Australia Fashion Week: Keeping neighbourly

By Zoe Walker

Kate Sylvester and Sabatini have both shown at Australian Fashion Week before. Photos / Supplied
Kate Sylvester and Sabatini have both shown at Australian Fashion Week before. Photos / Supplied

Fashion Week will take over Sydney on Monday, with five New Zealand labels set to showcase their new collections on the Rosemount Australian Fashion Week runways. Zambesi, Kate Sylvester and Sabatini White are joined by RAFW newcomers Stolen Girlfriends Club and Annah Stretton, who is following up last year's group show with a show of her own.

It will be a particularly special week this year, being the 15th year anniversary of the industry event as well as the final time that founder Simon Lock will be involved (in 2005 he sold the week to IMG, who run international fashion weeks in New York, London and Milan, though he stayed on as managing director). It's also an interesting time for Australian and Sydney fashion, with several up-and-coming and edgier labels like Romance Was Born, Therese Rawsthorne and Friedrich Gray helping change (or at least challenge) the stereotypical "tits-and-arse" aesthetic that the city has been famous for.

High-profile international media guests are also helping to build excitement, with much talked about street style photographers and glamour couple Garance Dore and Scott Schuman, aka The Sartorialist, attending again this year (they were VIP guests at last year's event). Photographer Tommy Tom of Jak & Jil and British fashion blogger Susie Bubble will also be front row, as will Style.com's Tim Blanks. The RAFW front row is always impressive - think a lot more designer and effort than our own rather casual affair - but expect the glossy fashion magazine packs to be trying even harder this year, all angling to get their photo taken by Schuman, Dore or Tom - or all of them.

Less profiled but just as influential are buyers and representatives from Selfridges, Net-a-Porter and Fred Segal.

Over 150 international delegates are expected to attend RAFW this year, according to marketing and communications director Graeme Lewsey. It's this potential for such international exposure - as well as the fact that we don't have our own Fashion Week here that showcases spring/summer collections - that attracts New Zealand designers to the event.

Lewsey says its a double win for New Zealand labels, which are able to use the event as a platform to reach a large catchment of international buyers, media and Australian customers, while also generating publicity back home.

"The week offers a strong platform to reach buyers and media - either they would not naturally be able to reach at home in New Zealand or it would be too cost-prohibitive to go on a global tour to visit these industry players personally. All trade fashion weeks, including New Zealand's own, are set up to provide a business-to-business one-stop showcase and RAFW has a proven track record of doing that well," explains Lewsey.

"It also has the benefit of being a high-profile event on the international calendar of grand slam fashion weeks and, therefore, captures the attention and imagination of many important overseas businesses and networks."

Tony Milich, managing director of Sabatini, who will show a 1960s film-inspired collection from their "showtime label", Sabatini White, on Tuesday, agrees that the delegates were part of the reason they were drawn to show again this year - particularly those from Asia, another market that's proving to be essential for the industry. A 40 per cent increase in mainline Sabatini exports into the Australian market for summer alerted them to the fact that perhaps the blues of the recession were starting to fade away.

"We thought if we're going to be 40 per cent up in Sabatini in our exports, we should definitely look at seeing what Sabatini White can do, in terms of further exports into the Asian markets, which are really important to us now."

Their exports into the Australian market are already substantial - Sabatini's total exports are 87 per cent, 80 per cent which goes to Australia.

The Australian market is an extremely important one for the rest of the New Zealand fashion industry too, being the closest and largest apparel export market. Mapihi Opai of Fashion Industry New Zealand (FINZ) says there are other rather simple reasons for these close ties to our neighbours across the ditch too.

"As an industry, we can compete on price across the Tasman and benefit from a long-established trade agreement (the CER). In terms of design, New Zealand fashion translates well in the Australian market, due in part to very distinct similarities in lifestyle."

This is partly what attracted the team behind Stolen Girlfriends Club, who will officially be part of RAFW this year. Their Monday night show will showcase their spring/summer collection - called "Life's A Beach ... Watch Out For Crabs" and inspired by beach culture and surf gangs that spend most of their life on the beach - and will also act as a fifth birthday celebration for the brand.

Creative director Luke Harwood says that they see Australia as a relatively easy and close market to invest in, with huge population and potential and a similar market in terms of trends and seasons.

"Australians are hard businesspeople, but at the same time it's close and easy, geographically speaking. RAFW is a good option for our brand at the present point of time." Stolen Girlfriends Club's current exports into Australia make up around 30 per cent of their sales, but they hope to build that up to 50 or 60 per cent in the "mid-term of the brand's development".

One of their current Australian buyers is Moku boutique, which until recently stocked only New Zealand labels. New Zealander Lin Lin opened the Sydney boutique in 2007, and says there is definitely a group of loyal followers of New Zealand fashion in the city.

"The aesthetic is more subtle, sophisticated, and often more focused on the feel and quality of the fabric, like silk and merino.

"Also I guess due to the colder climate, New Zealand designers have developed a unique style with layering of textures, fabrics - and, of course, the love of black."

So what to look out for from Monday when the week kicks off with a show from Lisa Ho? The New Zealand contingent, obviously - from Kate Sylvester's collection called "This Charming Man" to RAFW stalwarts Zambesi, to Annah Stretton's "Stop the Slaughter" range "dedicated to creating awareness and putting an end to the cruel and inhumane farming practice that is prevalent in the pork and poultry industries globally".

We're also excited to see Ksubi's return to the runways, after going into voluntary administration last year. The label - famous for their runway pranks - will also be celebrating their 10th year with the show, which Ragtrader reports will be styled by Australian Brana Wolf, editor at large of Harper's Bazaar and freelance design consultant to the likes of Versace. Expect a spectacle.

We will have daily coverage at www.nzherald.co.nz - plus Viva will bring you a wrap-up of the trends, news and shows the following week.

WHO IS SHOWING
60 catwalk shows and more than 130 brands, including Annah Stretton, Arnsdorf, Dion Lee, Ellery, Friedrich Gray, Gail Sorronda, Kate Sylvester, Kirrily Johnston, Konstantina Mittas, Ksubi, Lisa Ho, Romance Was Born, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Therese Rawsthorne and Zambesi.

WHO WILL BE THERE
Buyers, media, invited guests and general hangers-on will attend shows from the likes of Ksubi, Kirrily Johnston and Camilla & Marc. Key buyers include representatives from online stores Net-a-Porter and Shopbop, and Style.com's Blanks will cover the week for Australian Vogue. Expect lots of online action - delegates include influential international blogger Susie Bubble and three key street-style photographers - see "who to impress".

WHO TO IMPRESS
Designers may be trying to impress buyers and media with their collections, but the front row will be trying hard to impress too, with the arrival of three top international street-style photographers - Scott Schuman, aka The Sartorialist, Garance Dore and Tommy Tom of Jak & Jil. How to get snapped by one of them? Here's our quick and easy guide.

The Sartorialist
Wear a suit, or be Harpers Bazaar fashion editor, Christine Centenera.

Garance Dore
Be a pretty, whimsical looking but strong woman - or wear a piece of Celine.

Jak & Jil
Wear fierce shoes.

* Zoe Walker will be filing from Australian Fashion Week for nzherald.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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