It’s WOW, or World of Wearable Art, time in Wellington.
Every year in September, in Wellington, New Zealand’s cool little capital, designers from all over the world unleash their creativity in this extraordinary competition where art, in every expression and material meets fashion in all its forms. Competitors vie for over 150,00 dollars worth of prizes. The most coveted reward of all though is an internship in creative Nirvana, Weta Workshop.
WOW draws international costume designers and their creations (some of Madonna’s unforgettable garments are on display this year) as well as established locals and their works. It also brings complete unknowns and absolute design novices of all ages and from all walks of life, into the spotlight. The competition’s history is rich with heart-warming stories of the “little people” who have taken to the WOW stage – like the middle-aged commercial cleaner who dreamed up a stunning plastic frock worthy of a Disney Cinderella.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Wellington for the main event but I was there for the build up. Wellington is a place accustomed to thinking the outside the square. It has carved serpentine roads into vertical hillsides, planted elaborate houses on slivers of cliff, underpinned precious public buildings with rubber foundations to withstand earthquakes, built a hive for MPs then called it the Beehive and created an edgy, layered fashion look to defend against gale-force winds and sideways rain. So I wasn’t surprised to find that Wellington had come with an innovative way to advertise and preview the wonderful WOW experience.
Pink cubes, called treasure boxes, with multi-level and multi-sized peepholes, all around the city, provided glimpses of wearable art from WOW festivals past. I spent my day in Wellington, running like a Pokemon gamester, defying traffic hazards, short-cutting through shops and offices, hot on the treasure box trail. Fixing my eye, then my camera, to the average-level peephole, I enjoyed my very own WOW experience and brought away WOW memories to share.
Browsing among the elegant and superbly cut collection in Wellington’s Taylor Boutique in the Old Bank Building on the corner of Customhouse Quay and Hunter Street, one might well wonder if the name Taylor is play on the name of the age old trade.
But no, Taylor is the family name of founder Vicki Taylor, daughter, as it happens, of a fashion industry family.
Still, exquisite tailoring, along with impeccable production and the closest attention to detail, is a hallmark of Taylor pieces. So is fine cloth and all fabrics are carefully selected form the world’s best mills.
The house of Taylor is staunchly Aotearoa New Zealand. Taylor fashions are fully designed and manufactured in New Zealand. Furthermore, Taylor has steered clear of global stores and outlets. Taylor collections are sold only in Taylor boutiques and online stores.
Careful, classy and 100% pure New Zealand – that’s Taylor!
Wellington is Aotearoa New Zealand’s capital city and the engine room of the nation. It’s a place of serious work.
For the serious, work-perfect wardrobe, head downtown to Workshop, on the corner of Hunter Street and Customhouse Quay.
Workshop was established in 1980 by designer Chris Cherry and is the home of the Workshop Denim brand, which he founded in 1982. “Workshop Denim’s focus is on real life, substance and authenticity…each Workshop Denim piece has an intrinsic emphasis on simplicity of cut, quality of cloth and attention to detail” (www.workshop.co.nz)
Also part of the Workshop house is the high end women’s fashion brand Helen Cherry “Renowned for her trademark sophisticated design and understated glamour, distinctive aspects set Helen Cherry apart – exclusive and luxurious fabrics, a unique colour palette, subtle sex appeal, impeccable fit and quality of manufacture” (www.workshop.co.nz)
While workshop Denim and Helen Cherry form the core of the Workshop collection, there are international designer labels too, including Isabel Marant, Vanessa Bruno, Alexander Wang and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
Housed in a former Bank building, the Customhouse Quay Workshop store is a spacious, light-filled space and trying, buying, or browsing here is truly enjoyable experience.
Oh and while you’re down at Workshop on the corner of Hunter Street and Customhouse Quay, trying on those work-perfect pieces you’re sure to find plenty of “must haves” for all those out of work occasions too!
With its rugged terrain and ferocious weather, you might assume that the Wellington uniform would be serious warm, water and windproof wear, right? Not entirely. While parkas, trackies, beanies, and rain boots are de riguer for hilltop tracks and coastal paths, downtown it’s a different story.
To serve all the needs of the serious Wellington fashionista, not to mention the shopaholic, as well the browser, there’s a cluster of brilliant boutiques in a short strip along Customhouse Quay in the CBD. Among them is the fabulous Moochi, 111 Customhouse Quay.
The Moochi brand was born in a small design workshop in the Bay of Plenty beach town of Mount Maunganui. Since then, although its boutiques have hit most NZ cities, Moochi has continued to create in house, to keep its production runs small and to manufacture almost entirely in New Zealand. Moochi has remained faithful to its original aim “to arm women with a cohesive, adaptable wardrobe of pieces that work effortlessly together for work or play. Moochi pieces are of premium quality, ensuring longevity not only in fabrication but also in style” 2015 NZ Fashion Week website.
It was autumn, when I last dropped into Wellington. I had come to town with a winter wardrobe, built for warmth and protection. Wellington, however, was basking in an Indian summer. My clothes were heavy, my clothes were hot. I needed something for today’s heat, but I also needed something for the possibility of tomorrow’s cold. I needed something comfortable. I also needed something smart. I needed something for Wellington. I also needed something for Melbourne. I needed all this in one outfit.
I found it at moochi, 111 Customhouse Quay, in the Wellington CBD. It was the Rule dress from the Moochi Faithfuls collection, an “easy fit tee dress shape is treated with horizontal pleats at the front. this is a machine washable chiffon dress that will look good anywhere anytime, worn to work, a party or in the weekend” (moochi website)
I wore the Moochi Rule dress to lunch that day in the Aro Valley. I wore it to drinks that evening on the waterfront. I wore it to dinner that night, at Fusion Virtuoso in Manners Mall. When the weather turned cold for the 80th birthday at Pipitea Marae the next day, I teamed it with a Scanlon and Theodore suit jacket – perfect! I wear it frequently in Melbourne, sometimes with a coat, sometimes with a jacket, sometimes even with a cardy . Like all moochi fashion it is a dress that is “all about a style, not an age. Whether racing around town, meeting friends at night or chilling at your local on a Saturday morning, it is all about looking and feeling amazing”. moochi website
Clinging to the rugged terrain at the very end of the North Island, straddling a web of irritable geological fault lines and buffeted by ferocious winds, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand’s capital city, is a place like no other. Different, edgy, arty, bold, they call it the coolest little capital in the world. It’s a city with a style of its own – also different, edgy, arty, bold and incredibly cool. That style is epitomised by the fashion house Zambesi.
A few months ago I called into Zambesi’s Wellington store at 103 Customhouse Quay to browse their racks of fabulously cut garments in delicious fabrics. I’ve been a Zambesi devotee since I lived in Wellington in the 80s and 90s, so a visit to the Customhouse Quay store is something of a pilgrimage whenever I return. I fell into conversation with the woman in charge. She was wearing Zambesi, of course, from the winter collection – wide-legged crop pants and a belted, wide-sleeved tunic top in a heavy purple wool. It was fabulous – different, edgy, arty, bold, incredibly cool, uniquely Zambesi and absolutely, positively Wellington!
“Founded by Elisabeth and Neville Findlay in 1979, Zambesi possesses a consistent and unique signature and is proudly made in New Zealand.
Zambesi epitomizes individual spirit, redefining convention with an ironic practicality, confirming its reputation in the global market of strength, beauty and independence.
Designer Elizabeth Findlay is inspired by fabrics and for Zambesi womenswear, she works instinctively, taking carefully chosen cloth in unexpected directions. History and memory contribute strongly to Elisabeth’s attitude toward design. The clothes reflect both realism and imagination.
Designer Dayne Johnston takes a disciplined hand to Zambesi menswear. His work results in extremely well cut, wearable garments that capture attention with their clever detailing. Those unique details sit alongside precisely tailored nods to traditional and utilitarian menswear, resulting in a refined masculine style” Zambesi website, Profile http://www.zambesi.co.nz
What are you wearing on the plane? was first published in The Australian in August 2008.
Once upon a time, before mass travel made us all blasé, before rising fuel costs stole space and comfort from our aircraft and before terrorism ushered in tiresome security measures, plane travel was synonymous with elegance, glamour and sophistication. Nowadays, services such as flyonward have made air travel accessible for a much wider group of people, giving more and more people the chance to travel to other areas of the world. In fact if you really wanted to and could afford it, you could get your own private jet to travel places. That is how far flying has come.
The first to take flight from our street was an elegant fowl named Doreen. She was heading “home” to England. Doreen wasn’t English, so in fact, England wasn’t her home but that was what glamorous sophisticates called the place back then. The day before she left, neighbourhood aprons, slippers, hairnets and rollers gathered at her house, to bask one last time in her reflected glamour.
“What are you wearing on the plane, Doreen?” asked an eager hairnet.
“Go on, Dor, model it for us!” urged a floral apron.
Doreen didn’t need much persuasion and while she readied herself in her bedroom, aprons, hairnets, rollers and slippers closed in around the tea trolley. The kitchen seethed with whispered sour-grapes.
“Lucky thing” sighed some tartan slippers “I’d love to fly”
“New feathers would do me!” cackled a head full of rollers.
The door opened slowly. There was a collective screech as Doreen, a vision in a pale blue linen coat and pill-box hat, with immaculate white shoes, gloves and handbag stepped into the kitchen. She paused, flashed a smile, rocked from one pointy-toed, stilettoed foot to another, then, to chorus of squawks, sashayed across the lino. At the stove she turned, paused, preened, tossed her head and slowly peeled back the coat to uncover a coordinated, blue and white floral polished cotton sheath frock.
“Ta da!” she trilled, throwing her arms in the air, clouting a hairnet with the handbag and swiping an apron with the coat.
“Oh, Dor, you look gorgeous!” cooed the admiring apron “Where did you get it?”
“You’ll need a girdle with that tummy, though” sniped the hair net.
“When are you having your hair set?’ inquired the rollers, scrutinising Doreen’s collapsing beehive though narrowed eyes.
“That pilot better look out, eh girls?” clucked the slippers.
Next afternoon, the whole street came out to wave Doreen off. Covetous eyes followed a quartet of nicotine-coloured bags into the boot of her dad’s Holden. There was a streamlined suitcase with piped leather edges and expandable catches, an elegant weekender, a sophisticated briefcase and a glamourous heart-shaped, quilted make-up case with a chic gold handle on top. Everyone stared in silence as the car carried Dor’s reconstructed beehive and regally waving glove away out of sight.
Whether it was the spell of Doreen’s ensemble, or the charm of her smile, she did bewitch a pilot somewhere en route. She never returned. From time to time, little red and blue edged envelopes would land in our letterboxes, addressed in Doreen’s elegant hand, with a deliciously foreign stamp in one corner and a mysterious “par avion” in the other. Then, tales of her glamorous life, at “home’, with her pilot, would speed along the street, over the teacups, from rollers to hairnet and from slippers to apron. For some years, Avion enjoyed great popularity as a name for neighbourhood newborns.
Times have changed.
Glamorous sophisticates, like Doreen, have all but disappeared from modern aircraft. The pre-flight coiffure has gone the way of the beehive, the hairnet and the roller. The hat and the glove have vanished like the girdle and the apron. Even in First and Business Class where some elegance survives, the frock/ coat ensemble has dropped out of sight. And “What are you wearing on the plane?” is pretty much an archaism.
Most 21st century travellers don’t dress to impress. They dress for convenience; wise to departure hall x-rays, metal detectors, strips and frisks, they’ve abandoned belts, buckles and stilettos for elastic waistbands and Velcro tab shoes. They dress for comfort; once bitten and now forever shy of the cramped, long-haul flight nightmare in constricting clothes, they’ve given up skirts, tights and even jeans for trackies and cargoes in soft, stretchy cloth. They dress for camouflage; survivors of meal-time turbulence spills, they’ve tossed out the whites and the pastels for black, wine reds and browns in tones of satay or stroganoff.
The odd streamlined suitcase still lands on the baggage carousel but most are a long way from Doreen’s tobacco tinted classic. More often than not, they’re reduced by security concerns to sinister shrink-wrapped hulks or by weight limits to bulging shapeless sacks. The technological age has bumped the brief-case for the computer bag and the back pack has usurped most weekenders. If any still linger, they’re speedsters on wheels, transformed for marathons through interminable terminal corridors. And in the interests of counter terrorism, the glamorous make-up case has given way to the miserable little plastic zip-lock bag.
These days the runway romance goes largely unnoticed. The cabin blind is raised only for some sensational celebrity scandal. Today we all call Australia home, yet we’re at home in England and most of the world. We all dash off emails and texts now, so the red and blue edged letter is rare. And now, since we all know that it’s just French for plane, Avion, as a name, has fallen from favour.
Just as Malaysia’s multi-cultural population is reflected in its art, architecture, cuisine, festivals and customs, so is it reflected in its fashions. Any crowd in Kuala Lumpur is an interesting mix of sari, cheong sam, busana Muslim, western dress, as well as stunning, uniquely Malaysian fashions like the baju batik, the baju kebaya, the baju kurung and the baju kebarung.
The centuries-old trade with India, China, the countries of mainland South-East Asia and the Indonesian Archipelago contributed greatly to the development of Malaysia’s clothing traditions. Along with textiles such as silk from China and cotton from India, techniques of decoration printing and dyeing were passed along these ancient trade routes; techniques like embroidery, appliqué, beading, and, most importantly, the Batik method of wax printing that has become a hallmark of Malaysian fabric design. Today, more modern methods such as digital silk printing are used alongside traditional methods.
Historically the baju, or sarong type skirt was the main attire for both men and women. With it, women wore a kemban or bodice wrap. However, in the 1900s it was deemed inappropriate by the Muslim Sultan of Jahore and thereafter women began to wear the Kurung, or long-sleeved matching tunic, with the baju. The resulting ensemble, now known as the baju kurung has evolved constantly over the years. Today’s model is a floor-length sarung and matching long-sleeved tunic made of silk and worn with a colour co-ordinated selandang, or headscarf. It still has the traditional round neck edged with a distinctive “eel-bone” embroidery stitch. Colours vary according to the fashions and tastes of the particular times. The baju kurung is the most typically Malaysian national dress.
The sarung kebaya, or sarong with blouse, is another of the older forms of traditional dress. Traditionally the kebaya was worn with a sarong of floral patterned-cotton batik, hemmed into a cylindrical shape, which the wearer stepped into. It was then folded left to right, tucked in and worn with a silver or gold chain belt. Beautiful examples of modern sarung kebaya can be seen in the uniforms of the hostesses on Malaysia Airlines.
The kebaya was adopted and adapted by the Nyonya women of the Peranaken (Straits Chinese) community. The Nyonya kebaya was a long-sleeved blouse made of diaphanous fabric, pleated above and below the breast. In the 1940s the Kebaya Sulam or embroidered kebaya appeared. It was made of silk, voile or kain rubiah, its borders were embroidered with silk thread of various colours, or appliquéd with lace and it was fastened with a keransong or chain of three brooches. Kebaya of the later forties and fifties had even more elaborate embroidery with cut through lace-work and tee too bang or spider web lace. The original Nyonya kebaya was a work of art, a creation of timeless beauty, translucent, figure-hugging, elegant and feminine.
Today descendents of the Nyonya continue to craft these beautiful kebaya in the tradition of their grandmothers. Made of voile or kasar robia, non-iron Georgette or Shantung, they still have the authentic, narrow, slimming Princess cut back and French seams. Modern technology now allows for a greater range of patterns and motifs such flowers, butterflies and insects. It has also made the process of embroidery faster and easier but even so, a Kebaya is still a time intensive labour of love and the price reflects this.
Sadly, the kebaya has now fallen out of favour as a public garment and is reserved for festive and formal occasions within the home.
The baju kebarung is a combination of the the baju kebaya and the baju kurung. In the 1950s they were made in subdued pastel colours but today’s baju kebarung are in bold vibrant silks with large floral patterns and matching headscarves. The Baju kebarung is the feminine fashion of choice at Ramadan, when most Malaysian ladies will head for the shops to buy a new outfit to wear to family gatherings. At public functions, it is recommended dress. The Baju kebarung is worn by Chinese, Indian and Malay alike and has become a unifying symbol of Malaysian women.
In an age where business suits, jeans and t shirts seem to be colonizing the world, it is refreshing to walk among the vibrant, colourful, feminine and diverse fashions of Malaysia.