A waif-like model almost collapsed from lack of food and water at NZ Fashion Week, a designer says.

Plus-size designer Caroline Marr said she had to come to the aid of the tiny model who was close to collapse at last year's event.

"Some of them are very skinny. I've had to feed girls out the back," said Marr, founder of The Carpenter's Daughter clothing label. The label has six boutiques around New Zealand and has twice shown at NZ Fashion Week.

Across the Tasman this week, tempers flared when Australian department store Myer sent plus-size models down the runway at Sydney Fashion Week - but Kiwi designers say they will stick to the tried-and-true waif look in Auckland.

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Marr acknowledged that obese models could provide an unhealthy example but she rejected the suggestion that a size 16 woman was obese.

"I do believe a certain size becomes unhealthy. I believe that's over a size 24," she said. "If someone thinks a size 16 or 18 is obese they need to correct their eyesight."

Marr said the only unhealthy models she had seen at NZ Fashion Week were under-weight, not overweight, like the model who had gone through the day without eating or drinking.

Yesterday, Fashion Week director Pieter Stewart said models were cast by designers a month before Fashion Week began. "NZFW sees no reason why models would feel the need to lose weight in the weeks before NZFW, given they will have already secured their work at the model casting," she said.

"For most of those working at NZFW, from crew to show producers to media, the days are long and exhausting. However, very few models walk in numerous shows across one day and their schedules are managed by their agents. NZFW does its best to supply models with adequate refreshments."

In the wake of the Sydney controversy, New Zealand designers were unafraid to comment on the underweight/overweight debate.

Zambesi's Liz Findlay said skinny models were favoured simply because of economics. Zambesi's top-selling sizes were 12 and 14, but Findlay said it would not be feasible to make samples in those sizes.

"All the samples are made to a standard size 10. Imagine making everything to fit every individual," she said. "It's expensive enough as it is."

Designer Sera Lilly, who used a mixture of size 10, 12 and 14 models at Fashion Week last year, also said standard models would be wearing her clothes this time around.

"Because I'm doing a group show I didn't really have a say in it," Lilly said.

Many models felt under pressure to stay a certain size, Lilly added. "Some girls just got lucky when God handed out the long, skinny limbs, but most models aren't born skinny. It's a lot of pressure and stress."

American label Not Your Daughter's Jeans will use size 10, 12 and 16 models in its Auckland catwalk show this week but it is not recognised as part of NZ Fashion Week.

Director Rick Ball asked how customers could see what the clothes looked like on "if a stick figure is wearing them".