As Project Runway makes its first cuts, NZ On Screen's Zara Potts looks back at some of the high (and low) fashion that has graced our catwalks over the years...

Project Runway has been a runaway reality television success story. Pitting wannabee designers against each other, the show has won fans of even the most unfashionable amongst us.

But what about the designers who have had to graft their way to the catwalks without the help of a team of directors and a ready-made audience? New Zealand has a long history of illustrious designers who have helped not only dress the well-heeled but have also been instrumental in giving a platform to some of our biggest export industries such as wool.

The 80s were an absolute gift for aspiring fashion designers – it was a decade of 'anything goes' and the louder and crazier, the better. It was the era of shoulder pads big enough to land small planes on and colours that could instantly induce a migraine, but most of all – it was fun.


In this 1986 Benson & Hedges (yes, tobacco companies were allowed to sponsor events back then) Fashion Design Awards show, the spirit of the 80s is perfectly captured with some strikingly colourful leisurewear. Be warned, kids, fashion ALWAYS makes a comeback.

Watch the B&H Fashion Design Awards here:

The 80s were perhaps best epitomised by the television show, Gloss. Featuring some of our best and brightest screen actors, the famous faces had to compete for attention with a dizzying array of fabrics, hats and accessories. Ilona Rogers as Maxine set the tone for 80s excess with bright colours and matchy-matchy outfits that these days would probably bring stifled laughter rather than admiration.

Watch the first episode of Gloss here:

But fantastical fashion didn't solely belong to the 80s – the 1970s were pretty spectacular too and thank goodness for television that we still have the evidence in our archives. This 1978 B&H Fashion Design Awards show seems more farcical than fashionable, with its wraparound silver swimsuit and a tropical evening dress that is perfumed with floral scent. The host of the show prophesied that perfumed dresses would be 'the fashion of the future' but alas, we're still waiting for that to come to pass.

Watch the 1978 Design Awards here:

Still, not even the disco era could outshine the Wearable Art Awards. What started as a small event 30 years ago in Nelson for designers pushing the boundaries of fashion and art, has turned into a multi-million-dollar event that every year brings thousands of fans into Wellington to celebrate the wacky and bizarre. It might not be prêt-à-porter, but it's definitely avant-garde

Watch WOW here:

But before disco and new wave and wearable art, things were a little staider and more predictable when it came to New Zealand fashion. Still, as this Wellington fashion parade from 1963 shows, the clothes are impeccably cut and some of the winter coats could easily be worn today.

Watch the Pictorial Parade here:

It's no secret that fashion sometimes takes inspiration from culture, and in 1970, a New Zealand tourism initiative took place at Auckland Museum. Dancing models wore traditional Māori motifs, combined with contemporary fashion — which was, of course, then still a novelty. It's a fascinating early look at how many of our designers would be influenced by Māori culture. Keep an eye out for the Taniko motifs which were painstakingly beaded or individually painted on to the garments, rather than screen-printed.

Watch This Day here:

By the mid-90s, tobacco companies were no longer allowed to sponsor big events, so luckily the alcohol industry stepped up to the plate. In this 1994 offering from the Corban's Fashion Collections, the ever-cool Zambesi gets a showing. The designs on the catwalk are a wee way off the more traditional Air New Zealand uniforms that the Auckland label would later be responsible for.

Watch the Corban's Fashion Collections here:

And while Zambesi and other high fashion houses represent our cosmopolitan cities well, what about the more rural fashions? Who says jandals can't be couture? A strictly tongue-in-cheek look can be seen here with Country Calendar and its country catwalk collection. Kiwis are very good at taking the mickey out of everything, and this is proof that even fashion is not spared.

Watch Country Calendar - Rural Fashions here: