SYDNEY — A shift to a resort focus for the annual Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia has garnered industry approval.Pushed back a month and rebranded from its 20-year-old spring focus to target the international resort buying schedule, MBFWA 2016, which closed on Friday, attracted 30,000 visitors, up 18 percent on 2015, according to organizer IMG’s preliminary estimates. They included 24 international retail delegates — up 57.14 percent on 2015, claims IMG, growth the company attributes to the new strategy.“The interest from those buyers started from the second we announced the new positioning of the event,” said Emily Leiding-Weight, IMG Fashion Asia Pacific head of fashion.Sixty-nine designer collections were showcased across 45 shows at the event’s central venue and a number of off-site, mostly harborside, locations.Shows included the first designer delegation from Fiji and a record turnout of four New York-based brands — Tome, Yuxin, Cynthia Rowley and Oscar de la Renta. The latter closed the week with an on-site presentation of summer — a 50-plus unit capsule collection of day, cocktail and eveningwear in a rich color palette, many of the evening dresses featuring floral embroidery and floral prints and strapless necklines. The show was followed by a de la Renta-hosted cocktail party for 200 at the Sydney Opera House.Rowley and de la Renta were invited guests of IMG, with covered travel and accommodation costs, as has been the case with a number of the event’s international buyers for many years.While there was some local criticism about the week being closed by an international designer — and Bergdorf Goodman sportswear and swimwear buyer Aisha Bennett said she was more interested to see brands in Sydney that she didn’t know and/or can’t see elsewhere — all the buyers WWD spoke with said they believed the Americans added cachet to the event.“It’s wonderful that New York-based designers that we love are shining a light on Sydney,” said Shopbop apparel, swim and lingerie buyer Jenny Fuchs, on her fifth MBFWA buying trip. Shopbop stocks 40 Australian brands, she said.Buyers singled out Romance Was Born’s Liberace-inspired show of embellished cocktail dresses and pant suits that was staged inside the 19th-century Darling Point mansion, and Carthona and Dion Lee’s deconstructed suiting, crystal-trimmed sheaths and lace-up scuba dresses, which were presented on the rooftop terrace of Bloomberg’s futuristic office tower at No. 1 Bligh Street.The draped silk and linen dresses of Kit Willow Podgornik’s new sustainable KITX brand also attracted buyer attention, as did the relaxed linen silhouettes at Albus Lumen and fresh poplin shirting at Tome and New Zealand newcomer Georgia Alice.Also flagged by buyers: Discount Universe’s high-energy show featuring sequined unitards and velvet slipdresses and the kaleidoscopice prints at Camilla, which presented her signature kaftans and swimwear during a two-hour breakfast harbor cruise against the backdrop of an African choir, drums and dancers.“Camilla was an extravaganza for the ages — that was like a 7 a.m. party boat,” said Fuchs.The event’s new resort focus — which she said “piggybacks” off the growing trend for destination cruise shows à la Chanel in Havana — gave MBFWA added relevancy, according to Fuchs.“It [MBFWA] is the start of the resort season — when I left New York, I had just had my first resort appointment, so it’s good to have that clean slate with a new season,” said Fuchs, who noted anything off-the-shoulder is selling well at Shopbop. She added, “Now that everyone’s buying on resort, there’s just more consistency across the product and I think that's just made it easier for us to dissect what we’re seeing and figure out the best way to make our buy."“I think the shift to resort is really, really smart — we’ve just literally opened up to start buying for resort, so they got the positioning perfect in my view," echoed Matchesfashion.com buying director Natalie Kingham.Resortwear was definitely a hook for Bergdorf’s first MBFWA trip this year, according to Bennett.“We felt it important to represent Bergdorf Goodman at Australian Fashion Week because of the resortwear showcase,” said Bennett. “For Bergdorf Goodman, the resort delivery has always been an important one. For Australian designers, this is now timed correctly to align with our buying schedule."“Resort is definitely an important time of the year globally,” said Harvey Nichols assistant buyer of swimwear and lingerie Francesca Rees, who singled out the color, prints, shape and “real practicality” of the Australian swim collections.“Brands really care about how a product lasts,” said Rees.Swimwear with a 50-plus SPF factor is not just practical, some might say essential, in Australia, which has the world’s highest incidence of melanoma due to ozone depletion.Cynthia Rowley’s finale of signature color-blocked wet suits joined a chorus of rash guards and zippered, long-sleeved wet suits seen in the swim collections of Duskii, We Are Handsome, Bondi Bather and Aqua Blu.Although Rowley described scrambling to finish resort 2017 a month ahead of schedule to make the MBFWA deadline “a living hell," she said she’s toying with the idea of doing it all over again next year in Sydney.“Definitely — I think next year for resort, wouldn’t that be nice?” said Rowley, who flew in for just over 48 hours with a jewel bright, culture-clash collection of heavily-embroidered bellbottoms and maxi dresses, Chinoiserie tops, Aztec print sweatshirts and silk MA-1 bomber jackets.“Sydney should be the kickoff to resort,” said Rowley. “I think it’s exciting. I think it makes sense. You know, we are living in a global economy."
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