Renowned Kiwi fashion designer Turet Knuefermann is opening Fashion Week for the first time after 13 years in the industry. The elusive designer has eschewed publicity until now.
1 Growing up in Hamilton, when did you discover fashion?
Mum was a trained seamstress who handmade all our clothes from scratch, from our socks to our shirts. Matching too; Dad would have a checkered shirt and us two girls would be in matching skirts. It made for great family photos. Our parents are German and we lived in both countries. When Dad was on sabbatical we'd travel around Europe. We were blessed to have a very cultural upbringing.
2 Which country has your favourite fashion?
Italy has a refined, classic style I adore but the country that's had the biggest influence on me is Brazil. My husband is Brazilian. When he took me there I fell in love with the country and the fashion; it's so colourful and vibrant. Culturally it's very different to Germany, which is more serious. Brazilian men dress beautifully. There's pride in dressing well, even if you're not wealthy - it's a sign of respect.
3 You've spent 13 years designing clothes for New Zealand women. Do we have our own style?
The European look is very classic whereas I'd call the New Zealand look 'classic with a twist'. We're open to being a little more quirky and embracing our own style. Like the Scandinavians, we're comfortable mixing the masculine and the feminine, combining a men's-style pant with a feminine top or oversized shirt and sneakers.
4 Have you ever had a bad fashion moment?
I used to buy things that didn't suit me and they'd end up in the cupboard. That doesn't happen anymore. My wardrobe is minimal and I wear everything in it. It's surprising how little you need. I wear a lot of black so I'm not distracted and can focus on making things.
5 How did you become a fashion designer?
I never planned to be one. I made clothes for fun with my friends while studying management at university. A stylist friend asked me to make a garment she needed for a shoot and it ended up in a magazine. Another friend asked me to make some dresses for his store. I worked out I could afford to open my own store on Brown Street if I sold one dress a week. It was off the beaten track so it was all word of mouth. I'd sew the garments in the store to sell the next day. I kept them very simple with high quality fabrics and that's what I became known for.
6 Do you think it's important to manufacture your clothes in New Zealand?
I make 90 per cent of my clothes here because we can make small runs quickly. I have to go offshore for things like knitwear because we don't have the factories here. I believe in going to the experts in their field; for example the Portuguese make the best quality shoes the most efficiently. Career-wise, not many New Zealanders aspire to be machinists. Our strength is in creativity, design and marketing. We love thinking outside the square and doing things our own way. I think it's to do with the schooling here, which supports children thinking differently and doing what they're good at.
7 You opened a second 'concept store' two years ago in the historic Kauri Timber building on Fanshawe St - has the location worked?
The fact it doesn't have parking has been a challenge for New Zealanders which is a shame. But for a new store, it's doing really well. The move was never for commercial reasons. I fell in love with this beautiful old building and wanted to create a haven for people to come in and relax and enjoy some time out. Fearon Hay Architects did an amazing job retaining the character while making it into a modern space.
8 Have you considered expanding further?
I have - I could have eight stores scattered internationally and still retain exclusivity with small amounts of product in each store. Production-wise I'd be at ultimate efficiency. But then my role would change to people management. What I love most is being involved in the design and close to my customers. It's important to recognise what you need in life and be content when you have it.
9 You had your first child two years ago. How have you found motherhood?
I'd never considered motherhood so it's come as a nice surprise. You don't realise how intensely you focus on work. Manufacturing is constant putting out fires - there are so many variables that can go wrong. Coming home at the end of the day to the simple pleasure of being with a child is a very welcome relaxant. It adds another dimension to your life. I've found it so fulfilling.
10 Fast fashion chain stores can copy your designs in a flash. How do you maintain an edge?
They're fine if you're really young and look good in polyester. From the age of about 25 it's important to think about who you are and what's right for you. It's incredible how much clothing affects how we feel about ourselves. Hand-crafted garments fit the body much better because they've been made off cut patterns rather than measurement charts sent to China. I spend at least three days a week in the store with customers. Because I haven't done publicity, they don't know I'm the designer so I gain valuable insight into what they need and what fits their lifestyle.
11 You've been appointed to open Fashion Week 2018 as the Mercedes-Benz Presents designer. Are you excited?
I am for once. I've always avoided being in the public eye. It's scary putting things on stage for everyone to critique. As a creative person it feels like you're exposing something really personal. Fashion Week is a trade show and we don't wholesale so for it's more a platform for local brand awareness. In the past I've thrown my show together in a month. This year I've had much more time to prepare and have refined the garments to a point I'm happy with. It's also forced me to produce a complete collection instead a new style every week.
12 What are you showing this year?
The Travel Edit is a new compilation of travel 'must haves'. Customers always say how easy our pieces are to pack, they fold up to nothing, so I've developed a versatile collection of travel essentials from fun resort pieces and suiting mix and match to the little black dresses and evening wear we're famous for. It's always rewarding to see your garments coming down the catwalk at Fashion Week. It's definitely the more glamorous, fun part of it.