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Internet goths and smoke machines: New Zealand fashion week

From ski mask wearing drummers to a party in a strip club called The White House, Alex Catarinella gives us the low-down on NZFW

New York writer Alex Catarinella pens his trek across the globe to New Zealand Fashion Week, which provided further evidence for the “jaded fashion journalist” to love its annual cluster of shows and presentations. Below Catarinella documents his “third glorious year of attendance”; a year in which “Lorde-y” made several iPhone note appearances.

As you know, "the zoo" (said in fashion PR girl voice) that is fashion week opens in New York City this week and then embarks on its European tour. So why the fuck do I already possess fashion-related fatigue (under-eye bags, gems missing from my overpriced nail art, a perma-frown), you might ask? Answer: I just one-upped the so-called "fashion darlings" by travelling for like, twenty hours to Auckland for New Zealand fashion week. If you're unfamiliar with NZFW, like I regrettably once was, you may reckon it involves lots of shearling and Lucy Lawless (aka Xena: Warrior Princess) front-row sightings. But, like hobbits, this too is fictional. As for the facts? For one, many a Kiwi is truly on their fashion game – and I'm not just talking about what's going down the runway. See also: the fact that painfully cute Kiwi dudes apparently have a penchant for immaculately disheveled locks and worn-in denim.

Let me break it all down for you. Every year, because there's just one NZFW a year, a select few international media (or "VIPs", as we're called) are flown over to Auckland, put up in the fancy Skycity Grand Hotel, and gifted with endless gift bags (eye/hand cremes, macaroons, and sparkling water were biggies this year). This is my third glorious year of attendance, btw. It's that good. NZFW's main hub is called the Viaduct Events Centre. It's the Lincoln Center of Auckland, with two runways inside. There's lots of flowing champagne/beer/Red Bull to enjoy pre, post and during (!) shows, but being that I'm succeeding in my sober fashion week(s) goal so far, I stuck to flat whites.

A massive high heel sculpture greets you at the Viaduct's entrance. Me and Adam Katz (the bearded beauty behind the brilliant Le 21ème) quipped that those 50+ and/or under ten years of age seem to think it's a fashion week requirement to climb inside the shoe sculpture for a giggle-inducing photo op. It does make for a good photo. Unlike Lincoln Center's surrounding environs – honking taxis and strange-smelling litter – the Viaduct offers an aesthetic orgy of docked ships sitting on very blue water, a raising drawbridge, and the towering, aptly-titled Sky Tower. It's a no-Photoshop-needed backdrop Nirvana for street style photogs. And selfies.

NZFW really isn't a week per se, though it feels/looks like it. The bulk is essentially three a half days of back-to-back shows and presentations. Let's rewind to Tuesday morning. It's 9:30am and my jet-lag makes me uncharacteristically friendly, particularly for fashion week. Not to sound like an ungrateful, jaded fashion journalist but, typically after half of the first day of NYFW I am a fucking nightmare, at least on the inside. I don’t need to share another elevator ride with Paris Hilton (yes I do); I don't appreciate small talk, but I'll still engage in it. And by "engage" I mean I've mastered this technique where I hear people talking at me, about their careers doing really well and stuff, but my ears only pick up the "important" bits, like names, because then I can be like, "David!!! LOVE. How. Good. Does. He. LOOK!?" 

“If you're unfamiliar with NZFW, like I regrettably once was, you may reckon it involves lots of shearling and Lucy Lawless (aka Xena: Warrior Princess) front-row sightings. But, like hobbits, this too is fictional.”

Anyway, I didn't have to do ANY of that mess during NZFW. I was so genuine. Perhaps because international media are treated like royals (Lorde reference). Again, it's 9:30am and I'm in the fancy (there's a casino) hotel's lobby, and a Mercedes picks me and a few other internationals up. This is how the week will go. The driver is so sweet and I could tell him my whole life story if he asks, which he does, so I do. The drivers are volunteers. They are thrilled to test drive brand new Mercedes; they even get to drive them home every night! The simple things in life. The life savers, AKA the minders, are also volunteers. All international "VIPs" are assigned a minder, who is basically an intern who holds your hand/gift bags and drags you to shows in a timely fashion. 

The first show I was on time for was Nom*D. It was a 10am show. Attendees were handed earplugs. We were instructed to stand. Seven drummers faced us while wearing ski masks and banging away. It was dark, there was a hyperactive smoke machine – Anna Wintour would never. I felt heavy American Horror Story: Coven vibes. I enjoyed the floor length black trenches, the armour-like floppy felt hats, the hairspray-heavy dagger-like hair. A great sugar and spice, soft yet slay juxtaposition. (My iPhone notes mention it feeling "Lorde-y," but I would soon learn via all of my iPhone notes that I am foolishly stereotyping the Kiwi culture).

'Twas a ballsy show to open the week with. Fortunately, many shows to come would also make me feel things. Like Lela Jacobs', who is sort of Auckland's Most Esoteric. (Reminder: esoteric means, "Intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialised knowledge or interest.") In other words, a really strange song played on loop with lyrics including, "I lost a sock; I lost a leg; I lost my teeth; I lost my dog," etc, etc. Nonsensical, but catchy as hell! I immediately regretted never downloading Shazam. Maybe Lela was being super literal and telling us journalists to not even try to overanalyse her collection, because we would NEVER get it. But I did wonder what Cathy Horyn would say, and I did think the styling was great. Because, goth doo-rags. And, yeah, I wrote "very Lorde-y" and "very Coven" in my iPhone notes. 

My overall favourite show, though, came via Stolen Girlfriends Club. I'd say they're sort of the Opening Ceremony of Auckland, in terms of their clientele (the hippest of the hip) and their BA-nanas shows. This year's took place offsite, at a stadium, with fans cheering and drinking from the bleachers. Mini Cooper headlights and smoke machines did their moody thing, as biker jackets, colourful knit dresses, plaid coats, grungy party girl dresses paired with dope sunnies, chokers, and bags pumped down the gravel. Glass Candy, Iggy Pop and the Pixies etc blared during the Twin Peaks-inspired show. In true badass form, SGC’s after-party happened, majorly, at a strip club called The White House. The exterior looked like the White House; the interior more like a senior citizen home’s Labor Day Ball. I fucking loved it.

Also amazing: NZFW's goth prince, Jimmy D's presentation, which featured just two gloomy models (with really good gel-heavy hair) lounging around a desk in their '90s goth garb – a sartorial shout-out to the pre-Tumblr days of Internet Explorer, pixelation and AOL dial-up. Pretty great runner ups: Zambesi, the Alexander Wang of Auckland, and their 35th-year-in-the-game's show. Blue blankets gone wild as dresses, sweaters and trenches. Right up there with the killer duds was the hair: loose, long ponies for the gals, and side swept weave bangs for the dudes. While my favourites leaned toward the dark side, I was also really into Kate Sylvester's girlie-with-a-side-of-grunge show. It featured COLOURS: acid-y yellow, kill-a-bitch red, and even putty! Kate looked to author Donna Tartt for this collection, with the show's finale exploding with confetti made from Tartt's shredded pages. It gave me sophisticated and sassy Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead vibes. It made me happy to be in Auckland. It turns out that my disposable camera doesn’t fancy runway lighting, but still – there’s a lot of beauty to behold at NZFW, and it’s comparable to Lorde’s vocals and Lucy Lawless’s icy blue eyes.