Asked what she's proud of, without hesitation design marketing guru Clare Mora replies, "still being here!" and roars with laughter. It's a mark of both humility and business nous. Even in difficult times her retail design company, Essenze, is more than just "here" - it's taking off.
Thanks to her opera-singing father moving the family to Germany, Mora is bilingual. This cultural and linguistic duality has served her well, with some adjustment. "I didn't quite 'get' New Zealand at first; I was probably more German." She became an air hostess with Lufthansa, and then studied the business concept of design in Munich. Then things changed. "I started to see what New Zealand was all about. What I saw when I came back was this incredible workmanship of contemporary one-off design pieces."
What did she do? "In a very, very naive way," she said, "I put a collection of New Zealand design work together and began selling an idea." At first it was to Germany. Her background was a huge advantage, not only in terms of language but also mentality. People listened to her. "Apparently my body language changes as I switch from one language to the other."
Mora's talent lies in a shrewd creative eye and business brain, coupled with the ability to mentor. After successfully marketing Hoglund glass for several years, she got a call from furniture designer David Trubridge. "When I saw the difference in his product range from previous years I was blown away." But Trubridge's press was not reflected in his sales. So Mora helped him get systems up and running. Within a year his whole business had turned around. "Then I said to myself how many others are out there in the same situation?"
And that's how Essenze started in 2005. It's gone from strength to strength, culminating in the recent opening of a store on Broadway in New York. What Mora has established is a commercially curated collection. "At the moment it's definitely according to my eye, built around my opinion."
The most important artist for Essenze is still David Trubridge. But there are exciting new artists emerging. Mora taps into talent pools of designers in Dunedin and Wellington. She speaks highly of Te Rongo Kirkwood, a glass artist working in slumped and fused glass. And Christopher Metcalfe, she says, is a very clever designer who could be the new Trubridge in time.
"There's no clear definition to New Zealand design. It's sweetly naive but to our advantage. In Italy everything is clean lines, chrome and lacquered finishes. Our approach is warmer, more organic, a little bit quirky. Everything is influenced by nature with a very good use of colour."
To market successfully overseas, scalability becomes an issue. One-off design is problematic. A local manufacturing base has to be nurtured and sustained, raising the vexed question of cost. Asked about going offshore, Mora looks stubborn. "We couldn't, wouldn't and don't want to. It would go against everything we believe in. That's the German in me coming out," she laughs. "We're selling romance, story, and a bit of a dream with New Zealand design. If we bypassed that we would risk losing everything."
285 Parnell Road,
909-911 Broadway, New York City
When it comes to friends and enemies, Allan Matson may have more of the latter. But when you are as tenacious about heritage as he is, that's the territory. "Maybe there are people at Council who think I'm a troublemaker and a zealot, but I think my zeal is better characterised as passion."
He has the hazy title of "heritage consultant", one who is turning into a bit of a national treasure (at least Auckland treasure). His battles to save buildings have become legion. The scourge of a few developers and council officers, arguably urban planning needs a voice like his - to counter the relentless pulling down of old to make way for new. In Auckland some would say this has been a frenzy. Of course there has to be balance, but when the heritage incentive funding of Auckland and Christchurch is compared - $50,000 as against $900,000 - it would appear heritage in the City of Sails is not such a priority.
At times Matson has appeared a bit of a lone voice, a modern-day Horatio at the end of the bridge bravely fighting superior forces and numbers. He started life as a merchant banker before studying architecture. "I love research and I love detail, but travelling the world and my time in merchant banking enabled me to appreciate the bigger picture."
His eye for detail and talent for research means he's become a hawk over due process. This ability led him to uncover "slip-ups" in the consent process for the Jean Batten Building and the Art Gallery extension to name but two - slip-ups that conveniently made substantial demolition of both buildings much easier. In the case of redeveloping the Jean Batten Building, the application for resource consent had no heritage assessment as legally required. After inquiries from Matson, one was hurriedly produced. It concluded the demolition to be undertaken would only have "minor" effect, he says. "This was not a conclusion council would likely have come to had earlier legal moves to protect the building been properly processed."
In the best tradition of crusaders, Matson eschews financial gain. People assume he must be rich. "This work earns me nothing. My existence is largely paid for through the goodwill of others. Surviving on donations is difficult and has had its personal costs," he says. A loyal group keeps him afloat, but it's not organised enough to be called proper patronage. And periods can be lean. "If that sometimes means one meal a day, so be it. If I'd stuck with merchant banking maybe I'd have had a BMW in the garage," he says with humour.
But it's not all doom and gloom. After nearly five years of battling, some success appears to be in sight. Matson is hopeful that under the council's controversial "points system" for listing heritage buildings, the score for the Fitzroy Hotel may eventually reach close to 100, having opened at a derisory 47. Auckland's oldest pub, built in 1855, may finally be off death row.
Instead of seeing him as an adversary, perhaps Matson's detractors would be better off employing his skills and viewing him as an asset.
Asked whether he has a tendency to swim against the tide, our Heritage Horatio replies, "change happens that way".
First impressions of Ema Tavola are of London chic. But her modern, urban British accent is a bit of a red herring. Her mother is a Pakeha educationalist and her father a retired Fijian diplomat. The accent comes from attending an English school in Brussels. Identity is something Tavola talks about with eloquence. "I'm a hybrid, genetically conflicted. Pakeha and Fijian - part coloniser, part colonised."
Tavola is the young, vivacious director of Fresh Gallery Otara in South Auckland. With Fijian warmth and a ready laugh, her passion about what she is doing shines through. She has a degree in sculpture from the Visual Arts School in Otara, on the recommendation of Niuean-born artist, John Pule.
"I struggled at Arts School because I saw a lot of Pacific artists having to compromise, fitting into the framework of Western art systems." Tavola made sure her views were known. "I'm definitely an agitator, I don't like mediocrity!"
Two months after finishing her degree she was appointed to the council as Pacific Arts Co-ordinator and has found her niche. Fresh Gallery Otara is an old laundromat given a $20,000 facelift and run as a council arts facility. It opened in 2006 with Tavola as its director and curator, on a mandate that the Otara community be the first audience. Long and skinny, the gallery has only 16 metres of wall space, but it's developed a reputation for exciting, innovative work. The artists are young; the identity and influence strongly South Auckland.
"I love that space. I'm taking it in the direction of being a contemporary Pacific exhibitions gallery. I like that the fashion and trends of South Auckland don't subscribe to those of Central Auckland."
Tavola has established relationships with dealer galleries in Auckland. In the case of Leilani Kake, it meant after exhibiting at Fresh she was quickly given the opportunity to exhibit elsewhere. Kake went on to win Emerging Artist at the Arts Pacifica Awards in 2008.
The video installation artist, Janet Lilo, broke attendance records with her exhibition entitled Top 16 about the culture of social networking sites such as Bebo. "Kids came in and read the installation of over 400 photos like a book," said Tavola, "looking at each image to see if they recognised anyone."
It's a mark of her curatorial success that late last year she was invited to host a Pecha Kucha evening in Manukau. Pecha Kucha is a forum for architects, artists and design lovers to give short, 20-image presentations. Nearly 300 people attended. Tavola introduced 14 talented "newbies" - artists established in their own right but not mainstream.
They included the Tongan graffiti artist Benjamin Work, and electro-rapper Coco Solid, fresh from the Red Bull Music Academy in Barcelona.
Tavola says what she is seeing more and more is a South Auckland conviction.
"The artists are so proud of where they come from. Manukau is a little bit ghetto and a little bit ugly, but it's culturally special. On Christmas Day in Otara, all you can see is a haze from the umu. The smell is intoxicating. The thing about South Auckland is it defines itself - socially, politically and in its art. The umu haze represents that. It's symbolic."
Fresh Gallery Otara,
Shop 5, 46 Fairmall, Otara Town Centre, Manukau.
Next exhibition runs for three weeks from 22nd January,
5 Fiji Women artists