Australian Fashion Week organiser Natalie Xenita from International Management Group says fashion designers want to know how much it will cost – The Australian Financial Review
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With costs of up to $50,000 and no certain return on investment, is it viable for brands to show at Australian Fashion Week?
For a designer, showing at Australian Fashion Week is a rite of passage, and a mark among industry peers that they have, in many senses, made it.
It is also incredibly expensive, with the average show costing a minimum of $50,000, a significant outlay for an independent designer without private funding. Considering the manpower, time and finances invested in what usually amounts to a 10-minute show, is it worth it for designers to appear at fashion week?
International Management Group, the New York-based organiser of Australian Fashion Week, commissioned Launchmetrics to measure the value of runway shows, in an Australian first.
“The first question a designer asks me when they talk about fashion week is, how much will it cost?” IMG managing director Natalie Xenita says. “So we need to be able to quantify the results because designers invest a lot of money in these shows.”
More than 24,000 people, including audience members, media and participants attended this year’s event in May, which was sponsored by Afterpay for the second year running. The new sponsor has brought a shift in focus, with consumers invited to attend shows for a fee, and encouraged to purchase directly from the catwalk. For the first time since 2019, international buyers and media were present.
Launchmetrics’ study examined the media impact value of fashion week and found that for emerging and established businesses, there was evidence that showing led to greater brand awareness and increased media coverage.
“The uptick in media impact value was powerful to see,” Xenita says. For established brands, media coverage was three times what it would be in a “normal” month. And for emerging brands, it was 12 times the coverage. “It shows that it doesn’t matter where you are in your journey – even established brands like Bianca Spender and Aje are seeing that. And for brands that are just starting out, it’s even more important.”
Although Launchmetrics covered media impact, IMG is keen to show that fashion week makes financial sense for designers, too, despite there being no data to support this.
“We introduced a virtual showroom in 2021 that’s been able to quantify orders,” Xenita says. “It’s a healthy trade event. And as well as wholesale trade, we have focused on consumer integration to unlock that additional return on investment for designers.” There is no current data on consumer spending post-show.
Wynn Hamlyn, a New Zealand-based designer, showed at Australian Fashion Week for the first time this year after having shown locally.
“I wanted to bring the brand to a more international audience,” he says. “For us, it worked. We gained two new wholesale accounts and saw a spike in traffic and sales after the show. And the whole thing brings a huge amount of brand awareness, which is a long-term gain.”
Changing with the times
Australian Fashion Week was launched in 1996 by Simon Lock, who wanted to showcase the local industry to a global audience. It has been a springboard for designers such as Zimmermann, Dion Lee and Collette Dinnigan, but recently many designers have opted to show “off-schedule” away from the week itself, where it can be difficult to stand out.
And although designer fees were waived for the second year running, showing remains expensive. Almost every designer is supported with sponsorship, as Wella and Make Up For Ever did for Hamlyn. Models and crew are the two main costs, as well as publicity and, if a designer shows “off-site,” away from Carriageworks in Sydney where the event is based, additional costs are incurred. Hamlyn showed in a disused train tunnel at Central Station, and says this allowed him flexibility with finances.
“You can be strategic,” he says. “We played into the grungy theme by having our show in a tunnel – and that helped us financially. It’s an extra expense, having it off-site, but we did it in a more low-key way. You could do a guerilla-style show, or you could go full Chanel.”
Globally, in-person fashion events have been on hold for much of the past two years, with many brands opting to show either purely online, or with a hybrid digital and physical show. But in September at Paris Fashion Week, a number of viral moments, such as Coperni painting model Bella Hadid with spray-on fabric, instilled a sense of renewed optimism in the event.
“Every designer wants that moment,” Xenita says. “Because it becomes an instant calling card for their business. People remember Ksubi sending rats down the runway [at Australian Fashion Week in 2001] or Linda Evangelista wearing that enormous dress for Alex Perry [in 1997].” Recently, designers have tended toward musical performances and even political statements, such as the all-Indigenous showcase in 2020, which brought the audience to tears.
“It’s a big week, and everyone wants a return on their investment. Creating that spectacular moment is really key.”
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Lauren SamsFashion editorLauren Sams is the fashion editor, based in Sydney. She writes about lifestyle including the arts, entertainment, fashion and travel. Lauren has worked as a features editor and fashi
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