runway this year as the new dates for New Zealand Fashion Week conflict directly with New York." Instead, she is doing a small launch for Karen Walker eyewear. Kristine Crabb of Miss Crabb and Mala Brajkovic went on long-planned overseas trips that did not allow them the time or resources to prepare for a Fashion Week outing. Both, plus Steve Ferguson of Lonely Hearts Club, say the cash required is a major issue when you've got a smaller business. It costs around $10,000 to put on one of the smaller shows.

Crabb agrees, adding that money and energy were the main factors. "As I'm a small company, it's a case of being able to pull off a show to the standard I would like. I would rather put my energy into other areas, like retailing, wholesaling, exporting, the internet and just making cool stuff."

The absence of labels like this, with no obvious replacements, could be an unfortunate development.

Though newer labels are showing, only one or two appear to be promising something different.

But Pieter Stewart, the founder of Fashion Week, doesn't consider it a problem. "Fashion Week can only create the platform for designers to take advantage of whichever way they choose and to find ways to encourage new and fresh talent."

Stewart says they do this with things like, "the inclusion of the Designer Salon shows in 2005 [which have] given an opportunity to smaller labels to have their own show with their own look.

"We are always striving to give different aspects of the NZ fashion community a voice, including the AUT Rookie Shows, the Deutz Ambassador awards and in previous years, the Pasifika designers."

Another highlight may be provided by public relations company, Showroom 22, which is putting on a show for the designers it represents, including the individualistic Jaimie Webster and the inspiring architect-in-fabric, Beth Ellery.

An industry insider says of the argument about middle-market fashion versus cutting-edge clothes, "it's just about the commercial reality. The mainstream stuff has to be there for the good stuff to exist and fashion weeks are no exception. The organisers need to fill up three or four days with shows, which means 30 or 40 shows, most of which are mainstream. If New Zealand wants a viable fashion event, that's the cost."

So it's a delicate balancing act. Organisers need to find a balance between the larger, mainstream labels, which are successful because they make the mainstream clothes most people wear and who can afford to put on a big runway show, and the smaller niche labels, which will probably only ever be small, particularly here, and who need financial help if they are to participate in an event like this.