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Fashionistas have the chance to get their hands on one-off creations by 15 of the country's top designers this month.

Big names, including Zambesi, World, Trelise Cooper, Helen Cherry, Liz Mitchell, Doris De Pont and Carlson, have designed evening gowns for an exhibition at Smith & Caughey's, celebrating the department store's 125th birthday.

The 15 gowns will be on show at Smith & Caughey's from today until July 29 and will be auctioned, with proceeds going to Auckland City Mission. It's a rare chance to own a one-off creation by a top fashion label.

The silent auction will run throughout the two-week exhibition. Anyone visiting the store can fill in a form to make an offer on their favourite frock.

Fashion has always been an important part of business for Smith & Caughey's, ever since the early days when buyers would return from London and Paris with trend-setting fashion, says Kevin Broadfoot, Smith & Caughey's special-projects manager.

The event has been 15 months in the planning. Broadfoot initially sounded out a couple of designers about their interest but the response was so positive he decided to make the exhibition much bigger than originally planned.

"The store was started by a woman, Marion Smith, in 1880," he says. "We wanted to honour that in a real way, but didn't want to do 'fashion through the ages' or a fashion show with costumes. We wanted something fresh and unique that would also honour many of our New Zealand designers."

Broadfoot says the designers were full of enthusiasm, especially as some don't normally design evening wear. He is pleased with the mix of design talent.

"It's a very high-profile list and includes some of the younger High St brands. We're thrilled they want to be part of it."

Of the 15 labels, only four (soon to be five) are stocked by Smith & Caughey's, so Broadfoot is happy as it means the fashion houses' involvement is not through a feeling of being indebted to a retailer.

Designers were given a theme but how they interpreted that was up to them.

World's Francis Hooper describes the gown he and Denise L'Estrange-Corbet have created as one for an occasion.

"We were mindful of the history of fashion, so you could say our gown is a classic explosion of a ball dress. It's black and white silk organza, twisted with a splash of colour and camped-up."

Hooper says World is honoured to be involved. "Smith & Caughey's is the grand old lady of retail. Although it gets pushed aside a lot by loud, brash posers like us, a city is not a city without a department store."

The An Enchanted Evening exhibition features evening wear designs by World, Zambesi, Paula Ryan, Adrienne Winkelman, Trelise Cooper, Helen Cherry, RJC, Carlson, Valerie Frank, Liz Mitchell, Doris De Pont, Stella Gregg, Moochi, Vamp/VSSP and Sabine.