After my first time volunteering at New Zealand Fashion Week in 2015, I didn’t think anything could beat seeing members of the All Blacks and New Zealand Sevens team modelling for Jockey. It was the very first show I ushered for, and I was naively unaware that we would even get to see the show, let alone see a dozen shirtless sportsmen strutting down the runway.
So when I reapplied to volunteer in 2016, I didn’t know what to expect. Would this year live up to my coming-in-blind experience of last year? Would it be even better now that I have such dignified prior knowledge? Would I be living in New York in the next couple of years and running my own fashion blog à la Isaac Hindin-Miller, the most esteemed of NZFW volunteer alumni? There were so many questions, and I couldn’t wait to learn the answers.
Day one, and I was straight into the action at the Mercedes-Benz presents Harman Grubiša opening show. We started off the week the way we were set to continue it, putting the goodie bags on the seats, opening the doors, showing the guests to their seats, watching the show, opening the doors, gently pushing the guests out again, cleaning up the wine glasses and the rubbish that was left behind. But what seems like a repetitive and numbing process is far from it, because it is constantly broken up with little gems of excitement. For me, these gems consisted mostly of the amazing guests: seeing the people who work for all my favourite magazines, catching a glimpse of Naz from The Bachelor, getting to see my favourite Instagrammers in real life rather than through the small rectangular glass on my phone, and even being able to show Verve’s lovely co-editor, Jude, to her seat.
Despite this, it’s tough work being a volunteer. Some people can be going all day, all week, with not much to show in the way of breaks. But that’s not because they have been over-rostered, it’s simply because they don’t want to miss a second of the action. Each show is completely unique from the previous one, so volunteers are always ready to put their hand up to be part of the next.
At times it can feel like you are part of a small army, or, more explicitly, the cogs in the back of the massively influential clock that is New Zealand Fashion Week. Because ultimately, without this small army, the week could not go on. I’m not trying to pretend that I was the most important part of fashion week, because there are definitely a few people with every right to protest that claim, but every single person plays a role, and all with the same goal: to make NZFW run as smoothly and as glamorously as possible.
Volunteering might seem worthwhile in the fact that I got to see more than ten shows for free, not to mention access to an endless supply of tim tams, pretzels and red bull throughout the week, but the real reward was so much more valuable than that. There is a moment before each show when all the goodie bags are on the seats, all the set is in place, and the volunteers can have a small moment of rest before the doors open and all hell breaks loose. In this moment, the main lights dim into darkness and there is a brief patch of quiet until the show lights flare and the music bursts into life.
From backstage emerges a line of models, all wearing next season, never-seen-before clothing; and, if you’re lucky, the designer who created them will suddenly be standing on the runway giving them direction, looking just like any of the rest of us mere mortals. In the fleeting moment of this run-through, any volunteer can pretend that they too are a high-end fashion name or media mogul or even Dame Pieter Stewart; and it’s in this moment that we all realise that the sore feet and dry throat and rushing down to the Viaduct Events Centre in the pouring rain is absolutely worth it.