It's no longer reserved for the rich and famous, darlings; all kinds of Kiwis now hire experts for style advice. Rachel Grunwell lets a stylist work her magic in a spring makeover.
The character Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous muttered bucket-loads of memorable quotes, such as "You can never have enough hats, gloves and shoes".
Auckland-based stylist Leigh Matheson tells me she loves these wise words. But she reckons don't stop there, darling. You can also never have enough sunglasses, bags and fashion accessories, sweetie.
And Leigh says New Zealand fashion is a fabulous resource. Our designers turn out gems just as glam as any big foreign brand.
I'm with Leigh for a day after putting my hand up to swallow some professional style advice. I'll confess I was a tad freaked about meeting a stylist. I've developed a love-affair with some labels, but styling is still largely a mystery to me and those telly stylists Trinny and Susannah have a lot to answer for: All that bosom-adjusting, bum-examining and personal-crisis-searching-which-evokes-tears gives me heart palpitations.
So thank goodness Leigh is not only chic, she's cool. She assures me she won't slot me into a category and force me to adhere to a strict dress code. Instead, she promises to give me an "outside eye" on what could be cool to throw on, given my shape and colourings. But she warns me "I want to scare you a bit" by picking some pieces that I might not realise I could pull off. That's her job.
But ultimately she says "fashion is about wearing clothes that make you feel good" and trying to get the "proportions" right. She's there to be a good guide.
She reckons she'll unearth something I'll fall for and then I'll find my "swagger".
So I surrender myself to be a clothes horse. It's easy as I trust Leigh because she knows what she's talking about. She's been around fashion since she was knee-high. Her dad is legendary designer Keith Matheson and her mum, Wayne Goldsmith, is a costume designer for film and television commercials. Leigh knows fabric, form, fashion and how to design and is also a publisher of Pilot magazine, which includes a mix of pop culture, fashion, art and photography.
One of her favourite style subjects was John Key, before he became the Prime Minister. She snuck him into some snake-skin cowboy boots and a wool mohair suit for a Remix magazine shoot, "and he was such a good sort about it", says Leigh, adding "I couldn't imagine Helen Clark doing that. She was stuck in a (fashion) rut!"
Leigh says that stylists for hire like her charge between $750-$1500 to spend a day consulting with a client, "editing" their wardrobe, then shopping with them to find pieces that suit them.
We kick off shopping in the relatively new fashion hub of Britomart. We sidle up to designer Kate Sylvester's clothes and I learn to embrace some very girly girl dresses. Her mix of spring blues and reds pop. I adore a collared sheer blue top, with lace detail, that I try on.
We check out Zambesi and Leigh shows off a marbled-look collarless jacket that I could team with a T-shirt and jeans for a day look, or wear it over a dress and add accessories for some night-time glamour.
I'm given a taste of beautifully tailored threads by Ingrid Starnes, a darling of NZ Fashion Week. Her Agatha trench coat show off my waist and looks stunning with all its tucks and tailoring. I could wear this anywhere, Leigh tells me.
I slip on some of Kathryn Wilson's sensational shoes and immediately see what all the fuss is about. I vow to never forget her name.
I ooh and ahhh over some of Karen Walker's eye-wear and jewellery and want to cry when I have to give it all back. From her owl ring, to skull necklaces and chunky diamond rings, each piece is a statement of world class design.
Chain store Glassons is even embraced for an affordable fashion fix. If there's a fashion trend that you will only don for a season, such as neon, then buy these pieces cheaply, and save money for investment pieces from good quality designers whose creations won't date and should last years.
Leigh gets to shock me too. She shows me some gold-coloured bloomers at one point that are gorgeous, but we agree they will never fly with me due to my lack of super-thin pins. She shows me why I really should love Zambesi, by picking out some cargo pants that are, gulp, harem-style. But when I put them on they feel so delicious to wear and when they're teamed with Kathryn Wilson's Giselle nude heels I'm tall enough to strut my stuff. Leigh says nude heels give an "optical illusion" of height. Amen.
We go to mosey through the women's section of famous brand World by designers Francis Hooper and Denise L'Estrange Corbet. I try a pin-striped Flamingo blazer with a triple-point collar that hugs my waist like it was made just for me and then I get goose bumps when I see it curves to a cute tail at the back. I stroke the fabric and note the feel and texture of it and declare I'm in love. I'm in heaven. And boy am I smiling.
"It's pinstripe and won't date," says Leigh. "This would sit in your wardrobe for years and so justifies the ($459) price. Plus you look hot in it!"
I was one of those people who loved to look at World but was afraid I might not be able to carry it off. But after this discovery, I want to live in their store. I love the cool craziness of it. There's taxidermy on the walls, zebra skins on the floors, brooches made of sparrow feathers, neon belts and beads and couture that's pure eye-candy and made so well it sings.
World shop assistant Jamie Branco knows the fabrics and styles and delights at dressing customers. "The looks have personality," says the sophisticated Brazilian.
He shows us garments with African prints and others emblazoned with bananas and tells me what will work with what.
Leigh teaches me that ultimately I can wear anything if I wear it with confidence, and I should just embrace my body. And never forget that fashion is about having fun.
Meanwhile, Pete Dutton from PDH Salon says the hot look for hair right now is what he's dubbed "the urban wave". Think 40s and 50s quiffs, asymmetric rolls, dry fluffy hair, with perhaps some wet slick here or there. Simply, just loose and non-fussy-looking tresses with some body and a lived-in look. Pete styles my hair just like this, giving it a roll at the front with pins, chucking in some GHD curls for body and pinches it near the bottom with a hair-tie for a "pirate ponytail". He finishes it off with some Kevin Murphy hairspray "that could hold a tennis ball in flight", he laughs.
No look would be complete without makeup and the MAC brand is a stand-out. MAC makeup artist Alicia Morgan says it's "for all ages, sexes and races". She picks fresh and glowing makeup for me because we're entering spring.
I've got warm colours called Brule and Brown Down to lift my eyes, Springsheen Blush to capture the apples in my cheeks and Give Me Sun bronzing powder to warm my skin. Lasting Sensation lip pencil and Impassioned Lipstick tops off the look, which is bolder than I'd ever choose myself, but I love it.
After the day is done, I head home and my 7-year-old says "Mum, you look different" and hubby says "It's neat". I tell them I feel absolutely fabulous, darling.
New Zealand Fashion Week
The annual showcase of New Zealand designers' Autumn/Winter collections for 2013 is just over two weeks away, running from September 4-9 at the Viaduct Events Centre. The big names taking part this year include Zambesi, Twenty-Seven Names, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Ruby, Ingrid Starnes, Hailwood, Cybele and Sera Lily.
Charlie Brown, the Australian fashion designer known for her sexy and fun evening dresses and bridal wear, will be showing for the first time.
Another highlight will be shoes inspired by designer Adrian Hailwood. He says he has developed high fashion styles for Mi Piaci, which will arrive in store after being shown at the event. The looks will range from a suede patchwork boot, a gold python shoe and a black suede shoe with lime and pink fluorescent trim.
"There will be lots of heels and glamour!" he says.
Fashion Weekend on September 8-9 is open to the public and features catwalk shows, seminars and discounted designer shopping. Tickets $12-$25 from iticket.co.nz.