El Jay's farewell fabric sale

By Zoe Walker

Zoe Walker relishes a rare opportunity to own a piece of local fashion history.

Gus Fisher, photographed in 2010 at a retrospective exhibition of El Jay designs. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Gus Fisher, photographed in 2010 at a retrospective exhibition of El Jay designs. Photo / Babiche Martens.

Within certain circles, the El Jay workroom has something of a mythical status. It's been closed for years - since 1988 in fact - and I have walked past it so many times I've lost count, peeking through the curtains at the haughty mannequins, rolls of fabric, and the elegant light fittings, dreaming of one day going inside.

The space has been left largely untouched since the doors closed 25 years ago, with few people allowed to enter - until now. On Friday, the doors of this iconic building will finally reopen, for a three-day sale of fabrics, furniture and fittings, allowing the public to get their own piece of local fashion history, and take a look inside.

The Kingston St building was the heart of the El Jay fashion house, established by Gus Fisher who developed it into one of the key founding labels of our local fashion industry.

El Jay made Dior originals under license. Photo / Babiche Martens.
El Jay made Dior originals under license. Photo / Babiche Martens.

Fisher, who passed away in 2010, would travel to Paris and bring back the latest designs and fabrics, creating elegant clothes "for the woman who knows clothes". He was proud to hold the world's longest running license deal with Christian Dior, manufacturing and selling Dior originals in New Zealand.

The El Jay building included a replica "presentation room" modelled on the Christian Dior Maison in Paris; some of the fabrics being sold this weekend are Dior fabrics. Earlier this year, Fisher's son Michael donated original lookbook catalogues - held in the workroom all these years - to the Dior archive in Paris.

Michael will hold on to many pieces, from fabrics to correspondence, but says the decision over what he keeps and what he lets go is purely emotional. "But the fabric can't stay here forever. It will deteriorate until there's just nothing left."

Over the years Michael and the trustees, who will decide on the building's future, have had many inquiries from people wanting access, from fashion designers wanting inspiration to developers wanting to convert the site to offices.

Fabrics await new buyers. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Fabrics await new buyers. Photo / Babiche Martens.

Only a lucky handful have been allowed inside. "We have had so many requests," says Michael, "I think we've had every lawyer in Auckland ask about it."

One gets the sense that opening the doors now is a wistful reminder to Michael of Gus Fisher's vitality and appreciation for beauty. It's also a way of sharing his legacy with a new generation. As Michael explains modestly of his father: "I was a fan".


• El Jay farewell sale, 6-12 Kingston St, City
Friday November 8, 8am-6.30pm, Saturday November 9, 9am-4pm, Sunday November 10, 10am-4pm.

- VIVA

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