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Not your traditional catwalk
2023 New Zealand Fashion Week saw your conventional catwalk consigned to history. Every designer put on a performance, supported by an array of artists and mediums, set pieces, distinctive lighting, captivating visuals, and an expression of New Zealand fashion’s deep ties to Māori culture.
In Production Manager Stacey Henderson’s words, “There’s a lot of moving parts in a fashion show.” 2023 New Zealand Fashion Week (NZFW) comprised 36 shows, with the graduate show and new talent runway involving three design institutions and six designers respectively. That totalled 70 designers, most of whom had a clear vision and strong feelings about the concept they wanted to achieve on the runway. Add to that the incredibly tight programme, with a couple of hours tops between shows, and no time at all between the designer showcases in the graduate and ‘New Gen’ sets. Then factor in the hundreds of people all in very close proximity as 300 volunteers and 100 backstage staff in charge of hair, makeup, and photography rally around the 200 models, all only separated by drapes. And the final moving part, the recently reopened iconic waterfront Viaduct Events Centre, having been requisitioned for five years as home base for the America’s Cup Emirates Team New Zealand, now back under the auspices of Auckland Conventions, Venues and Events.
Speed Dating Designers
Global Productions Partner’s Managing Director Jason Steel and Stacey held 20 minute speed dates with each designer over three days, “Jason was very in the moment focusing on building the framework, whilst I had a huge spreadsheet where I jotted down notes about lighting, choreography, set pieces that would need rigging, and so on. We were very busy, but it also worked really well. We didn’t miss anything.”
Jason and Stacey, joined by Creative Director Andrew Naysmith, spent the next two weeks putting together the concepts for each show. Stacey recalls, “At the second production meeting we showed each of the designers the 3D render, any video content that we had created, and talked through the timings, discussing what would be happening at each point. Most of the concepts were signed off, with a few that required big set pieces taking a bit more time. For example, Campbell Luke’s show which had a live waiata, culturally significant woollen blankets designed Noa by hanging from the ceiling, and supporting visuals, required that bit of extra production management.”
Jason describes the key as being flexibility, “Our design was very versatile. With a three-year hiatus due to COVID, it was the first time we had been in a position to go the ‘Full Monty’ with a completely reconfigurable LED backdrop, so we went big with 60 metres squared. We really wanted to push the boundaries. I included a fully automated lighting rig giving designers a lot of choice and catering for both the six to seven hundred seat theatre and immersive set ups. We used 48 Robe BFMLs and 40 GLP X4Ls. The Robe delivered lovely colours and a real punchy look.”
Acknowledging Tikanga Māori
With NZFW partnering with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei for the 2023 show there was a clear shift from previous years, with ten Māori and Pasifika designers holding standalone shows and Māori designer Kiri Nathan launching the event in a NZFW first. Jason and Stacey were keen to acknowledge this milestone in their production design, “This was a huge emphasis for 2023 NZFW and we took a nod from the Māori designers on how best to portray this. The LEDs could be divided to form columns representing ‘pou’ that are traditionally used to mark places of significance, and we used the AV and low smoke to add gravitas to the kapa haka and call and response moments. Our audio FOH tech George Breaker worked really hard to find ways of amplifying and uplifting key moments without putting corporate looking lapel mics on the beautiful clothes.”
Diversity was also reflected with a focus on accessibility, empowering people who may not usually attend NZFW to get involved. Selected runway shows were live streamed on the NZFW website, allowing fashion enthusiasts worldwide to join in, “We took this into consideration in our design and Showvision managed the livestream. We used Blackmagic cameras to capture the shows across both spaces and provide content for streaming and IMAG.”
Other suppliers included NW Group who delivered wrap around audio, lighting, LED, rigging and the 200 metres of drape, and Stage NZ provided the risers. Empire provided the electrical and Theatrical Solutions automation for a stunning installation of pattern pieces hanging in front of graphics on the LED.
Credit to the Designers
Stacey was really pleased with how smoothly the complex event went, “The NZFW leadership team were fantastic to work with and we had really strong relationships with all the suppliers. We had a 15 minute meeting every morning where we could give everyone a heads up about any tight changeovers or if we were bringing in large set pieces and needed guests out the way to redo the rigging. The FoH Manager was really on to it and made our job very easy and we worked together with the activations in the foyer to ensure we had no sound bleed.”
“There were many very passionate stakeholders, and it was wonderful to see these beautiful and powerful shows come together for them. Absolute credit to the designers for their aptitude for working with different performers and mediums. I guess if I had to choose one show it would be Kiri Nathan’s opening. She had a lot of elements and there was a healthy amount of nerves. The show’s successful reception will be a very poignant memory for me.”
Held over five days at the end of August, the show attracted an estimated 17,500 visitors and 14,864 live stream viewers, the majority from NZ, Australia, UK, USA and Singapore. With dates about to be confirmed for next year, Stacey and the team are looking forward to collaborating with New Zealand designers to challenge the definition of a catwalk again.
Photo Credit: Deane Cohen
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