* UPDATE: After this interview was published, due to recent covid restrictions, NZ Fashion Week has been canceled.
After New Zealand Fashion Week was postponed in 2021 due to lockdown restrictions, the event, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has now been rescheduled for February 7-12, 2022.
As part of The Last Fashion Bible’s NZFW event coverage, our editor Melissa Reid spoke to Dame Pieter Stewart about her journey and experiences with NZFW through the years. Here, we look to the future of fashion; how NZFW helps to nurture up-and-coming designers, the event’s role in guiding the local fashion industry to become more aligned with social responsibilities, Stewarts’ predictions on post-pandemic fashion, and what it means to (finally) be celebrating NZFW’s 20th anniversary.
By its very nature, fashion is always looking to the future for the latest trends, upcoming seasons, and the hottest “one-to-watch” designers. So it’s no surprise that nurturing the next generation of homegrown talent has always been an important part of NZFW — and personally important to Stewart.
“Up-and-coming designers are the future of New Zealand fashion, and to help them succeed, we need to make sure we help them along the way,” said Stewart. “Launching a new label is not easy and as industry leaders, we need to make sure we are willing to help and guide new designers.”
NZFW has provided opportunities and support to graduates since its inception. Group shows and salon showcases dedicated to holding space and providing production assistance for budding designers have become an incubator of support for emerging local talent.
“Each year NZFW hosts the New Gen Bootcamp for our new designers,” said Stewart. “It’s a crash course in what to expect from NZFW, but beyond that, it gives new designers tips and insights into the industry.”
The 2022 New Gen group show features Jakob Carter, Cylée, Society Apparel & Society Hats, and the Nora Swann collective.
NZFW also hosts a Grad Show, which features recent graduates from New Zealand’s top fashion schools, and the Contemporary Salon, a solo show for brands that have been in operation for less than five years.
Local fashion darling and 2018 Grad Show alum Caitlin Crisp will be presenting her Season 5 at the Contemporary Salon — a collection that combines her “beginnings in dance and costume with the best sellers of CC so far, finely tuned and given a boost of sophistication.”
The Resene Colour of Fashion with Whitecliffe Fashion Tech competition gives New Zealand’s youngest fashion designers the opportunity to show at the beginning of the Resene Designer Runway. Now in its eighth year, the seasoned competition has given over 220 fashion students a starting point in their design journey.
For over a decade NZFW has supported and promoted indigenous designers through the Miromoda collaborative platform, with Stewart working alongside Miromoda co-founder, Ata Te Kawana (Ngāti Maniapoto).
Considered a launchpad for Māori and Pasifika designers, annual Miromoda design competition winners are typically students of tertiary fashion design institutions or established labels.
Taylor Pumphrey, Taongahuia Maxwell, Jacob Coutie, Sosefina Masoe, Ravai Titifanue, Charleigh Te Peeti, Mitchell Manuel, Tessa Lont Bailey, and Rosette Hailes-Paku were selected as the 2021 Miromoda Showcase lineup from the 11th annual fashion design competition, held at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre in early July.
This year NZFW will feature two Māori designers in solo shows — Kharl WiRepa and Miromoda alum Bobby Luke’s label, Campbell Luke.
For Stewart, multicultural diversity represents an exciting opportunity for local designers.
“We are starting to see the fusion of cultures in New Zealand fashion — the Māori and Pasifika influence is certainly starting to grow,” said Stewart.
Cecilia Kang debuted her eponymous label at New Zealand Fashion Week 2018 as part of the New Generation Emerging Couture show, and made history as the first trans woman to showcase at the event. The following year she held her first solo show, Galaxy Extravaganza. Thanks to the support of Pieter and NZFW, Cecilia Kang Couture is showing again in 2022.
Representation on the Runway
NZFW is passionate about addressing social issues and actively encourages and promotes diversity on the runway across gender, ethnicity, size and ability.
Stewart says NZFW will continue to appoint diverse, plus-size, transgender models and models of all abilities.
“When nobody talks about it anymore, that’s when we’ve done our job. When it no longer becomes a topic, that it’s just natural for all of us to go on down the catwalk. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
In 2019, NZFW worked with All is for All agency, which represents disabled models. Six designers took up the opportunity to use their models in their shows, including Zambesi and Resene Designer Runway. After making their NZFW debut in 2019, All is for All models Rebecca Dubber, Olivia Shivas, Hannah Moore, Sophia Malthus, and Amelia Eades are anticipated to feature on the NZFW runway again in 2022.
The Future of Fashion in a Post-Covid World
The impact of COVID-19 saw a shift towards more e-commerce sales for designers. Stewart anticipates that online shopping will continue to rise. As shoppers become more comfortable with online shopping, there may be more opportunities for designers to reach new international audiences — something that was quite competitive and expensive in the past, and often discouraged local designers to vie for their place on the global market.
“Designers often find it hard to break into the international scene,” said Stewart. “It’s expensive to launch a brand internationally. Australia is a great but often challenging market, and we need to find ways to help promote designers’ own online stores internationally, as most of them are selling all around the world. I think that with the impact of COVID-19, this will become more important.”
The virus saw cancellation of fashion weeks around the world over the past two years, including New York, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Many designers opted for digital iterations and creative approaches to replace runway shows, but “holding an audience for any length of time online is difficult,” says Stewart.
New Zealand’s own fashion week has been postponed twice due to COVID restrictions and is now scheduled for February 7-12, 2022.
“Being able to put on the event in our 20th year after a hiatus due to COVID is huge for us and for designers,” said Stewart. “Many careers have been launched through NZFW and pandemic or not, NZFW will always provide this platform for designers.
“From what we are seeing, the industry is ready to celebrate and coordinate again, and I am looking forward to putting New Zealand fashion in the limelight.”
Looking to the Future
In early 2021, NZFW was purchased by Fiji-born businessman and entrepreneur Feroz Ali, who also purchased Whitecliffe College in 2018. Stewart believes that New Zealand Fashion Week’s power to influence, promote and celebrate the creativity of New Zealander designers will continue to thrive under this new ownership.
“The new owner has a wonderful platform to take into the future and bring in new energy, new thinking and new leadership,” said Stewart. “It will also give me some time and space to do a few to do a few other things for myself.”
For more information about New Zealand Fashion Week, including the schedule and other news, visit nzfashionweek.com.
Stay tuned to The Last Fashion Bible for all the latest NZFW updates, as well as exclusive features on New Zealand Designers and the future of fashion.
Main Image: Courtesy of RNZ