Space remains the key issue in the burgeoning Australasian fashion trade fair sector as rapidly expanding events are outgrowing their existing formats and trading up to bigger and better premises — or longer formats — and hot events are popping up on the radar.

The Victoria government’s April announcement of a 370 million Australian dollar ($258.5 million at current exchange) renovation of the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre was heartily applauded by the local conference organizers it would benefit, but gave cold comfort to Melbourne-based fair organizer Australian Exhibitions & Conferences. Their biannual Fashion Exposed, which showcases midmarket women’s, men’s and children’s apparel and accessories and touts itself as Australia’s largest fashion buying fair, has run out of space in Melbourne.

“Within three weeks of starting booking [for the next Fashion Exposed] in late April, we were up to 85 percent capacity,” said Fashion Exposed project manager Sue Dight. “We’re limited by the amount of space we have available to us.”

Come Sept. 12-14, that space at the MECC will measure 161,400 square feet, a negligible increase on the previous March show’s size, and 32,000 square feet less than what Dight said she could use. Fashion Exposed attracted 8,000 in overall attendance in March, with 400 exhibitors, and Dight expected those numbers to remain on par for September. For March 2005, the event is moving to the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, where it has booked 215,000 square feet.

Tight space hasn’t, however, completely stymied the AEC’s expansion plans. Fashion Exposed’s new, more high-end women’s and men’s fashion spin-off show, Preview, which was launched parallel to Fashion Exposed in March and will run parallel to it once again this September, proved such a hit that the company is doubling Preview’s allocated space to 32,000 square feet. This will accommodate the 100 exhibitors and 1,600 dedicated Preview viewers it’s anticipating — double the March numbers.

Preview might be cozier than Fashion Exposed, but its margins are higher, as it attracts more upmarket exhibitors and buyers. Preview’s March exhibitors included No Jeans, Danang, Kangol, Spy, Joe’s Jeans, Ete Autome, Francoise Esterhazy and New Zealand’s Untouched World, as well as some brands that would normally only appear at Mercedes Australian Fashion Week, including Leona Edmiston, Jets swimwear, Vicious Threads and Joe the Taxi Driver. Although Preview did stage 20 small-scale runway shows in March, its setup remained akin to a traditional trade fair, and buyers said they were able to write up some serious business right on the spot.“I think Preview as a venue and a showcase has enormous potential so long as they stay true to their formula of having better-end labels,” said Joanne Griffin, owner of the five-unit multibrand Melbourne fashion chain Blondies, who regularly attends MAFW, Fashion Exposed and New Zealand Fashion Week (renamed this year with a new sponsor as Air New Zealand Fashion Week).

Griffin added, “MAFW has a very strong place and is a great flagship for Australian fashion, particularly for the internationals. It takes care of all the glammy bits and the terrific media exposure that does have a huge impact. But I think they need something, and Preview may be the answer. It’s a bit more meat and potatoes, rather than just the parades. Preview may well act as that sort of midline.”

That both premium exhibitors and buyers are keen to do business at high-end shows, or at least have a presence there, was evidenced not only by the success of Preview’s first show, but by what Griffin described as “a new mood” at the recent May spring/summer Sydney MAFW shows. The Australian fashion industry’s most high-profile event boasted a record number of designer runway collections, 96, and attendees were run so ragged trying to get to everything on the schedule, as well as visit the adjacent trade fair, The Source, that MAFW organizers are now considering stretching next year’s decade-anniversary shows from four to five days. Exhibitors included a large Asia Pacific contingent from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

“I think we [buyers] are being spoiled for choice at the moment,” said Blondies’ Griffin, who added that she picked up several new labels at both Preview and MAFW to add to her existing 60- to 80-brand portfolio of Australian and New Zealand labels, which already includes Vixen, Akira and Sabatini.

After three years of debate — with 2003 plans changed at the last minute — MAFW’s third annual autumn/winter show season is officially set to dovetail with the conclusion of Air New Zealand Fashion Week, with ANZFW being held

Oct. 18-21 and MAFW following on Oct. 24-28.

Both event organizers met in Sydney recently to discuss joint marketing initiatives, with a view to offering local and international buyers and the media incentives to check out the two Australasian markets in one trip.Still in its infancy, the autumn/winter version of MAFW — which up until 2002 was an annual spring/summer fashion showcase only in Sydney — will again run over four days. Organizers say they’re planning to expand beyond the glassed-in atrium area of the Federation Square venue, with an ambitious target of 120 exhibitors — more than double last year’s

55 — and a 40 percent increase in floor space. Asia Pacific will again be a key focus, with designers from Korea and Indonesia their next target.

Meanwhile, ANZFW, New Zealand’s four-year-old premium fashion showcase, with runway shows and an attached small trade fair, is moving from its original space in the Auckland Town Hall to the American Express Viaduct Harbour development. If the latter name sounds familiar, that’s because Viaduct Harbour is the former home of the America’s Cup yachting syndicates and was transformed for the 2000 America’s Cup from a toxic fishing port to a buzzing hub of restaurants, bars, luxury apartments, hotels and shops.

The event is occupying three sheds from the former Alinghi and Team New Zealand syndicate bases, and will feature a runway space with the capacity to seat 1,000 and a large central hall with 12,800 square feet of exhibition space for 70 exhibitors — more than double the previous year’s square footage, organizers said. All visitors will pass through the exhibition spaces to get to the runways. Large outdoor video screens used by the event last year (and adopted at the recent MAFW) will again show collection highlights to the public. The only thing that won’t be bigger is the number of show days, decreasing from four days in 2003 to three. After the three days of shows, the venue will morph into an exhibition of New Zealand fashion and design open to the public.

“We had six marquees at the Town Hall, but it wasn’t big enough,” said ANZFW spokeswoman Cathy Campbell. “This is a one-stop shop for the event and has enormous flexibility — two catwalk venues, maybe three, plus the marquee and corporate hospitality hosting facilities. People will come to the Viaduct to eat and drink, watch the big screens and the fashion.”In 2003, NZFW attracted more than 15,000 attendees — that’s a 50 percent increase compared with 2001 — including an estimated 400 internationals, mostly from nearby Australia. Organizers are expecting 18,000 attendees for the next show.

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