Fashion statement: Young designers in the front rank

By Zoe Walker

Nipping at the heels of the big names in fashion are keen young designers taking their place in the industry’s front rank.

Whitecliffe graduate Jessica Grubisa, 22, works as design-room assistant with the legendary Adrienne Winkelmann. Photo / Janna Dixon
Whitecliffe graduate Jessica Grubisa, 22, works as design-room assistant with the legendary Adrienne Winkelmann. Photo / Janna Dixon

Around five years ago, a new wave of New Zealand fashion designers emerged, a group who now have dedicated brands in their own right. Now Juliette Hogan, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Deadly Ponies, Cybele and Lonely Hearts are set to become some of our future fashion superstars.

But coming up behind them is a new generation of confident young designers who know how to make the most of the internet and social media to get their names recognised.

Online sales may have damaged local boutiques, but in the new fashion world, savvy young designers no longer have to wait for a buyer or a fashion editor to give them their big break.

Instead, they can promote themselves and develop a following using social media, blogs and online stores.

The internet plays a key role for designer Kelsey Genna's eponymous label.

The Wellington 21-year-old creates fun and flouncy made-to-measure frocks that are available only online. Designers once had to build up networks of local stockists before thinking global, but most of Genna's clients live overseas.

Genna began selling her clothes online when she was 16 and says her choice to launch her label online is the key to her success.

"Being based online means the whole world can be my marketplace."

Other new talent developing New Zealand fashion's quirky and wearable new look include the Wellington-based label Surface Too Deep, which produces printed vintage-inspired swimwear, and Napier's Lucy Kemp of the label Pardon my French, who designs feminine and preppy collections from her parents' garage. Textile design, too, is a growing niche business: Auckland textile designer Elizabeth Wilson, 30, has created darkly quirky prints for the label Blak Luxe - such as a bold florals interspersed with switchblades - and has plans to launch her own label soon. Sydney-based Samantha Murray, a Massey University graduate, has created incredible lightweight fruit-scented garments from fibre-form, by pouring liquid into plastic moulds.

In design studios around the country, fresh young talent is helping to inject youth into established labels. Sam Hickey, 23, became menswear designer at Huffer just months after graduating from AUT's fashion school; Whitecliffe graduate Jessica Grubisa, 22, works as design-room assistant with the legendary Adrienne Winkelmann.

"It's amazing," she says. "I learn something new every day. I'm lucky enough to be working for New Zealand's Chanel!"

For her graduate design collection, Grubisa hand-beaded gems onto silk hessian and organza gowns, and hand-knitted festive tinsel into a coat and jumper. At one stage it dyed her hands bright pink. She plans to launch a label with Madeleine Harman, 23, another Whitecliffe graduate, who impressed with her use of hand embroidery and "paint-skin" fabric.

A notable feature of our most interesting young talents is their passion for craftsmanship: production is small, often hand-made, with attention to detail. Kate Megaw, of the label Penny Sage, hand-knits, paints and dyes beautiful garments that are inspired by fabric and experimentation with pattern-making. Jewellery designer Alexandra Dodds handcrafts sculptural rings that blur the line between fashion and art.

Areez Katki has a unique take on knitwear, experimenting with technique and craft. The 23-year-old Aucklander hand-dyes yarn with flowers and plants from his garden, knitting each piece in his room, or "sometimes on a bus or a train, at a park or a café".
He's content with a design team of one, to keep creative control and to ensure each one-off garment reflects his delight for individuality in design. "If a mistake is made, it's mine to deal with; if there's a triumph, it's mine to celebrate."

FLASHBACK: TOP FASHION FROM OUR PAST

Annie Bonza

One of our first celebrity designers, Bonza changed her name from Catherine Anne Cole after taking a shine to the Ocker word "bonzer" while living in Sydney in the late 1960s. The colourfully embellished garments in her Ponsonby boutique were a hit with a young, hip clientele. A win at the 1971 Benson and Hedges Award and her dressing of guests on the TV pop show C'mon raised her profile. Bonza moved to the Cook Islands in 1977, but returned to open a new Auckland store in the late 1980s. Her designs embraced our Pacific heritage and her love of colour, even for bridal wear: she called this lime-green gown, in a 1991 photo by Bride and Groom's Lesley Walker, the Botticelli dress. She went again to the Cook Islands in 1996 but, now in her 70s, has been back here for two years. In 2006, her work was shown in Te Papa.

Babs Radon

A leading designer of her time, Barbara Herrick launched the restrained and elegant Babs Radon label in the late 1950s. She designed the uniforms for Air New Zealand forerunner NAC and created Sophie of 5th Avenue, a label exclusive to Smith & Caughey. Herrick, then Barbara Penberthy, won the Supreme Award at the Wool Board Awards in 1963, with a white wool dress and coat trimmed with marmot fur. The prize was presented in Lower Hutt by the Queen. "I was amazed at the questions she asked," Herrick recalls. "Someone had obviously done a bit of digging for her, because she knew how many children I had." Now 81, she lives in Ponsonby and still creates the odd Babs Radon piece.

Hullabaloo

Isabel Harris and Brian Hall worked for 26 years in their businesses Thornton Hall and the popular boutiques and label Hullabaloo. The first Hullabaloo shop opened on Victoria St in 1970 and they moved to a larger store in Queen St three years later. "Whatever was in fashion, I made sure it was available," says Harris, "I even did hand-painted sneakers when they were a hot fashion item that you could not get in New Zealand." In 1972, Harris won Eve magazine's Fashion Award and at the presentation, Maysie Bestall-Cohen modelled a Hullabaloo trouser suit made from double-knit wool jersey from Levana Textiles' Levin mill - "a great fabric and one I was happy to use," says Harris. Import restrictions meant sophisticated European fabrics were hard to import and expensive, Harris recalls. "Many (local) woollen fabrics were quite basic, suitable for jackets and coats." Hullabaloo rebranded as Thornton Hall in the late 1970s, and Harris and Hall sold the business in 1993 (it closed several years later). They divide their time between Parnell and a farm north of Auckland, and work with environmental organisations.

Nicholas Blanchet

Known for his 1990s conceptual collections, Blanchet started his business in Dunedin in 1994. His New Zealand Fashion Week show in 2002 was based on the idea of death: friends plucked petals from sacks of roses to cover the catwalk and one of his staff lay in the ceiling of the Town Hall and dropped red confetti - red petals dropping from the gods. "Everyone's fingers were sore as the countdown to the show progressed," Blanchet recalls. After the company went broke in 2003, Blanchet worked for local label Gregory. He now lives in Melbourne, where he works for Cambridge Clothing.

Zoe Walker is the fashion features editor for the Herald's Viva magazine.

- From The Magazine featured in the September 10 new-look New Zealand Herald.

- NZ Herald

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