I've always loved fashion. In the 2000's New Zealand and Wellington had a thriving scene, bursting with new ideas and talent.
However, with the downturn in the economy, caused by the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, the fashion scene took a plunge. Of course, when people are worried about their jobs, a "frivolous dress" is the least of their concerns.
Some of the incredible New Zealand designers from before that time are still going strong today. Twentyseven Names, Lonely, and Stolen Girfriends Club just to name a few. Others, like Marla Brajokvic sadly faded, often by choice.
Wellington is, however, in 2017 having a fashion renaissance. This year, more than any other year before I've noticed a lively spirit in the air, an arrogance of belief anything is possible, as opposed to the downtroden realism that has dominated the last 10 years. "You CAN'T put on a fashion gala", "WHO is going to buy an $800 coat in Wellington?" "WHY would you think anyone would come?"
Blogging and fashion have always had an overlapping, sometimes tense relationship. Fortunately, I've been whole heartedly enabled by the fashion community to date in Wellington - and now I want to tell you why, without a doubt in my mind, designer Wellington fashion is back in style in the Capital.
1. Project Fashion Wellington Runway Show & Gala
Project Fashion Wellington launched this year as a start-up idea to take 6 young creative talents and put them in an incubator environment, to teach them how to work the industry. Run by Kate Diana Spencer and Sue Bowerman, and supported by Jaye Glam Morgan, Emma Hart, Adriene Marsh (head designer of Kowtow Clothing design) and fashion fixture Sophie Kasoylides (to name just two of the mentors on the project), this experiment culminated in a delighting fashion show at Te Papa, showcasing the hard work of this fresh talent. But there was more to come. Not content with a runway show, the Project Fashion Wellington Team decided on an encore performance in the incredible Old Public Trust building on Lambton Quay in the midst of a gala event that surely rivaled that of the Met-Gala. Hosted by Project Fashion Wellington, it was a delightful evening of music, food, drinking and fashion.
The thing I loved most was that in our Wellington was, it felt inclusive, not exclusive. In my opinion, Wellington is too damn small for any of the BS so it was great to see that people in the Project Fashion team have embraced fashion in earnest, giving it a real chance to thrive. Here's to another Project Fashion in 2017.
2. A crop of young and hungry designers
As a result of the hard work of the people involved in Project Fashion, there are 6 new faces to look out for, all making Wellington designed and manufactured fashion. Meet gothic grunge Queen Rebecca Tannant (Alexa Sin), pratical elegant Bridget Scanlan (KIT - a diabetes handbag creator of sorts), ethical fashionista Ischtar Lyla Moon (Urban Pests), wild child of upcycling Kristen Meacleam (Fish Friday), slow fashion Millie Askew (Mille Askew) and bad boy Jerome Taylor (Not For You). All these incredible designers have graduated from fashion schools or courses in Wellington and are 100% ready to step up to the next level.
3. Inspiration Aplenty: Sold out (or almost sold out) fashion films at New Zealand Fashion Festival
Apart from being a wonderful and fascinating portrait of a unique designer in the increasingly commoditised world of fashion (one which is getting faster by the day), Dries Van Noten, the label, has been stocked at Wellington boutique Scotties for many years, so there must have been some true fans in the audience. Dries Van Noten is a private kind of man who seems the opposite type to open himself up to the cameras, which is what makes this movie about a true creative, beating against the wind of change, so evocative. It is an insight into what makes a hard working artist tick and is not to be missed.
Equally unmissable is 'House of Z', a film about fashion designer Zac Posen. For those who prefer a bit of drama and 'enfant terrible' versus the calm quiet melody of Dries, this is the one to watch. 'House of Z' documents Zac Posen's climb to the heights of fashion only to tumble back down again in spectacular style. What follows is a re-invention to give spirit to even the most hardened critic of fashion.
4. The Resurgence of Retail
With David Jones opening in Wellington last year, the city got a real lift, seeing all the shiny new things. Other people lamented the tragedy that a huge store like David Jones could open, stealing profits from locals. I, however, thought these people were missing the point. It isn't about big vs small - people will always shop at a mix. It IS about reducing the amount we shop online, chosing not to buy from an IRL retailer.
While we all love a good PR story about an opening, it is not enough to be excited by the hype. We must actually go and buy from our local stores, whether owned by an international multinational like David Jones Wellington or independent boutiques like Caughley (one can usually find a balance between the two). One gets to know the staff (for these places create jobs), feel the project and experience the joy of going outside. As the rise of online shopping increases by the day, it is important to stop and think about not what we might gain by clicking through our credit card but also what we might lose. If you don't go and shop in a physical store, it could close down, leaving empty dull retail spaces. If you don't go support that young designer, he or she might not make their next collection. It isn't about being a martyr of consumerism. It IS about thinking about what proportion of your income you spend and where.
5. They're Sticking Around, Kid
Wonderful Wellington designers who are already established are showing no signs of slowing down. Okewa Rainwear had a pop up on Willis Street which just closed after a successful 6 weeks. Wilson Trollope is setting up a permanent home on Victoria Street. Brands like Twenty-seven Names go from strength to strength. Even if someone has been around a while, such as the brilliant boutique, Madam Fancy Pants, it is a case of paying the store a visit to see what is in stock. Make sure you remember to support those who have toughed it through the hard times - after all, what is fashion without a little tension.
Images from Te Papa taken by me of the Project Fashion Wellington Runway Show.
Photos of the Gala taken by Suchita Jain.