Reporter Kristin Edge has more money invested in mountain bikes, a waka ama canoe and other sporting gear than she has ever spent - or will ever spend - on clothing. She meets a woman at the other end of the fashion spectrum and one of New Zealand's latest New Year Honours recipients Dame Trelise Cooper - who is coincidentally holidaying in Miss Edge's home patch of Whananaki.

What does one wear to interview one of New Zealand's fashion icons?

I'm more of an outdoors person than a fashionista.

The number of dri-fit shirts and shorts far outnumbers the dresses hanging in my walk-in wardrobe.


But today I must face fashion guru Trelise Cooper - now Dame Trelise.

Trelise is one of New Zealand's most successful and internationally recognised fashion designers. Her designs have featured in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, Women's Wear Daily and InStyle and on the television series Sex and the City.

Customers include celebrities Liv Tyler, Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Stevie Nicks, Suri Cruise, Julia Roberts, and The Pussycat Dolls.

It's summer time so I elect to wear a grey T-shirt with a Maori motif of a fantail, a knee-length black Kathmandu skirt and for footwear my favourite silver Havaianas jandals - they show off my manicured pink toenails.

Armed with notebook and pen plus photographer John Stone, I head to Whananaki North.

A drive through a paddock, up a track, over the brow of the hill and there it is - a north facing bach with shadowy outline of Cape Brett in the distance.

The sea is calm and there is very little surf on the beach below.

And there she is.

Trelise steps out to the deck and is quick to introduce herself and her mum Pam.

Immediately she makes me feel welcome.

Her distinctive blonde curly tresses are neatly done, her make-up on complete with bright summer-time lippy. She's wearing a neon summer frock from her latest collection along with a wrap the same colour and she's wearing white jandals topped with a black flower.

The dress colour is "neon apricot" and the top layer has laser-cut flowers - it's the latest technology.

Trelise is quick to point out this is not her usual beach attire but the television crews have been earlier to interview her about her latest accolade.

"Normally it's shorts, singlet and very little else," she says.

"I don't put makeup on or do my hair. I was here five days before I washed my hair ... that's unusual for me. I do clean my teeth and I do have a shower but it's a time to de-stress."

This information delights me.

Trelise arrived at the Whananaki North bach two days before Christmas and will be there with her mum, husband Jack, sisters and son Jasper (plus his new German wife and friends from Norway) until January 9.

It's the first time Trelise has visited the seaside location that is gaining in popularity. Former Labour party leader David Shearer has bought a patch of land just over the hill and has two caravans on it.

Trelise discovered this piece of paradise on the internet and then found out she had previously lived across the road from the owners.

While she has never been to Whananaki, her dad Joe Neill, as a 6-year-old visited friends there. The final leg of his trip was down the gravel road on a cream truck.

"I miss him that he's not here to explain his memories of this place." He died more than three years ago.

Her dad was a cousin to artist Yvonne Rust so she remembers visiting her in Whangarei as a child.

She describes her latest trip down the twisting turning cutting to the remote beach as a "journey".

"I love anything that is old New Zealand and this reminds me of New Zealand in the '60s and '70s," she says.

"I love the beach and I love the coast. When I saw the view I thought wow. It's a real piece of paradise. I want to buy the beach that's for sale next door. I love its remoteness."

She reckons nothing has been planned for the beach break.

"It's an opportunity to get some time with family and I love to cook.

"Being a designer people think it's a glamorous life but it's anything but with plenty of deadlines and time is of the essence.

"Being here it's a chance to relax and recharge.

"As soon as I get back to work it's full on - I always take a break at Christmas."

Trelise has travelled the world, owns a house in France but she's definite about the best place in the world.

"New Zealand still wins hands down for me.

"This is a beautiful part of the world ... it's just world class.

As the interview draws to a close I admit I was a little intimidated about meeting her.

"But why?" she exclaims.

"I was raised in West Auckland and I'm just a normal Kiwi at heart."

I have to agree. After an hour with this world-famous fashion designer I conclude she is personable, genuine and a good Kiwi gal who enjoys summer at the beach.

Trelise Cooper

Grew up in Henderson

First boutique opened 1985

Married to Jack Cooper an Australasian textile wholesaler

Patron of the Breast Cancer Research Trust

Produces eco bags for supermarket chain Progressive Enterprises

Supports Habitat for Humanity

2004 made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit