Mercedes-Benz Australian Fashion Week begins on April 30, but there will be no New Zealand designers showing this year. It is the first year in a long time no locally based designers have been represented on the schedule - although New Zealand-born designer Johanna Johnson, who has dressed Mad Men's Christina Hendricks, Bridesmaids star Maya Rudolph and Princess Charlene of Monaco, will show. Raised in Blenheim, Johnson moved to Australia in 1989 and opened her first store in Sydney in 2005.
Kate Sylvester has been a self-confessed "erratic" regular at Australian Fashion Week, having shown around eight times since 1998. She will not show on the official schedule this year, but that does not mean she won't be part of the event in future she says: she and her team are just having a break this season. Instead, just yesterday Sylvester was in Sydney holding an intimate one-on-one salon presentation of portraits at a Sydney art gallery, with private appointments for press and buyers to showcase her spring/summer 2013 collection called All My Heart.
"We have opened three new stores in the past few months, and we just thought, 'we can't do a full show'," Sylvester explained on the phone from Sydney. Indeed, her runway presentations are always more than just traditional shows, with thought-out sets that would require months of preparation.
As for showing at New Zealand Fashion Week later this year, Sylvester says her team are "certainly considering it" but will focus on the brand's plans for the second half of the year once back from Sydney.
Stolen Girlfriends Club has taken part in the Sydney trade event for the past two years (as well as an off-schedule party in 2009), but sadly aren't showing this year, says creative director Marc Moore. "It just costs way too much money and the Australian market seems quite flat right now - so it's not a good time to be spending money on marketing, and so on. We are going over to show our range to buyers though," he explains. Asked whether Stolen Girlfriends Club will show at NZFW, Moore commented that the team are still on the fence at this stage.
Sabatini will also not show officially in Sydney this season, following their 20th anniversary off-schedule show last year. "Last year with our 20-year anniversary of Sabatini, we held our own show in Sydney the week prior to Australian Fashion Week and we are taking a similar approach this year. Our Sydney office is working on a privately run art gallery collaboration to show our new collection, rather than taking part in Australian Fashion Week," says operations manager Kerri Lelievre.
Two of Australia's strongest young designers, Dion Lee and Josh Goot, announced on Monday that they were pulling out of the event. Both had earlier been announced as part of the official schedule. Goot's statement remarked on the "challenging timing of MBFWA on the fashion calendar", referencing the week's dates which sit after the buying season has ended. Showcasing their collection to buyers is a traditional reason why designers take part in a fashion week, although it could be argued that they are now largely a marketing exercise.
Goot said, "I believe strongly in AFW as an important initiative that strengthens our domestic fashion story. I hope to participate in the event in the years to come". Lee intends to show at London Fashion Week in September, and said in his statement that the brand had decided to withdraw from MBFWA "in order to focus on the core activities of the business". He said he hoped to return to the Australian show schedule in the near future.
Brands who, at the time of going to print, were still planning to show on the official MBAFW schedule include Ksubi, Akira and Romance Was Born. Designer Kirrily Johnston will debut a collaboration with local beauty brand The Aromatherapy Company, while iconic Australian accessories brand Oroton will show on the runway for the first time - with street-style star Taylor Tomasi-Hill styling the show.
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