A bemused Australian Rail Corp employee in a safety vest sat by a roped-off dusty train carriage, watching a bevy of young women clad in short skirts and spiked heels negotiate the deeply grooved rail lines that criss-crossed a disused shed.

Models paraded down catwalks surrounded by concrete walls, air conditioning ducts and floor grills

Welcome to Fashion Week, Australian style.

The Australian fashion extravaganza, which showed its spring/summer collection, has gained increasing prominence as major retailers are drawn to an economy that came through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed.

Organisers said that the week-long show, held for the first time in disused rail yards on Sydney’s grimy but gentrifying east side, welcomed nearly 2,000 delegates to watch the 66 established and emerging designers presenting 52 shows.

The event was live streamed for the first time as well this season and Jarrad Clark, director of global production with IMG, which oversaw the week, said most shows were near capacity.

“We are the country (where) they come to find unpretentious, cool, urban chic,” said Clark.

Typical was local Sydney label Manning Cartell, which lived up to its tough-luxe reputation, showing a futuristic collection of metallic boxy cropped tops, formal shorts and pencil dresses.

Ultimately, more than 20,000 people tuned in from over 77 countries, reflecting interest in fashion produced by a country that has experienced an unbroken two decades of economic growth.

Australian luxury fashion retailers such as Oroton and Sass & Bide are experiencing solid sales alongside international luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel.

Australia, which has long had a reputation of easy-going, laid back style, turned up the edgy factor with a move from its long-time home on Sydney’s harbour to disused rail yards in the city’s gentrifying, but still grimy, inner east.

Models for designers including Christopher Esber, Alex Perry, Jayson Brunsdon, Easton Pearson and Christina Exie paraded down catwalks surrounded by concrete walls, air conditioning ducts and floor grills.

For designers like Exie, the winner of Project Runway Australia who was presenting her first international collection, the new surroundings perfectly suited the stripped back, modern aesthetic of their collections.

But not everybody was happy to switch the breathtaking harbour views of the Overseas Passenger Terminal for the Carriageworks, the rail yards that have been revamped by the government as an arts and performance space.

“Circular Quay was better, there was more of a buzz and a fun atmosphere,” said Caroline Cox, the designer of shoe line Tilly Rose.

There were also grumbles about IMG’s decision to move the show ahead from its traditional dates in May and reports of a dearth of potential buyers at the Premiere trade event running alongside the catwalk shows.

IMG brought the event forward to bring it closer in line with buying schedules and other shows around the world, but many participants said it still wasn’t early enough. Kathryn Cizeika and her design partner Katie Freeman had hoped to meet more international buyers for their Empire Rose label and were disappointed at the light foot traffic past their stand in the Premiere trade hall.

“We did have a good talk with a prospective Chinese buyer this morning, but it’s been slow,” Cizeika said.

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