While New Zealand’s high streets are filled with shops and boutiques touting all the great international fashion labels, the other side of the story is the growing list of Kiwi designers making their mark on the fashion industry globally.
Numerous New Zealand fashion labels have made it big overseas; with many having a wide celebrity following catapulting their label into stardom.
Kiwi fashion can be influenced by the environment, and is renowned for its funky, layered look - a practical response to New Zealand's changeable Pacific weather patterns where four-seasons-in-a-day is a frequent scenario.
Liam Bowden, designer and founder of Deadly Ponies, pushes the boundaries with his unique design aesthetic. Founded in 2005, the label offers an enticing collection of handbags, wallets and accessories.
Liam draws inspiration from the world around him, and his love of sculptural arts and crafts has led to many beautiful collections. Each piece is created by hand - from the selection of the New Zealand sourced leather, to the stitching and hammering of hardware.
In 2015, Deadly Ponies paid tribute to Len Lye, an avant garde New Zealand artist who saw no boundaries to art. Liam wanted to explore how Deadly Ponies could incorporate Lye’s film works into designs. Film stills from ‘Rainbow Dance’ and ‘Trade Tattoo’ were selected as they highlighted iconic Len Lye motifs such as the moving silhouettes and colourful slogans. Len Lye is the subject of an eponymous museum dedicated to his honour in the coastal North Island city of New Plymouth.
Deadly Ponies has adorned the arms of many, including Eva Longoria, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Lorde, Katie Holmes and her mini me Suri Cruise.
Dunedin designer Margi (Margarita) Robertson is the creative genius behind NOM*D - one of New Zealand’s most enduring fashion labels and a product of the southern city of Dunedin, known for its Gaelic heritage and solid Scots architecture.
Margi Robertson is a big fan of fine New Zealand merino wool and likes experimenting with different textures. She founded NOM*D in 1986, and the label has become renowned for its dark sombre Gothic style, wearability and comfort.
The NOM*D label is sold internationally in selected boutique stores, and has featured in the designers’ room at Liberty’s of London.
Karen Walker is perhaps New Zealand’s best-known fashion designer, lauded internationally for her modern, tailored, androgynous signature style. Her designs include eyewear, jewellery, fragrances, homeware and more recently, pet accessories.
After establishing outlets in 1995, she began selling to Barneys New York in 1998 and in the same year showed her first runway collection during Hong Kong Fashion Week. She is now a regular feature on the catwalks of New York Fashion Week, and was the first New Zealand line to have shown solo there.
Fans of Walker’s collections have included pop star Madonna, Kelly Osbourne, Bjork, Sienna Miller, Liv Tyler, Claire Danes, Jennifer Lopez, Tyra Banks and Instagram sensation The Fat Jewish. The Karen Walker label is stocked in over 250 stores throughout the world, including New York, London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Sydney and Tokyo.
Kate Sylvester is known for her pretty, feminine fashions that combine high fashion with classic tailoring. Following a childhood steeped in dress-ups, Kate's first commercial venture designing and selling clothes was at the age of 14. In 1993 Kate Sylvester’s first label, Sister, was launched.
Kate’s collections are sophisticated and wearable, built around timeless pieces that transcend the seasons and the latest trends. Kate describes her customer as a woman “smart enough to know that it’s far more provocative and stylish to be subtly sexy and have a sense of humour about dressing up”.
Today there are Kate Sylvester stores in New Zealand and Australia and her designs are sold at high fashion boutiques in Australasia, France and the USA.
Auckland fashion designer Dame Trelise Cooper is renowned for her collections of colourful, avant-garde clothes in luxurious fabrics and styling.
Cooper’s design business began in the early 1980s, with her first boutique opening in 1985. Aside from the high-end Trelise Cooper line, the designer also has a diffusion line, a collection of textiles and a hugely popular children’s clothing line.
Some of Hollywood’s most elegant and edgy female stars have been clothed in Trelise Cooper designs, including Liv Tyler, Myley Cyrus, Suri Cruise, Catherine Zeta Jones, Julia Roberts and Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. Her designs have also featured in Vogue as well as dressed the ladies on the fashionable television series Sex and the City.
Trelise’s first store was opened in 1985, to now, 10 flagship stores worldwide and over 200 independent retail stockists across the USA and Australia.
Kathryn Wilson is one of New Zealand’s premier footwear designers, celebrated for her innovative designs and exceptional high quality.
With practicality in mind, Kathryn ‘makes beautiful shoes for cool people’, and the shoes are named for people she knows.
Kathryn Wilson the brand has two collections a year and three labels – the classic and more exclusive Kathryn Wilson, the more fashion-forward Miss Wilson, and, with the arrival of Kathryn’s own child, Baby Wilson was born.
Kathryn Wilson has been spotted on the feet of Beyonce and her daughter Blue Ivy, and New Zealand songstress, Kimbra.
Husband-and-wife team Francis Hooper and Denise L’Estrange-Corbet brought together their design and technical skills to found New Zealand women’s label WORLD in 1989.
Their vision and work has seen their label develop from a cupboard at the back of an arcade, to one of the leading fashion houses in New Zealand. WORLD is best known for its colourful, imaginative clothes that break boundaries while remaining completely wearable and combines impeccable tailoring with luxury design. WORLD keeps it simple and has just one line, which features clothing, handbags and accessories.
In 1999, WORLD was invited to showcase their collection at London Fashion Week, and were immediately picked up by Selfridges and Liberty’s of London.
Stolen Girlfriends Club
This boutique brand was founded in 2005 by New Zealand based trio Dan Gosling, Marc Moore and Luke Harwood, whose backgrounds were in surfing rather than formal design training.
Each Stolen Girlfriends Club garment is laced with confidence and courage, and each collection has an underlying feeling of rock ’n’ roll swagger. These fit alongside the core rules of Stolen Girlfriends Club – a youthful rebellious spirit, a healthy sense of humour, and the ability to entertain and empower.
These aesthetics has earned the Club a celebrity following that includes Juliette Lewis, Kate Bosworth and Daisy Lowe.
Stolen Girlfriends Club is stocked in mid-high end boutiques and department stores and be found in over 13 countries, including New Zealand and Australia.
Zambesi was established in 1979 by Kiwi fashion duo Liz Findlay and her husband Neville. Fashion and design runs in the family, as Findlay is the sister of Margi Robertson of Nom*D, another respected Kiwi designer.
The Zambesi style is defined by what Findlay describes as "unexpected contrasts" that give the collections an edgy yet wearable feel. The Zambesi men’s collection, Zambesi Man, has the same inspirations with a modern masculine interpretation.
The music industry seems to be a fan of Zambesi, with the label being a favourite of both Lorde and Rihanna. Zambesi can be found in stores in New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
New Zealand Fashion Week
Many of these New Zealand designers found their creative inspiration and catwalk fame at New Zealand Fashion Week. Watch for the next edition from 22 - 28 August, 2016 in Auckland.
More information on New Zealand Fashion Week