A flurry of emails went out from many of Aotearoa’s fashion designers today, following the news that NZ Fashion Week had been postponed; just one of several high profile events impacted by the nationwide level four lockdown announced on Tuesday night.
"Due to New Zealand’s move to Alert Level 4, Kate Sylvester’s AW’22 show at New Zealand Fashion Week show will be postponed. We will update you with a new show date as soon as possible and look forward to celebrating with you soon."
"We acknowledge the current situation in Tamaki Makaurau and the care and safety of our Whānau, Friends and Whakapapa is paramount, therefore we at CAMPBELL LUKE are in full support of the decision made by NZFW to postpone the event, which gives us hope that when we see a new date set, we can come together once again to celebrate."
"Hope you're adjusting to life back in lockdown. As you're aware, Auckland is now in Alert Level 4 and unfortunately our Jockey 2021 New Zealand Fashion Week show on Friday 27 August has been put on hold. We will contact you when NZFW are in a position to reschedule. Our thoughts are with everyone at this time."
NZFW was set to open on Monday August 23 on a particularly sentimental note: a retrospective show celebrating 20 years as NZ fashion’s leading showcase, and the first since 2019 with last year’s event cancelled due to Covid-19. It was also set to be a farewell of sorts for founder Dame Pieter Stewart, who sold the event to Canada-based businessman Feroz Ali earlier this year (she has said she will stay on in an advisory role).
NZFW organiser Myken Stewart told Stuff she was in “shock” on Tuesday night following the announcement, as she and the team worked towards a new plan. And in a separate statement, Pieter said that there was disappointment at having to make the decision, but the possibility had always been in the background.
“The reality is, we were always alert to the likelihood of another lockdown and are now actively working through the options of hosting this iconic event as soon as possible. We will be in a position to share further details once we have made a decision.”
The decision to postpone was made and communicated soon after prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement, with the quick decision making praised by many designers and delegates we spoke to.
It’s another challenge facing the industry that has pivoted and adapted several times over a difficult 18 months with lockdowns impacting local retail, border closures impacting tourism dollars and sales, delayed offshore manufacturing impacting production, and a global wholesale collapse impacting those brands that had put their growth plans in international stockists.
The postponement also has ramifications beyond the high-profile public facing runway; behind the scenes, there are multiple stakeholders at play including designers, models, makeup artists, security, cleaners, sponsors, buyers and many more. It is, to be frank, a production nightmare.
Many industry figures shared their disappointment across social media following the news; “gutted” understanding being the common theme.
“Gutted for our fashion community as NZ Fashion Week was kicking off from next week Monday,” wrote stylist and NZ Fashion Week ambassador Sammy Salsa on Twitter. “Such a big blow for our designers and everyone who’s worked hard to put it together”.
“Absolutely gutted to have to postpone our show at Fashion Week. Covid-19 you are a cruel mistress, oh how you toy with us. Release us from your grasp,” posted Marc Moore, founder and director of Stolen Girlfriends Club who were set to show next Friday night with an audience of 1500-2000 people.
“We have had a huge team behind the scenes all working tirelessly to pull this show together and we were so close!! I was so excited to show you all what we had been working on - it’s looking so so amazing! But as they say, God’s delays are not God’s denials. We are committed to doing this show later in the year at a safer time when we can really celebrate together. I hope everyone is doing ok and we can all regroup soon! Stay safe. Keep your distance. Wear a mask. Wash your hands! Check in on your family and friends to make sure they’re doing ok (by phone or zoom please). We got this!”
He describes the news as bittersweet, with more time now to fine tune and finesse. “I feel like we’ve been given this time extension now, which we’ll use to make the event even bigger and even better.
Sarah Hough, a longtime producer of fashion week shows, was working closely with Stolen Girlfriends Club again this year. She’d already had discussions with suppliers about the possibility of a lockdown, and is realistic that for an event of this scale to go ahead, “It's not just level four. We have to get all the way down to level one”.
Like others, she is respectfully awaiting direction from NZFW as they work through the massive logistics of the postponement.
“It's a strange time. I had to ring an electrician this morning and say, ‘Hey, I know that you were planning to go and reinstate the power for us in the venue we've hired - but until we know that we can move our date with that specific venue, please don't reinstate that power because I don't know if I need it anymore!’”
For Sarah, the practical logistics are balanced by the emotional impact that many in the industry will be feeling.
“To commit to fashion week in the first place is such an emotional decision,” she says. “Weirdly, I was at the hairdresser last night when they were making the announcement and I was sitting there with my hairstylist and the two of us had tears in our eyes. It was just like, ‘how much work has got me to this day?’ And then it all evaporates.”
Designer Kate Sylvester and her team had been putting the finishing touches on their new collection to show on Tuesday night at NZFW when the news came in, “after many weeks of hard work bringing it all together”.
She described it as “incredibly disappointing” for her team, other designers and fashion week staff putting on the “important industry event” but hoped it could be rescheduled as soon as possible.
Stylist and NZFW ambassador Chloe Hill also acknowledged the hard work behind the scenes, and the emotional impact of the news.
“As an attendee I turn up for half an hour to watch a brand's 12 minute show, but I'm acutely aware of the immense work that goes into every one of those precious moments. Designers pour their heart and soul (and a ton of $$$) into events like NZFW, they base entire collections around those few special minutes, so to have the week so abruptly put on hold is a big one to process, despite being so necessary for public health.”
Margi Robertson of Dunedin brand Nom*D was planning an off-schedule event next Wednesday night, but says they don’t expect any significant financial loss, with the impact mainly in cancelled flights and accommodation.
“The disappointment is all the work our team and wider show team has put into the show to-date. However, we still plan to go ahead when we open up again. It’s nice to have something to look forward to while you’re in a lockdown. [...] Fashion is a resilient beast.”
Auckland-based designer Juliette Hogan, who was set to show as part of NZFW on Wednesday night, is approaching the news of lockdown and fashion week’s postponement with a similarly pragmatic approach.
“The way that I'm thinking about it, it's a dot, dot, dot, not a full stop. We will do something, we just don't know what it's going to look like yet.”
She and her team had already pre-empted Covid related impacts, and raised the issue 6-8 weeks ago.
“I'm not a pessimist by any means, I'm an optimist, but as soon as we signed up to fashion week we asked ourselves, ‘what would we do if it wasn't going to happen?’ So it wasn't a complete shock. We’re not in control of anything these days,” she says. “We had talked to fashion week about what would it look like if we were in a lockdown, and there had been talk about a postponement at that stage; so again we kind of knew that was on the cards.”
The timing and relevance of collections being presented will be a concern for some designers involved in NZFW, particularly given the uncertainty around how long lockdown might last.
Juliette had planned to show an in-season collection that would have been available to purchase the following day; that’s still the plan, for now, if and when fashion week is rescheduled and if it still works for the brand.
“It depends when it is postponed to. If it’s only postponed by eight weeks, we can tweak a few things and still make it work. If it's postponed three months, we'd still love to be involved but we’d have to look at what we’re showing because it’s pointless showing product that has already sold out in stores.”
For Stolen Girlfriends Club, postponed timing is actually better.
“From a business perspective, a new show date will align much better with all of our upcoming product deliveries," says Marc. "We’ll now be doing our show at a time where we actually have the product we’re showing on the runway in the market too. This is going to have a huge positive impact for all of our retail customers that have ordered this product and will hopefully help them to sell through at a faster rate.”
Putting on an event or show is always a risky investment for anyone, but especially for young, emerging designers, something that Juliette, as an established business, is particularly mindful of.
“I feel for those designers and people who this was their first foray into the fashion week experience; that would just be heartbreaking. Whereas I know that we can pivot and we can make changes and we can still make it work for us in some way, shape or form,” she says.
“Fashion week is a pretty expensive thing to participate in. So yes we had invested a bit, but we're hoping that we'll still be able to make good on that investment. And if not, then it's not the end of the world; there are people in Afghanistan and all around the world dealing with far greater things than us being able to show frocks.
“But I can say that from a position of a pretty solid, secure business. If your cashflow was on edge and you’d invested all this cash that’s really really stressful.”
This year there was a number of young or lesser known brands on the NZFW schedule, as well as an exciting flurry of ‘off-schedule’ shows from emerging brands: shows that aren’t on the official NZFW schedule, but represent a healthy creativity developing in an industry that’s been tough going for many for a long time.
Wellington-based brand Havilah was one emerging brand planning an event in Auckland, with a show, not on the official NZFW schedule, planned for Tuesday morning with models including comedian Chris Parker.
Following the lockdown news, designer Havilah Arendse wrote on Instagram of the love, time and expense that had gone into the show so far.
“As you know for small businesses, times like these are incredibly hard and filled with dread for what this means for the business you built.”
“It’s hard when you've spent so much time and money creating a collection to have to push out release dates and having your collection sit on a rack for no one to see until after your show is rescheduled,” she says. “Also having a store, times like this make it hard not to give into having sales and free shipping so you can stay afloat.”
Natasha Ovely of Auckland-based label Starving Artists Fund also had an off-schedule event scheduled for this Saturday, showcasing a mix of emerging and independent designers - a reaction to what she felt was lacking in terms of diversity and the furthering of emerging talent by the establishment in this industry.
“It feels necessary to represent raw emerging talent of different perspectives rather than only the ones who can afford 3-9k to participate in a show,” says Natasha, who had hoped the success of this year’s event would lead to being able to apply for future funding.
Deliberately open to the public with no front row and street cast models, The Independent Show was also set to be the first for many people involved with over 55 people volunteering. “Financially, I have self-funded this event from the money I made from our last pop-up, so needless to say, I'm broke,” she says.
But she intends to reschedule, depending on timeframes, and is leaning into the resilience and creativity of the community involved. “Nothing is off the table in terms of how we go about it in the meantime. Cue the Zoom wine chat,” she says, with a regroup with the designers involved planned for tomorrow.
“It does feel great knowing that we have an army of creative minds at our disposal to all join forces and come up with something amazing together despite the circumstances. We will be back with a vengeance, this lockdown is our refuel.”