It's not just the designers working 24/7 to ensure they wow the fashion crowd at NZFW... Viva speaks to the caterers creating the most stylish mouthfuls of the season.

Nothing kills a chic party faster than a soggy vol-au-vont. And the fashion crowd knows this. So as designers put the finishing touches on their collections, as events organisers haggle over the hippest party venues and show producers commission giant inflatable pandas, there's another breed working round the clock to impress the international VIPs, fashion editors and celebrities: the caterers.

"These days, it's not enough just to supply fodder to line guests' stomachs," says Jamie Miller of Mint Kitchen Catering, official caterers for NZFW.

"Clients want to make a statement with the canapes they serve. The food is just as important as the cocktails, the music, the venue."

This hasn't always been the case: back in the 1970s, a typical canape was cheese and pineapple on a stick, or a reheated sausage roll.

"Then in the 1980s and 1990s people got completely carried away, desperately trying to out-do each other in the canape stakes," says Miller, who previously worked at Rhubarb in London, who cater for London Fashion Week and other high-profile events.

"We were serving so-called "ironic" food - like miniature fried breakfasts or brioche - on velvet cushions or hubcaps."

The fad for ironic dishes like caviar pizza was a backlash against the other main trend of the 90s: molecular gastronomy, as pioneered by British chef Heston Blumenthal.

"Suddenly everything had green tea foam on it, or a beetroot vapour," remembers Miller.

"It took about half an hour for the waiter to explain what you'd just picked off the plate."

A few years ago, hand-in-hand with the global recession, came what party people refer to as "the canape crunch". Virtually overnight, froths, foams and vapours disappeared from the silver platters, and canape stalwarts like the mini-burger - cheap, filling and unchallenging for the kitchen - reigned supreme ... briefly.

To Miller's mind, this was a necessary phase to restore balance in the kitchens of New York, London, Sydney and Auckland.

"We've seen a return to classic canapes, but with a new emphasis on quality - ideally organic - ingredients cooked with attention to detail," he says.

"For example, we still make pies, just not the bland, stodgy chicken and vegetable pies of previous decades. At Fashion Week this year we'll be serving incredibly light braised cambridge duck and smoked mushroom pies, alongside rare roasted beef tenderloin with mini onion jam crostini - essentially an update on the steak sandwich."

However, as canape standards have risen, so have our demands. These days everyone has a dietary intolerance to something. And - just a wild guess - surely the beautiful party people are the quickest to jump on a diet fad or nutritional bandwagon?

"You definitely have to be fast to respond to a dietary trend," says Chris Storer of Kai Productions who runs the Herald's entertaining suite, the Ink Room, at Fashion Week.

"Today, waiters get a very thorough grilling about what's on the plate: is it vegan, is it gluten-free, is it peanut-free? It's an ever-increasing challenge to create delicious canapes where the water can reply 'yes' to every question."

And in a room full of fussy eaters, presentation is key.

"A tray has to tempt. You want guests to do a double-take and say 'oh well, perhaps just one'," says Storer.

When it comes to sweet treats, similar trends are visible. Jordan Rondel, of thecaker.com, has just catered for a Kate Sylvester party and is planning a menu for a joint collaboration of Twenty-seven Names and blog So Much To Tell You.

"Gluten-free is a huge trend at the moment, but I don't see this is as a problem, because cakes actually taste so much better with ground almonds instead of flour," he says.

Rondel is very much in demand - the pro-Atkins, anti-carb lobby of the 90s have surrendered to their sugar cravings.

"People want their sweet fix, but they want organic, quality ingredients, they want small mouthfuls, and they want it gluten-free and naturally flavoured," says Rondel.

Once again, presentation is key.

"I get a lot of requests for mini cupcakes and baby cakes which can be served on vintage tiered platters. For Kate Sylvester I made fig, raspberry and honeyed almond cake, along with a gluten-free chocolate cake. They were all bite-size, so guests can try the different varieties without feeling guilty."

Even more good news: the homemade, rustic look is officially "in".

"Nobody wants to eat anything that looks like it was iced by a machine," says Rondel.

So what does the future hold for the canape? Any emerging trends coming to a tray near us?

"Something I've seen a lot in New York is the use of edible vessels for dishes," says Storer.

"These days a lot of dishes are served on skewers, or even in Chinese spoons, but if the waiter moves swiftly on, you're left to dispose of a china spoon in the nearest plant pot. In New York, chefs are serving tuna and salmon tartars in sesame cones - hard to achieve, but a step towards the perfect canape."

Veteran caterer and partygoer Stephen White, of Stonyridge Vineyard, has spent years searching of the ever-elusive perfect canape.

His rules are simple: "It needs to vanish in a single bite, so conversation can be resumed swiftly. It should never require more than one hand, because guests will be already holding a glass of champagne. It shouldn't be stringy or greasy, because nobody wants to faff with a toothpick or napkin. It shouldn't be too pungent, because that's not conducive to flirting and mingling. And it should be substantial and nutritious, because you want guests to be sustained enough to dance into the night."

Simple!