New York (AFP) - Among the hundreds of designers who flocked to New York Fashion Week, Australians are a growing force to be reckoned with as they launch brands onto a global market.
At the forefront are sisters Nicky and Simone Zimmermann, who founded their swimwear and ready-to-wear line in Sydney in 1991 and on their second runway season in the Big Apple.
Their clothes are already stocked at famed US department stores Barney's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's, along with Harrods and Harvey Nichols in London, and elsewhere around the world.
Snapping at their heels is Dion Lee, who got rave reviews for his first fall/winter season -- "technical marvels" and "gorgeous" dresses in the words of Style.com.
But behind the headline-hogging luminaries, younger names are also turning away from London, a traditional go-to Australian design destination, to concentrate on New York.
Aged 27 with tumbling brown locks and a slender frame, Philippa Galasso could be as easily a model on the runway as the budding young designer hoping for her big break.
"It's such a great international platform," she told AFP backstage before her show, only her second collection and her first fall/winter season.
"The European market is extremely important as well, but New York captures the edgy designers and it's got quite a cool feel, so for me and my range it's very important," she added.
A short, tight leather dress in black or red is her signature look of the season, inspired by birds and Gothic architecture, with Brigitte Bardot as muse.
Her New York spring/summer debut last season increased her profile and now she hopes to get into American shops.
"A lot of big important buyers (are) coming from American department stores, so hopefully I knock their socks off!"
She brought her couture line, with an evening dress fetching $2,250-$7,200, to New York with the help of Fashion Palette, which promotes Australian talent in the US.
- Aiming for US market -
Paris and Milan each claim to be the most important fashion capital of the world, but New York is home of the mega bucks -- the big buyers -- and king of the edgy, urban look.
Sonya Mefaddi, founder and creative director of Palette, said the Australian advance on New York has only just begun.
"As Australians we need to reach out beyond Australia to grow our designers' brands," she told AFP.
Alongside Galasso, the show she organized at Chelsea Piers featured Steve Khalil, an established evening and bridal wear designer, and Tightology, which specializes in tights.
In addition to the show, the designers have appointments with buyers, including The Doneger Group, one of biggest in the United States that works with Nordstrom among others.
For spring/summer next season, Mefaddi is planning two days of shows that will showcase the work of about 20 Australian designers coming to "take over New York."
The city exposes Australians to industry professionals from all over the world but in the ultra-competitive environment, they can suffer from certain disadvantages.
Not only is their industry at home limited, it is typically restricted to one season and few international buyers find time to attend Australia's sole fashion week.
Standing out from the crowd is tough.
While there was warm applause for Galasso and Khalil's attire, attendance was less than expected, perhaps due to the bitter cold and its timing as the last show of the day.
Just before the lights went down, organizers quickly ushered guests to fill up empty seats from the front.
But the rewards are palpable.
Last season, Mefaddi said Khalil was offered a trunk show at high-end New York department store Neiman Marcus as a result of his catwalk show.
Upscale department story Lord & Taylor has also expressed interest in Australian designers, she added.
Khalil, who did not travel in person to New York this week, confirmed by email that the city had offered him a substantial platform to grow.
"The New York market has a very strong, vibrant and holistic approach to fashion," he said.
"We are receiving more international inquiries and clientele than ever before."