For over half a century Taumarunui fashion designer Michael Mattar knew exactly how to make women of all shapes and sizes feel beautiful.

And this weekend his hometown is hosting a fashion show and tea party with more than 200 of the iconic Kiwi designer's garments on display.

Co-organiser Lynda Gulbransen says they've been preparing for over five months and bringing all the garments together has been like "playing dress-ups except none of them fit us".

Friends, family, former staff and many of his clients are travelling from near and far to attend the Waikato Hospice fundraiser including one of Mattar's machinists, Anne Rupe.


Mrs Rupe recalls her time working for Mr Mattar in the 1950's. She describes a man with an eye for detail who could make all of his customers feel and look great.

"He had this way of putting a fabric up under their chin, to make sure it would suit their colouring or their hair, Mrs Rupe says. 'He made the right creation for the build of the person or client who he was creating for."

Lorraine Levien has lived in Taumarunui for most of her life and says if she ever had special events to go to she'd always visit Mattar to see what he had on the rack or what he could tailor for her.

"He would say 'this would look fabulous on you' he would say and I'd say 'oh I don't know if I like that' but I would put it on. But he knew, he could see straight away, he was just terrific. He knew how to fit them, he just knew and you'd go in and he'd say you've lost weight, and he'd be pinning it up because naturally, he would want it to fit right," Ms Levein says.

The youngest of six, Michael Mattar took an interest in fashion from the age of ten - as he grew older he made clothes for his two older sisters Adele and Zeph. Later he took over the shed at the back of the family home and in the 1950's he had established a business on the main street of the small rural town.

Mrs Levein still has many of her garments that Mattar made for her including the first, purchased from him in 1955.

"It was a summer dress, it was a floral polish cotton and it's going to be in the show, I kept it, and I wore it a lot because I loved it."

Rupe always enjoyed sewing at school and says her father sweet-talked the renowned designer into giving her a job.

"My father did all the talking and he was showing off the clothes that I had made for my brother who was a horse rider. And [Mattar] turned around and said 'yes start Monday',

"We did the construction, he did all the cutting, gave us the instructions, told us what to do and zoom zoom zoom, somebody's coming for a fitting at two o'clock and we had to have it ready."

Rupe says Mattar was "hard case" and had a special laugh that many knew him for.

"He used to give a little giggle and it was really quite infectious," Mrs Levein adds.

In 1991 Mattar was acknowledged with a Queen's Service Medal but Mrs Gulbransen says many of the locals never saw him as famous. But now that has changed, and she wants others to know about his fabulous garments that women across the country treasure.

"People have just held onto them because it's got his label on the back, maybe it cost them maybe it had a special memory or maybe it was just Michael. There was just something special about the man - anybody that owns one just wants to keep it forever," Mrs Gulbransen says.

More than 200 garments and 16 wedding dresses will be shown at the Taumarunui Memorial Hall on Saturday, 7th October, but only 19 models are lucky enough to slip into some of the haute couture designs.

One of them is Raewyn Vanstone. "I actually knew Michael when I was younger and he was a fantastic lovely guy. His clothes are just out of this world. It makes you feel really... like I don't know, like you can go back to a different time, because the fabrics are so..... you can tell what's from the 80's you can tell what was maybe from the 60's. Some of the garments that I'm wearing are really long, down to my feet, thick, woollen winter, dress and it makes it feel really girly," Mrs Vanstone says.

Michael Mattar died in 2004, but his legacy lives on in through his designs which are now helping fundraise money for Hospice Waikato.

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