I arrive at the industrial warehouse venue of Kate Sylvester’s show just as model Samantha Shorter is doing a walkthrough for the aforementioned and her husband Wayne Conway. Rows of white chairs line the 30-odd metre runway, which is broken up by red steel pillars and three glittering chandeliers hanging at 10 metre intervals from the ceiling. Backstage the hair and makeup is in full swing and I watch as a girl winces in pain as eye makeup is removed for the fifth time today. Over by the racks, PC Blaas stands with a group of three female dressers. He’s wearing a silk camisole. A lady’s silk camisole. With nothing else. Well, nothing besides some brown Chelsea boots. The other boys look on, chuckling to themselves, relieved that someone else is bearing that burden. “It’s like I’m wearing what a girl would wear when she says ‘I’m just going to slip into something a little more comfortable’,” laughs PC.
“Why did you choose PC for the camisole?” I ask stylist extraordinaire Karen Inderbitzen Waller (today she’s done Nom*D, yesterday Annah Stretton, tomorrow Stolen Girlfriends Club, tonight Kate Sylvester). “He’s the prettiest,” she replies. “The other boys know it too. They were all like, ‘who’s wearing the dress?’ and when I told them it was PC they said ‘yeah, fair enough, he’s the prettiest.’ Kate was really obsessed with 80s Auckland socialite Black Lips Baragwanath this season. She was infamous for wearing black lipstick and men’s clothes. So it’s all about gender reversal – girls wearing boys’ clothes, boys wearing girls’ clothes.” Sure enough, all the girls in the room have matte black lips painted on. It’s a surprisingly sexy look.
A group of boys and girls sit on the floor eating dinner beneath a giant monster graffiti scrawled on the garage door. One picks every trace of capsicum off a slice of pizza, another sculls orange juice, another scoffs chocolate.
I grab the lady of the hour. “Everything’s going well,” she tells me, “but we’re having a bit of a mare with the lighting. I’ll be fine as soon as it stops being yellow.” I mention the chandeliers and ask about their relation to Baragwanath. “It’s posh and dirty. Black lips and chandeliers. Do you know about Judith Baragwanath?” I admit that I don’t. “That’s kind of why we chose her. Everybody knows Edie Sedgwick or other famous socialites but she’s a bit more under the radar. And I like it how she was kind of eccentric and crazy. There aren’t too many people like her around here.”
50-something year old Baragwanath reportedly lives on Waiheke now – and she’s been invited as the guest of honour at the show. “Do you think she’ll turn up?” I ask. “Probably not,” Kate replies, “but it would be really cool if she did.” Then she points at a black and grey striped singlet. “I’m obsessed with that fabric. Utterly obsessed. That stripe. I’m in love with the singlet. The stripe with the grey marle trim. I want to have an affair with that singlet.” Somebody arrives to tell her that the lighting still hasn’t been fixed. She takes one last look at the singlet then runs off to sort it out.
In the rehearsal, the models crowd the end of the catwalk receiving instruction from Yasmin, the show’s producer. “It’s not a funereal walk, we want you to walk hard and fast. And no stopping!” They practice their finale walk – all take to the catwalk in a giant group. One rolls a cigarette, another texts, two giggle as they chat the length of the runway, another cradles sushi.
Backstage again, all the models are dressed. Kate and Karen rush around putting finishing touches on the outfits – arranging jewellery, straightening shirts, checking hair and makeup. The photographers descend. Georgia Fowler, the perpetual good sport, throws giant shapes. Nervous young boys awkwardly wrap their arms around the most beautiful girls they’ve ever talked to. I go up to a girl and ask her which boy she wants a photo with. She laughs. “All of them!”
Out front scores of people stand in the middle of the catwalk, chatting, posing for photographs and trying to locate their seats. As the crowd disperses, photographers jump at the opportunity to snap American club kid turned designer Richie Rich, and local actors Robyn Malcolm and Keisha Castle-Hughes. I scan the front rows but there’s no sign of Judith Baragwanath.
True to Kate’s words, the first model walks out in a tweed three button man’s blazer. Boys wear suits over tops with lingerie detailing, pants pulled low to reveal lacy undergarments. Girls come out in pleated page boy shorts, grey pant-suits with bras, lots of stripes. My favourite pieces are the airforce suits – green wool with cropped pilot bombers and the shiny oily green double breasted trench coats. The shoes are amazing. Flat and high heeled Chelea boots with tiny metal domes running up the back. Then PC comes out in his silk camisole. The crowd goes berserk as he walks the length of the catwalk twice. He keeps a straight face but I see another model working overtime to suppress a little giggle as she walks off the runway. It’s a great show. Pity Black Lips Baragwanath isn’t here to see it. No doubt she’d’ve been chuffed.
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