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There is a Richard Killeen fish design on the changing room curtains, a sky blue butterfly on the velvet jacket's pocket, four-inch black stilettos with fronts that unpeel like a banana, skinny black pants finished with a series of river shell buttons designed by Gregory O'Brien.

This is Doris de Pont on display.

Her clothes are wild, arty, sexy and beautifully made. She designs, she says, for women (and a few men) who want to be looked at.

"Ninety per cent of people want to follow fashion," she says. "I work for the 10 per cent who want to be noticed."

Over the past 22 years de Pont has carved a reputation for herself in the crowded New Zealand fashion scene. Like Marilyn Sainty, she is an iconic Auckland designer and her clients "are the architects, the artists, the independent women".

"Lots of personalities shop with me. New Zealand women have a lot of confidence about their own style. In Australia that figure drops to 5 per cent."

De Pont's idea, hatched after she returned from six years in Holland in the 1980s, was a design label that would be unmistakably New Zealand - but nothing as obvious as a tiki.

She wanted a more sophisticated, artistic twist. Something, she says, that reflects our European and Pacific influences as well. For example her winter range, on the sale racks now features some Killeen-designed cameos, she's dubbed "the Split Enz look".

She turned to local artists to interpret the distinctive culture of the country, worked on the sourcing of fabric and styling herself. Since then de Pont has collected a devoted following all over the country - and, it appears - the world.

"What the F*** are you doing?" drawls one aficionado with a Canadian accent, as she bounds into de Pont's Ponsonby shop. She doesn't like the look of her fashion maestro posing for the camera. It looks too much like the end.

Which, of course, it is.

At 53, and after the launch of her "X my Heart" spring collection, with its Yves St Laurent and navy references from the 1960s, her earliest inspirations and loves, plus her fabulous new spring collection, de Pont is hanging up her scissors and moving on to new things.

Only 18 months ago she opened this funky-yet-elegant store a couple of doors down from Ponsonby Rd on Williamson Ave. This time last year she was a guest designer at Fashion Week - and would have been again if she had accepted the invitation.

The men's suit she presented there was so distinctive and exciting it made the pages of Viva, this paper's weekly style section. Another men's suit, made from fabric based on Hundtertwasser's flag for New Zealand, won the Benson & Hedges Fashion Award in 1990.

This season's X my Heart collection has been snapped up by de Pont's retail outlets.

So why stop now? "I think I've become a dinosaur really."

The floods of cheap made-in-China collections make it harder and harder to compete, if she was interested in doing so.

"There's just so much in the marketplace," she says. "Over the last 10 years there's been a 350 per cent increase in the tonnage coming into New Zealand from China. And with it comes the pressure to acquire."

The result is factories closing, expertise going overseas. "There have been no apprenticeships for a long time and few places where they can practise those skills. So we'll lose the infrastructure - and the ability to make our own clothes."

Unlike competitors such as Trelise Cooper, who recently moved her production to China, de Pont could not, would not, do that. Her fabrics, which include applique, upholstery and curtain material, are designed with a different artist or photographer every season. She has worked with Richard Killeen, John Pule, Gregory O'Brien and photographer Sally Tagg in Auckland. The fabrics are sourced and dyed here, the clothes designed, cut out and sewn here. "And I pay New Zealand wages!" The idea of translating even one layer of that operation to China is unthinkable.

As she says, she makes clothes for people who buy, say three new pieces every season, "love them to bits, wear them to death then stash them back in the wardrobe forever". She is talking about jackets with shiny soft linings printed with poetry, basic cardigans and tops in softest snag-free cotton mesh that could be worn anywhere - and the mad, ruby red and yellow viscose tops printed with Killeen's distinctive geometric prints, that she wears herself.

Many of her garments are acknowledged works of art. A jacket is lined with fabric printed with the Gregory O'Brien poem, House and Children. There are collections of them at Te Papa and Auckland Museum.

It all started with a degree in anthropology from Auckland University, a stint teaching at Richmond Rd primary school in Grey Lynn when the roll was 88 per cent Pacific Island children, six years in Holland learning about her Dutch heritage, followed by a headlong dash into the fashion business.

"I was always creating, making things," she says. "When we were small all our clothes came from Holland. I decided to make a virtue of looking different rather than feeling terrible about it."

So she learned to sew. "It was so quick. You'd start in the morning with a piece of fabric and wear it to a party in the evening." And for the girl who didn't want to look like other people, the effect was perfect.

By the early 80s, after her stint in Europe, de Pont was ready. "It was the time of Gloss," she says. "People had more to spend on clothes. And they were fantastically colourful and outlandish."

Armed with her big idea, she set about sourcing fabrics and looking to artists for inspiration, then opened a shop in O'Connell St.

"Melba [restaurant] was at one end, Patrick Steele in Vulcan Lane, Le Brie next door, and Trelise Cooper in High St".

Next, in 1994, after a patch of time out with her two younger children, came the birth of DNA clothing. The name stood for Doris 'n Adrienne: Adrienne Foote, a recognised textile artist, did fabrics and finishes; Doris designed the clothes. And together they were magic.

"It was my first foray into manufacturing, running seasonal ranges and wholesaling," says de Pont. The partners set up a workshop in K' Rd, supplied shops from Invercargill, to Napier and New Plymouth. They also launched into Australia.

When Foote pulled out around eight years later, de Pont started her own Doris de Pont label, launched into Japan, where she still has a loyal following, and opened her retail shop in Ponsonby, five minutes from her Grey Lynn home.

And now, she says, it's time for a change. She has no problems with the New Zealand fashion industry, thinks Fashion Week has been a boost to the business.

"I've been involved since day one". But for her, with her dedication to New Zealand textiles, design and manufacture, the competition is just too tough.

Her beef, if it's with anything, is with the fashion media. "My clothes are a bit out-there - and I get attention for that. But they're not treated seriously in a fashion context."

Why? "I just don't follow the trends."

And she is right. Apart from some high-waisted, filmy dresses, de Pont's clothes are timeless. Which makes her last collection, which opens today, all the more appealing.

Her assistant shows me the highlights.

The grey denim "Tribute" jacket with the glossy fantail embroidered on the back; the sheer-back top threaded with silky black ribbon designed by John Pule to echo the shiny black lacquer of Tongan tapa; Greg O'Brien's rivershell buttons lasered into a X. The high-spirited, apple green and white of the new, filmy, Sally Tagg-inspired dresses and leggings - and everything splashed with red perspex hearts.

As de Pont says, sitting there in her dark red and gold shapes and stripes with the belt and the red plastic hearts all etched with words from past collections - "aroha", "cheap thrills", "trappings" - and threaded on narrow red ribbon, "You don't need to be 'out there' to love my clothes - but you do need to have the confidence to be looked at!"