Your Business: Sharp tailoring gives designer shot at New York

By Gill South

Alexandra Owen is hoping for orders from Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Alexandra Owen is hoping for orders from Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Fashion Quarterly editor Fiona Hawtin says New Zealand designer Alexandra Owen has the "heart of a couturier".

In America, they talk about her "inventive, superlative tailoring".

The 28-year-old designer, who graduated from Massey University in 2004, won rave reviews at her fourth NZ Fashion Week, with her quilted coats reminiscent of Issey Miyake. This was true high fashion, they said.

Describing her style, she says: "Alexandra Owen garments are instantly recognisable for their cut, fabrication and purity. High tailoring, sculpted shapes and free-form drape is balanced carefully with clean lines and an understated colour palette."

"We are at our own niche price and style," she adds. A summer silk charmeuse dress in her collection costs $1200. Its skirt has a 9m circumference. Typically her clothes range from $550 to $2000. Owen has a fabric agent who imports high-quality fabrics exclusively for her and has Wellington suit makers Rembrandt Suits cutting fabric.

With an eye trained on the US market, Owen will be introducing her latest collection to American buyers in February during New York Fashion Week.

Owen showed her collection off-site during the event this February to a number of fashionistas including the head buyer of luxury goods department store, Bergdorf Goodman.

The designer had to take the collection to Vogue on foot. "On the day we were meeting with them, there was a full-scale blizzard," she says.

Owen now has a US sales agent and is hoping for orders from Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and several independent boutiques next year.

Her flagship store in New Zealand is in Wellington's Wakefield St.

Owen sells to corporate women in the 40 to 60 age group. "There are lots of lawyers and architects," she says.

Owen's customers include TV presenter Petra Bagust and her mother Judi, as well as Russell McVeigh chairwoman Pip Greenwood and Professionelle co-founder Galia BarHava-Monteith. TV3 also want some jackets for Nightline, says Owen.

The growth of her business has been encouraging despite the recession. Alexandra Owen has grown 85 per cent in the last financial year, and the year before, it grew by 98 per cent. "So you can see the immediate impact of switching to retail," says Owen.

Like most New Zealand fashion designers, Owen studied at Massey University, but honed her skills working part-time with New Zealand fashion doyenne Marilyn Sainty of Scotties after she graduated.

Sainty supported her when she started designing a range of coats by selling some in Scotties. From there Owen sold a collection to wholesellers, then almost two years ago she opened her store with the help of Wellington businessman and mentor, Chris Parkin.

She first met Parkin when he asked her to design the uniforms for his hotel staff at Museum Hotel. "As we got to know him, he got more interested in the business. He saw retail as a good opportunity for us," she says.

While Owen has just closed a temporary Auckland boutique in Ponsonby she intends opening another one next year.

Her Auckland customers seem happy to come to Wellington for the moment, she says.

Her next step is a modern basics range called the Little Black Dress collection next month.

"The idea is to design a small series of styles every few months that cater to a range of occasions from work to evening," she says. The prices will range from $450 to $600.

Meanwhile her international expansion is just a matter of time. One of the reasons she has gone for New York is it's a more commercial market. "There is better potential there to make money," she says. But, she adds:"Paris is the dream."

DOING IT IN STYLE

* Fashion designer.
* Market is corporate women.
* Customers include TV presenter Petra Bagust and Russell McVeigh chairwoman Pip Greenwood.
* Introducing her latest collection to American buyers in February during New York Fashion Week.

- NZ Herald

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