This story was originally published in October 2021, following the cancellation of that year's NZFW. We're republishing it ahead of NFZW 2023, which starts on August 29.
As NZ Fashion Week returns, we thought it a good time to look back at some of the weird and wonderful moments of NZFW past. Because yes, the clothes… but it’s the memorable and sometimes bonkers stories behind-the-scenes that have really made fashion week so memorable over 20 years.
(For legal reasons, some stories were not able to be published...)
Rob Tennent, model, photographer, stylist, creative
I remember the first show I ever walked that was part of NZFW was Paris Georgia, in 2019. Everything about it was magical, but let me tell you, backstage was wild.
My good friend Veronica Crockford-Pound and I had to do a shoe swap for the show, and I remember being next in line to walk and I was completely barefoot! [Stylist] Seb Hunt quickly ran and grabbed them and put them on the opposite feet, but by this time I had to go - so I just pulled my jeans over the unzipped boots and walked out. There I was, the only boy in the show, topless with shoes on the wrong foot. You couldn’t tell though!
Chris Lorimer, stylist and creative producer
In all the NZ Fashion Weeks from 2001-2015 that I was involved with, my most ‘niche’ moment wasn’t backstage, in the front row or even at a post-show party; it was in Toogoolawah, Queensland, Australia, population 1279.
Styling the 2008 advertising campaign ‘Fashion Bombshells’, with Colenso BBDO for Air New Zealand as the naming rights sponsor, I was tasked to find iconic looks that fit the creative brief. The final image was of a model in a full Kate Sylvester look plus an army parachute and goggles, ready to make the jump out of a cargo plane, ostensibly to land on the fashion runway to make her walk.
Then came the kicker: there was also to be viral video content, and I was now also styling an all-women team really skydiving 50,000 feet in the air, in Queensland! Unknowns filled the entire job from briefing the designers (Cybèle, Deborah Sweeney, Hailwood, Huffer, Jaeha, Karen Walker and Zambesi all provided looks), no pre-fittings with the athletes, working remotely, no trial run, some items deemed too dangerous to wear when jumping out of a moving plane with extreme wind force, fitting looks around parachute harnesses, high heels flying off mid-jump and landing in trees. Talk about out of left field!
Zoe Walker Ahwa, Ensemble co-founder and Stuff style editor
They’re all from after parties... 2006 was my first fashion week as “proper media”; I was a fashion assistant at a fashion website, and my job was to work with a photographer to get photos of stylish people in the front row, outside the shows and at all the parties. This was way before street style but the peak of party photos; think The Cobra Snake, but not quite because we were in Auckland. I uttered the words “what are you wearing?” about 56 times a day, but everyone wanted to have their photo taken so everyone instantly became our best friend - the best introduction to what was then still a very exclusive industry.
One night we went to Miss Crabb’s off-schedule show at Pony Club (the bar underneath the Showgirls strip club), at like, 1.30am, got very drunk, took fun photos of other drunk hipsters and designers, and published most of them on the website the next day. In the harsh light of day, I think we all had a few regrets; we could also see what everyone wrote and commented when they shared photos or stories with their friends, and there were lots of horrified comments from those who had had their photos taken in the dingy light of the bar earlier that morning...
Another niche memory is far sweeter/corny, from 2008. It was the Huffer after party at the Hilton, following the show held outside on Princes’ Wharf. Earlier in the week I’d realised that I had a big crush on this cute, kind and talented guy in the industry, the fashion editor from Pulp magazine called Dan Ahwa. That night, at the Huffer after party, I confessed to Anjali and Rachel from Twenty-seven Names and we turned into a group of excitable squealing school girls (I may have embellished that bit). Now it’s 2021, Dan and I are married and have been together for almost 15 years. A fashion week love story 💖
Karlya Smith, stylist, columnist and sock designer
Some of my fondest fashion week memories have been captured in newsprint. In my early days as stylist and photographer Karen Inderbitzen-Waller’s assistant, she convinced me that Glenn Hunt [then of Pavement] wasn’t going to show up, and I should take his front row seat next to her at the Nom*d show. But of course he arrived moments before the lights went down, and in the shot on the cover of the newspaper the next day we look like we barely fit on the bench seat (because we didn’t).
I also recall sitting with Jaquie Brown one year and realising a photographer in the pit had zoomed in on us (well her, but I was next to her) so I did the old scratch your face but pull the middle finger. She followed suit and wound up one the cover of About Town [the Sunday Star Times’ now defunct gossip magazine] flipping the bird, but with me cropped out. Then there was the shot of stylist Robert Niwa and I sitting front row at a show. He looks so dapper, almost angelic, but is holding a programme over his mouth because he was saying the most hilariously awful things, and the programme meant that no one could read his lips.
Fiona Ralph, writer
I don’t think you could get more random than NZFW 2008, when I was living in a house truck while reporting on the shows for a long-since-departed website.
My now-husband C.P. and I parked on Wynyard Wharf aka the Tank Farm, just down the road from the Fashion Week venue on Halsey St. The waterfront spot was a popular place for motorhomes and busses to park until parking regulations were recently enforced. It was so handy being able to pop back to the truck for a nap or to file my stories, and to sleep so close to the venue, but I think the other motorhomers were a bit confused by how dressed up I was! C.P. used his charm and top hat to sneak his way into a few shows which kept him occupied as well.
Anna Reeves, model
My most random moment at NZFW was in 2002 when in makeup for the Doris de Pont show, I was presented with a taxidermy bird that was going to be glued to my bald head. The following year at her show they teased and swirled the hair of my wig into a giant tall bird nest type hairstyle on top of my head; a funny contrast to the year prior.
I also loved the Karen Walker show in 2003 when she launched her jewellery collection and we didn’t have a normal catwalk to walk but a rotating platform to pose on while a guy in a gorilla suit cranked the lever to turn it. I think some of the favourite looks I’ve worn during NZFW are from that show too. A special note of the 2006 Miranda Brown show where I was body painted too!
Anny Ma, writer and communications specialist
When we were planning Twenty-seven Names' return to NZFW in 2015, the one thing I knew I wouldn't be able to control was a rain-free slot timing perfectly to show time. Being Tāmaki Makaurau, the rain was on and off from the second we got onsite until after when we should've already begun the show. Anjali and Rach had despondently practiced run throughs in the small tent, but it just wasn't the vibe. I was wearing two hats that day - neither of them rainproof - and under my front of house hat, I was meant to push designers to be on time so we could do the seating, but my personal bias and love for the girls did not let me do that.
We stalled the show, making hundreds of guests confused, cold, and waiting in the passageway leading into the small tent. There was suddenly a rain break. We towelled off the benches outside and prayed. We seated our people and of course it started raining again. By some miracle, we had a heap of umbrellas and gave them out.
It was a really good reminder that the week we had assigned so much importance to, just didn't matter to anybody outside of our bubble, Papatūānuku and Tāwhirimātea included. Anjali and Rach are very much the types of people who will happily dance in the rain, stark contrast to others who grimace as they dampen. My blowdry was completely ruined but my heart was full - and we made the Huffington Post and Vogue.
Anjali Burnett, co-founder and designer of Twenty-seven Names
In 2015 we somehow managed to convince NZFW to give us the opening slot and to let us do the show outside on the Viaduct. Lol. On the morning of the show, it decided to spit, or what some fashion people seemingly refer to as a seismic weather event.
There was worry about the front rowers' hair, and talk of a last minute move inside, but our cheerleader on the day (Anny Ma) didn’t let us take the bait. We towelled off the seats, Resene umbrellas apparated, and Alanis Morissette singing “Do I stress you out…” opened the show. It was damp, exhilarating, and totally worth it.
Kiekie Stanners, makeup artist
Everyone has their Pammy story, but I definitely have some wild M.A.C Cosmetics #BTS moments from NZFW. M.A.C was the epitome of backstage rock ‘n’ roll cool and damn it was fun. The 2011 NZFW opening party was sponsored by M.A.C with a modern art body-painting installation in the middle of the party. We banged out a 12-hour trial the day before, a 12-hour execution day then the party, followed by a midnight clean-down before starting a week of about 20 shows… our stamina back then was on point!
This type of event couldn't really exist now but the memories of backstage turning into a giant slip ‘n’ slide at midnight when cleaning down the painted models with litres of olive oil and the delirium of 30 M.A.C artists after painting for 12-hours straight, and after a Champagne or two, is a visual memory I'll never forget.
READ MORE: My first NZ Fashion Week
Marc Moore, designer and co-founder of Stolen Girlfriends Club
One of my favourite memories is our 2011 show, called ‘Here Lies The Bones’. It was held in one of the big empty sheds at the old City Works Depot on Wellesley St, before it was developed into offices. We had 10 port-a-loos and speakers positioned just outside the main show venue. We also had a model ‘hidden’ in each port-a-loo, waiting. All the guests queued up outside the venue waiting to be let in and seated. There must have been like 400 people! I remember people complaining about having to queue.
Just before we let the guests enter the main venue, we started playing some loud music over the sound system outside. One-by-one, each port-a-loo opened and out walked a model dressed in our latest men’s collection. We held this little pop-up menswear show right in front of the queue. The guests had no idea until it was happening. Once the menswear show was done, we let everyone inside and held the women’s show. Still one of my favourite moments!
Rebecca Wadey, Ensemble co-founder
I invited a well-known Kiwi and his wife as guests to a show I was working on in 2005. The invitation stated ‘strictly non-transferable’ but when the wife RSVP’d to say she’d be coming with a friend, I didn’t say anything. I did, however, update my seating chart moving them back from the front row. Cut throat, I know, but that’s how the industry operates. The show was amazing and highly emotional, dedicated to a friend of mine who found out that week her breast cancer had metastasised.
I arrived at work at 6am the next day, switched on my computer and waited for the accolades and acclaim to roll in. They did, but in amongst them all was an email from the well-known Kiwi, sent at 2.30am, telling me what he thought of me in no uncertain terms for how I humiliated his wife. The c word was used more than once; the abusive tirade rolled on for around 1500 words before concluding with the immortal line, ‘don’t forget the little people.’
Just a couple of years ago I was at lunch with a friend’s husband who used to work with this person and he started telling me the story he’d heard many a time about the disrespect this designer had shown him. I nervously had to pipe up and say that I knew the story, and the disrespect was all mine...
Sally-Ann Mullin, stylist
In 2007 I was a film crew worker with an obsession for New Zealand fashion, in a role that didn’t warrant invitations to NZFW runway shows. Eager to impress, and knowing Steve and Dan via the surf industry, my boyfriend at the time knew where the Huffer show was and decided he could sneak us in to watch from the back (if you’re reading this, sorry Steve). His tactic was the ‘Trojan Horse’ method, huddle really close amongst a group of people more important than you, and as the crowd pours into the venue try not to be spotted by whoever is holding the door list.
Aja Rock and Nicky Watson seemed like a pretty good bet that night as both were stunning, famous, and featured weekly in the Sunday gossip pages. Little did I know in doing this we would have front-row seats to one of the more memorable off runway NZFW incidents yet. Aja proceeded to throw a glass of red wine over her nemesis, gossip columnist Bridget Saunders, so close to me I ended up wearing some of the wine splashes myself.
Aja was relentlessly bullied by local gossip columnists that year via nasty articles readers would never stand for in 2021. While of course I don’t condone violence or wine flinging to solve one's disputes, I’ve always respected Aja for the confidence it took to stand up to a bully so publicly.
Karen Inderbitzen-Waller, stylist and photographer
In 2002 Kate Sylvester showed at the Town Hall with a shoebox of a backstage area, where Greg from Ryder's hair team was up in an attic and the rest of us were scattered in any spare rooms or cupboards that we could find. Just before we hit the runway (after Tanya Carlson and her cool pastel Fleetwood Mac inspired show with pastel leather boots to match), one over-excited model of drinking age knocked Champagne all down her front in the squash backstage. Luckily in a quick thinking moment we realised the dress was the same at both back and front and had a leather jacket styled over it so we switched it around, jacket back on and show was now all go too.
Sarah Hough, show producer
In 2009 I produced a show for Stolen Girlfriends Club at the old Masonic Lodge on St Benedict’s St (a fairly spooky location back then), and we had guests sitting over a variety of rooms and levels. So the show was a trick to call; it had to be done totally on time and I couldn’t see a thing. It was going super well, with models walking to the different tempos of the music as planned… but just as the last model, Hal, walked into the main room, there was a technical glitch and the music stopped.
Being the professional that he was, he calmly did his whole solo walk to the sound of static while the techs sorted the issue and there was music for the finale. I was devastated the show had been ruined but then everyone kept saying ‘wow so spooky to have static’, and we got lots of press mentions about the soundtrack that year being spooky like the venue!
In 2015 Stolen showed at the St James. Pre-show we blew the fuses, and I remember this as being the whole block having no power - my memory may be exaggerating for a good story here, but the whole theatre went down for sure.
Model Derya did a stage-dive half-way through the show (perfectly I might add) and we had a confetti cannon that, in the excitement to execute, my lovely assistant Martin Hale fired so firmly that the button broke off in his hand. I did another shoot at the St James much later, and there was still confetti dropping from the ceiling...