Up-and-coming labels in NZ fashion

By Zoe Walker

Fashion's all about the new. Viva meets two young designers you may not have heard of yet.

Miriam White describes her fashion label, Sunday's, aesthetic as intelligent and whimsical. Photo / Supplied
Miriam White describes her fashion label, Sunday's, aesthetic as intelligent and whimsical. Photo / Supplied

Sunday

"Sundays are for lying about reading books, dreaming and re-centring yourself," says Miriam White, whose label is named after her favourite day of the week.

The 24-year-old Wellington-based designer launched Sunday last year, initially with friend Sally Eagle (who has since moved on to become a bridal designer), because of a need to find a creative outlet and frustration at the lack of fashion jobs in the capital.

"It's about making a space within which to do what you love. No one else is going to hand it to you on a platter, you just have to get out there and make it happen."

White graduated from a fashion degree at Massey University in 2008, and took a job working at a sustainability institute as a research analyst - where she continues to work now, in addition to growing and developing Sunday.

Now into her second season with the label, White says she is still establishing her aesthetic, but describes it as intelligent and whimsical.

"With the label being so young and I myself so new to the industry, I feel like I am still settling into an 'aesthetic'. But I enjoy combining a slightly serious and quite logical approach to design, with a delightful sense of whimsy."

She counts her passion for reading novels and poetry as a key influence on her work, as well as her little sister, Grace. "I love the way she dresses, and take all my difficult design decisions to her."

The most recent winter collection reflects that combination of whimsy and strength - called Hinterland, White explains that she took her inspiration from the word's definition, as the no-man's-land between an urban and rural environment. "I took inspiration from these conflicting environments, creating a space for itself between dreamtime and reality. It is designed from the perspective of the city, where girls in urban office blocks stare out of windows and dream of escaping into grassy fields." That idea of "desk to field" translates into relaxed tailoring, cosy country-inspired fabrics like merino, corduroy and velvet, and dreamy lace collars.

Five or so years ago there was a glut of new labels being established, many of which have gone on to shape New Zealand's industry today, but now there is much less of a focus on new, young designers.

Established labels are battling against recession, online shopping, increasing fabric prices and more, so for young designers just starting out, the issues are tenfold. But White is positive about the struggles of being a young designer right now. "I think retail isn't very strong at the moment, which is driving young designers to be creative and find less traditional ways of accessing customers."

That means being involved with projects like a recent pop-up store in Wellington with around eight young labels, making the most of the power of campaign images and fashion blogs, and having pieces available online. A realistic, sensible approach seems to work too.

"I'm always interested in finding out what people need," explains White. "It's not just about making nice clothes, it's about making clothes that will work in with people's lives."

* Sunday is available through their website.

Hermione Flynn

Hermione Flynn launched her namesake label from Wellington in 2009, with a refreshingly intellectual and artistic approach to fashion. Flynn has an honours degree in performance design, where she mostly explored performance art ("Performance for me is the most uncharted yet compelling art form," she explains). Performance artist turned fashion designer? We had to find out more.

Why did you decide to launch the label and branch into fashion?
I feel the fashion industry doesn't receive the intellectual respect that it deserves. Fashion is a reflection of culture - particularly dreams and desires - which is worthy of analysis. I wanted to enter the fashion industry with artistic and intellectual integrity, hoping to create work which stimulated intellectual critique, in the same way art does. Also to reflect not cultural ideals, but realities.

How would you describe the label's aesthetic?
It's hard to pinpoint an aesthetic as I have only created two collections. I'm not 100 per cent dedicated to certain styles or colours ... If the details help communicate the concept at the time, then this is what I prioritise. However, I must say that the concept never undermines the beauty of the product - it's about making them work together to produce something unique. The development of an aesthetic is like having a conversation with yourself and the other clothing designers in a public arena. Maybe ask me that question again in 10 years and we'll find out!

You have said that you are inspired by "social oddities" - can you tell us a bit more about this?
I am intrigued by the idea that every single person in the world, whether consciously or not, visually represents themselves through dress every day. This produces not only a vast array of visual signifiers, but also a visual language that we are all conditioned to interpret. This is why it is such a unique tool for artistic communication. I'm inspired by the process of taking those unique visual expressions and juxtaposing them to produce a meaningful perspective and product. It's not only about trends and fashion, it's about everyone. Especially the unpredictable ones.

What else inspires you?
I'm inspired by the spectacle. I believe successful art and design must be so compelling that the viewer cannot help but look at least twice - never once.

How difficult do you think it is to be a young designer in New Zealand right now? Is there enough support for young designers starting out?
To be honest, I think New Zealand is an ideal platform to launch a fashion business. The fashion community is just so tiny no one can afford to be difficult or egotistical. All you've got to do is ring people up and ask for help, should you need it. I have found everyone to be extremely supportive. The business management is the biggest challenge, but there is definitely no shortage of available support in that department either.

Tell us about your current winter collection, "A Modern Ritual".
I initially became preoccupied with the idea of ceremonial dress, which was evident in my first collection. After much research, I began to define "Ceremonial Dress" as a composition of garments worn in a very exact and specific way for a certain occasion. The most common portrayal of this in our immediate urban environment is the work-suit. It was this realisation which initiated the exploration of the three-piece suit and office-work aesthetics. As the collection developed I also became interested in organic pattern in juxtaposition with the very structured, tailored nature of the garments.

Your campaign images are very evocative - what was the idea behind these?
As this idea of ritual played in my head, it became evident that the most common rituals performed do not revolve around elaborate ceremony at all, but mostly around the mundane and uneventful actions performed in everyday life. I wanted to communicate this monotony and repetition in an environment which was almost soulless in its modernity. Like the image of the girl on her laptop ... Our dependence on the computer - it's relentless. I like to say that she's pressing the "Refresh" button over and over.

How important is art to your fashion design work?
I intend to utilise my performance-art experience as my marketing strategy for the label. I hope to produce constant activity, both on and offline, through performance events, film and animation to support the collections conceptually. When a customer purchases a Hermione Flynn garment, they also purchase an idea. It is this creative story and social relevance that helps promote a timeless product, which you will hopefully want in your wardrobe forever. That's what Hermione Flynn is all about.

* Hermione Flynn is available from The Service Depot, Wellington, Salisbury Boutique, Dunedin.

- NZ Herald

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