Wine, fetish and fun

By Zoe Walker

Kate Sylvester unveils some spanking new ventures at Auckland's revamped art gallery.

Sparkling Muskats@Dawn. Photo / Supplied
Sparkling Muskats@Dawn. Photo / Supplied

Spanked bottoms at the art gallery probably wasn't what fashion editors had in mind for their Tuesday evening, but one never quite knows what to expect at a Kate Sylvester show.

The designer marked three débuts last night, with a show at the Auckland Art Gallery held beneath artist Choi Jeong Hwa's blooming flower chandelier. First, a showcase of Sylvester's autumn/winter 2012 collection titled The Secretary (it was a model being spanked, not the fashion editors), as well as a preview of a stylish new opticals range and the launch of a collaboration between the designer and biodynamic winemakers The Millton Vineyard.

Their new limited edition, Sparkling Muskats @ Dawn 2011, features a specially designed Kate Sylvester label, with a similar print to the one that adorns a rug you'll find as you enter the designer's workroom - inspired by a sketch originally done by her son.

This year's vintage is the first "bubbles" from the Gisborne-based vineyard; taking inspiration from the Moscato d'Asti of Italy. As the tasting notes describe, "the gentle sparkle delights the senses with tropical fruit and the first blossoms of spring" - a perfect summer sipper.

It's a like-minded relationship that fell into place relatively easily: both companies are run by partners (James and Annie Millton established the winery in 1984; while Sylvester works alongside her partner Wayne Conway), and both have a similar sustainable, organic approach.

Annie and her daughter Monique Millton have also both loved Sylvester's designs for a while; and Conway had worked with the family previously. The new wine collaboration will be available from mid-October.

The show also previewed Sylvester's new optical collection, a compact collection of frames in classic, quirky shapes and a muted palette of clear olives, honey and two-tone gradients (originally there was no black in the range, but if you want to sell anything in New Zealand, it must also come in black). Sylvester has had eyewear before, but this range, available in November, will be distributed by a new outside company, and features only spectacles - something that has always been a strong part of the Kate Sylvester signature. She doesn't wear them herself but has, in the past, wished that she did, and she is a huge reader (she's excited about the just-released film adaptation of Jane Eyre, one of her favourite books).

They're also a ridiculously perfect foil to the secretary themed collection that was on show last night. Sylvester took much of her inspiration from two films that look at the darker side of sexuality: the 1960s film Belle de Jour that sees a bored housewife spending her afternoons as a prostitute, and 2002's Secretary, which looks at the sado-masochistic relationship between a dominant man (played by James Spader) and his submissive secretary (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). That film had been lurking in her mind for some time; a favourite movie that Sylvester has seen several times. "It must be the best movie ever," she explains, "and I completely adore James Spader".

Indeed, there is a shirt named after him, featuring an overlapping yoke and buckle; a crisp shirt that "belongs to the boss". There are other clever references to the collection's film namesake too - a floral print with orchids bound in red rope touches on the office's botanical wallpaper and Spader's character's obsession with feeding his orchids, while the red-hued pieces in the collection reference his strict use of red pen to mark errors (the show's invitation even featured a spelling mistake circled in red).

The bondage elements in the range have a typically posh Kate Sylvester bent as well - nude leather, spiked heels, seamed stockings, harness detailing, off-kilter lacquered lace, gold studs.

Fetish has proven to be a popular, if slightly tricky, trend overseas (fashionable fetish stereotypes like black leather, corseting, bondage straps, latex and peek-a-boo sheer panels have appeared at Givenchy, Alexander McQueen and Louis Vuitton, among others), but Sylvester's take is less blatant ... despite last night's show seeing models tied to chairs and Swedese clothes hangers in the shape of trees (in both films the leading ladies are tied up to trees). As in the films, questions are asked, is it degrading or empowering? Or if you look at it from a pure aesthetic point of view, it's the sexy secretary stereotype with quirks - buttoned up sexuality, knee-length pencil skirts, a pussy bow blouse worn with pleats, a floral print offset with bored secretarial doodles.

"It's the whole mash-up of extremes in the movie that just sums it up perfectly. Maggie's character is outwardly so prim and uptight," Sylvester explains, "but there's all this naughty stuff going on underneath."

- NZ Herald

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