Let’s hear it for the boys! 3 male designers making their solo debuts at NZFW

Meet the men making waves on the NZFW runway

Launching a label is a bold move at the best of times, and certainly as a standalone designer. But while there are undeniably more hats to wear, the allure of a bigger blank canvas makes it worth it.

This, according to three designers debuting their solo collections at NZFW Kahuria. Each having gone solo in the last handful of years, leaving prestigious ateliers and well-entrenched career paths in pursuit of their own name on a pip tag, here are some of the leading lads to keep an eye on next week and beyond.

Rory William Docherty

Rory William Docherty sits surrounded by his artwork, New Zealand Fashion Week

If you can imagine Rory William Docherty’s pieces flattened neatly into a frame or sitting atop a marble pillar, you’d be quite right in doing so. The designer is an artist both in his fashion craft, and in the very literal sense, too. A quick flick through his portfolio of work shows an origami-like mastery of fabric, cuts and movement that speaks to his creative process, which involves turning his drawings into paper maquettes before coming to life on the body.

Adding to the visual appeal is Rory’s handpicking of fabrics, which span from original silk prints, collected knick knacks, merino, Japanese suiting, Italian wool and deadstock fabrics. Considering the British-born, New Zealand-raised designer’s work experience, which has taken him from Topshop to Prada and Yohjio Yamamoto in positions that range from the shop floor to production rooms, these international sensibilities make sense. And it’s no wonder his first collection was scooped up by Scotties Boutique (still a key brand stockist today), as well as having found its way to France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and across the motu.

An example of Rory William Docherty’s origami-inspired tailoring

Phillip Heketoa

New Zealand Fashion Week debut designer, Phillip Heketoa sits for a portrait in a grey sweater

It’s no secret that at FashioNZ we love a phoenix from the ashes tale, so it’s no surprise that we are drawn to Phillip Heketoa’s origin story. Formerly a hair artistry and special effects tutor, Phillip closed the door on his almost two decades at Cut Above Academy to usher in his label, Lipo, monikered from a family nickname, in 2022. That same year, his debut collection Secret Garden hit the runway at Pacific Fusion Fashion Show.

Utilitarian yet fluid and a refreshingly playful, Phillip’s ability to take classic silhouettes and channel them in new directions will hold him in good stead as he makes his NZFW debut in the hotly-anticipated Next Gen show, where nine of his 13 garments are made from donated fabrics. In the lead up to the event, we’ve been enjoying his openness on Instagram, where he shares frank insight into the nitty gritty of getting a label off the ground – covert handsewing during retail night shifts very much included.

Phillip Heketoa’s first collection at Pacific Fusion Fashion Show

James Bush

New Zealand Fashion Week designer James Bush looks at the camera

While ‘relaxed tailoring’ has arguably become an overused term in Aotearoa’s fashion vocabulary, James Bush doesn’t just embody the aesthetic, he sets the bar for it. For this Wellington-based label, suiting isn’t just a precise exercise — it’s a marriage of unique fabrics with classic cuts, the introduction of a well-placed pleat, a seam where one mightn’t expect it. The result? Womenswear that screams ‘borrowed from the boys’, backed up by James’s formal training which includes a Masters in Menswear from the University of Westminster, London, and a place on the British Fashion Council’s prestigious graduate programme.

Brussels and Paris are on James’ resume too, where he picked up traditional tailoring skills as a designer and pattern maker. Heroing evergreen pieces that provide a welcome break in a world of trend-driven styles, seeing how the designer’s work translates from our digital screens to the runway is something that we’re looking forward to at NZFW. Not to mention, the opportunity to experience each garment up close alongside the work of the entire Next Gen cohort at the Space For pop up store from September 1-3.

A blue James Bush dress, a teaser of his looks which we can expect to see at New Zealand Fashion Week
James Bush’s ‘borrowed from the boys’ womenswear


Image credit: Supplied, Michael Craig, Esther Pasitoa