For refined style: 'second best will never do'

By Zoe Walker

Susan Hislop shares her refined aesthetic.

Susan Hislop. Photo / Babiche Martens
Susan Hislop. Photo / Babiche Martens

The elegant Susan Hislop describes her shopping style as random, with an enjoyment of the pursuit of a specific object of desire. "My daughter in Sydney picks up the chase when I can't find things here. She will tell you my requests are exact and second best will never do." Hislop's background in art has also shaped her style, with an appreciation for creativity, craftmanship and the history of a garment. She has worked at Webb's Auction House, and bought, sold and valued New Zealand contemporary art for Ferner Galleries in Parnell, too. She currently runs the treasure trove that is Walker and Hall's Vintage Store on Queen St, a role Hislop says combines her love of art, history and beautiful things.

A tip for wearing jewellery is to be mindful of proportion. The size of your hand or the length of your hair and neck are important when making choices. Try things on and look into a full length mirror - take off any jewellery you are not sure of - wear that tomorrow.

I have always loved a combination of precious metals - yellow with white gold or silver. This started with having both in my wedding ring and it went on from there. I don't adhere to the old rules of wearing just gold or silver, and never a matching "set".

If I were to wear only one piece of jewellery for the rest of my life, it would be my wide wedding ring, made of yellow and white gold, set with 19 small diamonds. We were living in Los Angeles at the time we decided to get married in 1990. I couldn't find a ring I liked in the many diamond stores until we wandered down a side street in Beverley Hills and into an antique jewellery shop. We both fell in love with the vintage pieces and together chose the art deco ring I wear today and always. It is a unique and special reminder of where and when we began our life together. The ring was stolen from a hotel room once, by a maid. After a nerve wracking day it was returned anonymously. So lucky.

Vintage jewellery is the essence of my love affair with art history. Every design period has a certain charm whether Victorian or art deco, European or Oriental. I appreciate the craftsmanship and the sense of the past gained from interpreting hallmarks on silver and gold. I have inherited some beautiful ojime, handmade in Japan in about 1890. These are beads of wood and ivory, some lacquered, others carved bone Noh masks. Worn by samurai and merchants, threaded on a cord between inro and netsuke. I wear them as a necklace and shall never sell them, although I have been asked.

I left New Zealand at 19 to see the world and London was heaven in the mid-1960s. I was an early adopter of fitted jackets and man-style pants. This still works for me now I have grown up.

The best style advice I have ever received was whatever your size or age, a woman should always have a feminine silhouette, i.e. a waistline. This advice was passed on to me by my mother-in-law, a former British model, as told by her agent, Eileen Ford. It stops me having second helpings.

The designer that I respect the most is Yves Saint Laurent. He was inspired by the fearless, exotic heroine type of woman: Paloma Picasso, Bianca Jagger and Catherine Deneuve. Women not afraid to take risks. His Le Smoking collection created in 1966 forever changed the way women dressed. I have a tuxedo jacket or a version of it in my wardrobe always.

The most treasured items in my wardrobe is two Louis Vuitton travel pieces given to me by my husband long ago while we were living overseas in the early 1990s. I loved the classic design and craftsmanship.

I'm inspired by old movies, especially those starring Katherine Hepburn and later, Faye Dunaway. I also pay homage to Judith Baragwanath. A local legend. She had a very strong, distinct look which I think was under-rated.

I used to collect prints and drawings by 20th century NZ artists. Prices at auction today keep me out of the market. I treasure what I have. I tend to buy books now. My husband also thinks I have the largest collection of cushions on the planet.

- NZ Herald

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