The Fashion Week agenda so far may have been set by younger designers, but icons of the fashion industry proved the reasons behind their longevity last night, with strong shows, neon brights and a bikini-clad Aja Rock popping out of a fake birthday cake.

Zambesi and Huffer - wildly different in aesthetic and approach but both synonymous with grand off-site fashion shows - showed on site this year, with packed-out shows that provided some much-needed buzz.

Zambesi offered a more clean-cut collection than usual, contrasting an interesting palette of neon brights - acidic yellow, electric blue - against dirty browns, grey, stark white and charcoals.

Huffer kicked off the party spirit with their early-evening Golden Days show that looked to the "glory days of communist Russia" - think an army-inspired colour palette, military features, stand-out knitwear and snow motifs throughout (including faux snow being thrown on the runway and the models.)


But it was the finale that will be most memorable for many: party-poppers that guests were encouraged to pop in the finale, a fake cake rolled out to the sound of sirens, Aja Rock popping out of it with a jeroboam of champagne, and models - smiling! - dancing on the runway with champagne being popped and thrown on to the front row.

Two other iconic New Zealand labels, Workshop and Helen Cherry, made a welcome return to the NZFW runways last night after a five-year absence; providing a touch of grandeur and glamour to the week's events with a slick show at the Auckland Town Hall.

Whiri was an early surprise of the day, with a promising showing from designers Keri Wanoa and Hemi Sundgren, who presented a collection dubbed Crossing Generations - featuring modern takes on traditional Maori prints and motifs and a stand-out woven chunky wool-knit cardigan that mixed fashion with heritage skill.

Not enough local designers look to New Zealand's rich heritage for inspiration - almost a cultural cringe - so it's great to see someone at NZFW touch on it while still retaining a wearable fashion focus. Stand-outs from the New Generation show included Katie-maree Cole's prairie-inspired collection and Deryn Schmidt's well-styled 1940s range.

Christchurch-based label Mister opened its debut show with charming disabled model Joshua Perry and Brady did the celebrity model thing, with actress and roving fashion reporter Antonia Prebble walking the runway.

Neverblack closed the day with an installation and film showcasing their collection, titled An Insignificant Being.

Today, the final day, sees the week's two most hyped shows - Kathryn Wilson's show, open to the public (the first 3000 to turn up to Shed 12 at Rhubarb Lane from 7.30pm get in), and the live finale of New Zealand's Next Top Model at World.

Dream come true


Nicola Samson is a true fashionista. The 14-year-old has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system that often affects teenagers. Make-A-Wish has made her dream of visiting Fashion Week come true and, with her grandmother Helen Booth, Nicola has been sitting front row at 15 shows this week - her favourites so far have been Annah Stretton, Ruby, Trelise Cooper and yesterday's New Generation show. Samson also visited the Huffer workroom, where she met founder Steve Dunstan and showed him some of her fashion drawings and talked about her dreams of becoming a fashion designer.

Make-A-Wish has also given her a $500 voucher to shop for new clothes.

What they're saying

New Zealand fashion has become more global in its feel, says Damian Burke, the senior buyer of women's imports and Australian designer collections at Australian department store David Jones.

"There's definitely an NZ aesthetic, it's more moody. I personally loved Jimmy D. His show was mind- blowing; he has a very strong vision. I think Adrian Hailwood has matured as a designer."

Burke says David Jones already stocks Sabatini and Trelise Cooper because they are unique and have a point of difference. Retail is "decelerating" across the Tasman, he says, and while he met a couple of new designers while he was here who he would like to trial in David Jones he couldn't give names at this stage.

"Fresh design" is what Hong Kong fashion buyer Mon Chan is on the look out for to stock his 70 Bauhaus stores.

"In Europe, when it comes to casual streetwear everyone is doing the same thing. Here there is more creativity."

Last year Bauhaus picked up Stolen Girlfriends, Salasai and Lonely Hearts.

"A big advantage of buying from here compared to Europe is, of course, the exchange rate."

Front row trend

Fewer sunglasses, but we've noticed another recurring, almost as obnoxious, feature: people on their iPads.