Twelve questions

Sarah Stuart poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions: Kate Sylvester

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Kate Sylvester has been designing clothes for Kiwi women for two decades and is now a big name in both New Zealand and Australia. A mother of three boys, she runs her business with husband Wayne Conway and is not a fan - yet - of Botox.

Kate Sylvester returns to Australian Fashion Week next month after taking a break last year.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Kate Sylvester returns to Australian Fashion Week next month after taking a break last year. Photo / Greg Bowker

1. You are showing again at Australian Fashion Week next month - how different is their fashion to ours?

I think it is more polished and commercial. More obviously sexy and trend-driven. But that is a very broad generalisation, like saying NZ is gothic. They do think of us as their wacky cousins!

2. What was your childhood like?

Dress-ups, cut-out dolls, patchwork, gardening, dogs, cats, tramping, wood smoke, books, baking, gravel roads, roses, roses, roses, dolls' house, the Beach Boys, paisley, cricket commentaries, the Falcon 500, Nan, pottery, Daisy Dolls, potpourri, sunbathing, felt-tip pens, Abba, more books, blackboard dust, witch-chasing stones, Vogue magazines, cut grass, happiness.

3. What lessons do you want to teach your three sons?

Independence, strength of character and integrity, all the while just trying to make sure they can spell, multiply and survive the West Coast surf.

This parenting thing definitely gets more daunting, as well as more rewarding the older my sons get.

4. You've said in the past that you dislike consumerism - is that a difficult ideology in your industry?

I don't like consumerism that is excessive, ill-considered or unrestrained. I can't stand buying junk and it is very important to me not to sell junk either. Quality not quantity, I can still hear my mother saying it and I say it to my own children.

5. Is this a hellish time to be in retail?It is certainly very weird times.

The retail landscape is changing so much due to the growing power of e-commerce and digital marketing.

We are actually having quite a good time in retail but I think that is because we spend a huge amount of time making sure there is enough reason to come into the store.

6. Literary interpretation often informs your clothes - what are you reading right now?

A biography of Rimbaud. I didn't know his poetry but after reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and hearing him referred to so often by other musicians and also in a fashion context, I had to find out about him. He is gloriously appalling, heroically brave and still only 18 years old. He was infamous for wearing rags and being riddled with lice so it would make for an interesting collection!

7. What's the best - and worst - things about working with your husband?

Having total trust in your business partner is invaluable in the work place and at home, understanding your partner's stresses and work responsibilities. The worst part is when you are fighting with them in either context and there's no escape! But creativity is what drives us and we do it way better together.

8. Botox, yes or no?

No, right now I'm really hoping I can age like Grace Coddington rather than Joan Rivers but when I was 14 I vowed I'd never drink alcohol. A few years later my 14-year-old self seemed so priggish and naive so it'll be interesting to read my answer to this question in 10 years.

9. How would you define cool?

Nonchalant but edgy style. Our ivory porcelain swan is beautiful but our black swan is cool. The Beatles were good but the Rolling Stones were cool. I totally overuse the word and sometimes it's better to be beautiful or good but I think my friends would agree the greatest compliment Kate Sylvester will ever pay anything is "Oh my god, that's so f****** cool!"

10. Your stores at present are bursting with colour - has New Zealand's obsession with black gone, do you think?

No! I hope not, I love black, but I do think we have got it in perspective a bit better. I wear colour when I'm feeling relaxed and confident, I wear black when I need some confidence or when I'm too frantic to think at all. Confidence is the key I guess, as an industry we feel confident enough now to work with colour and the New Zealand fashion consumer feels confident enough in us to buy it.

11. Why does design matter?

On a purist level, anything that works really well is actually well designed. Hence no dinosaurs or penny farthings around anymore. But superficially - I love beauty. Seeing, wearing or using something beautiful just makes me really, really happy.

12. You've got one outer garment to wear for the next six weeks. What would you choose?

My Susie dress from this winter's collection. Warm day - sleeves pulled up, cold day - down. At work - with flat boots, out at night - with heels, at athletics - with Chucks. It will hide cooking stains because it's a camo print, it will bend with me because it stretches and it will wash and go. We design clothes to live in.

- NZ Herald

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