New fashion label looks at the circle of life

By Zoe Walker

Designer Mary-Ellen Prendergast, now the proud owner of her own label, shares some of her inspirations and favourite things with Viva.

Designer Mary-Ellen Prendergast has a new label, Shen. Photo / Babiche Martens
Designer Mary-Ellen Prendergast has a new label, Shen. Photo / Babiche Martens

Mary-Ellen Prendergast launched the label Shen earlier this year, drawing inspiration from Asian design and a sophisticated European aesthetic. The talented designer began her career as fashion assistant to New Zealand designer Patrick Steele, and was a long-standing designer at the label Obi. For her own label, she went for a name laden with meaning: Shen translates as "encircle" from ancient Egyptian, and awareness and consciousness in Chinese Mandarin, while a shen ring represents eternal protection in hieroglyphics.

Drawing on these ideas of eternity, the label's logo references a life cycle symbol and the debut collection for winter is called Forever Lasting: all the more meaningful as Prendergast was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago (she has had a clean bill of health since). Her elegant debut range combines sumptuous fabrics - hand dip-dyed silk patterns, heavy cable knits and faux fur - crafted details, like standout plaiting, and interesting silhouettes. Prendergast talks us through some of her favourite things, from her mother's sewing box to jewellery bought on her travels, "a great reminder of where I have been".

10 FAVOURITE THINGS

1. Magazine collection

I love magazines and have an amazing Italian Vogue from 2003, still my favourite. I don't care what anyone says: you can't beat a hard copy.

2. Family chair

This treasured family chair has been in my partner's family since the 50s. I especially love the fabric, which is so ornate and rich in colour.

3. Wooden sewing box

This was my mum's sewing box. She was amazing at embroidery and kept her threads and thimbles in here. I use it as my jewellery box and it's a wonderful reminder of her.

4. Alexander McQueen avant-garde dress

I bought this at Liberty in London shortly after my arrival in London on my OE. I was nearly skint and I went shopping with my friend Natalie who had been at fashion school with me in Wellington and was equally obsessed with clothes. We quickly decided not eating for a month was worth my new purchase of a one-off McQueen. It cost £1000, down from £3000. I was earning £2.50 an hour, but hey.

5. Greg Smith ritual blade

A ritual blade inspired by Maori stone weapons made by a dear friend and incredible glass artist Greg Smith. He showed me this piece on one of the first occasions we met. I have other display and jewellery pieces by Greg, and would love to have his entire collection, but am blessed to have this special piece. He is currently making me a piece of jewellery in the symbol of the Shen ring.

6 .Richard Smallfield photo

A photo taken by a photographer friend Richard Smallfield when I was going though cancer. For years it was hard to look at but now it's just a reminder of how far I have come and what is possible.

7. Cutlery set

A silver cutlery set, a gift from my mother in-law, given to her as a christening present in the early 1930s.

8. Vintage velvet jacquard jacket

I bought this on one of my first trips to LA in 2003 at a store called Vionnet in Beverly Hills. I thought it was a real find before discovering Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie shopped there constantly. The jacket is from the French haute couture fashion brand - in true French tradition, the fabric was made in France and is a one-off garment.

9. Stephen Tilley polaroid art

Polaroid art from Shen's photographer Stephen Tilley. His work is simple but beautiful.

10. Pearls

I bought these in Beverly Hills when I was away on business. I buy a piece of jewellery every time I travel: it's a great reminder of where I have been.

Shen is available in Auckland from Curate (Britomart), Maggie Potter (Parnell) and Claire Designer Clothes (Milford).

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- NZ Herald

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