For a small country far from the fashion capitals of Paris, New York and Milan, New Zealand fashion designers punch above their weight. Just look at Karen Walker’s empire spanning clothing, accessories, and homewares to understand the spirit of Kiwi design.
But now there is a young guard, fresh from design school, who are getting noticed, too. There’s something to be said for New Zealand’s geographical challenge, which means designers don’t follow trends but tend to dictate them.
At Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week last year, Net-a-Porter’s fashion director Lisa Aiken scooped up two New Zealand labels: Maggie Marilyn and Georgia Alice. Last week the International Woolmark Prize announced New Zealand label Harman Grubiša as one of its two regional winners.
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Giselle Farhat, director and founder of online retailer My Chameleon, has picked up New Zealand labels Georgia Alice and Paris Georgia for their “clear vision” and “unique perspective”. Her site will soon stock a third Kiwi label, Mahsa.
“The design coming out of New Zealand is inspiring and refreshing,” Farhat tells Broadsheet. “I think the beauty of New Zealand reflects through their clothing. Georgia Alice and Paris Georgia have a strong idea of who they are as a brand and their garments are what women appreciate. Each brand is produced in New Zealand, which they are quite proud of.”
Here are five labels that offer a fresh perspective, from brand-new designers to those continuing to find success.
Designer Maggie Hewitt was only 22, and just six months out of her fine arts degree, when Net-a-Porter asked to stock her debut collection on the spot. She’s showed at New Zealand Fashion Week this year for the first time.
Born and raised in New Zealand’s North Island, Hewitt produces her clothing in local factories, which means she can apply a sustainable perspective every step of the way.
There’s a sense of lightness and play through her third collection, which is stocked exclusively in Australia at David Jones. It features ruffled skirts in black wool or denim, which look perfectly flouncy. Almost every piece subtly flares outwards from the body to encourage movement. With prices starting from $150 and capping at $700, her designs are within reach.
Parts of the label’s fourth collection (resort 2018) drops in November and features more tiered ruffles and multiple takes on the shirtdress.
Designer Georgia Currie launched her label in 2012, shortly after winning the 2011 Westpac Young Designer competition. The Georgia Alice trajectory has been straight up since then – with key stockists including Myer, Net-a-Porter and Farfetch. The label’s early off-the-shoulder tops spawned a mini frenzy with buyers. Since then, its nonchalant attitude has continued winning hearts, with fresh takes on shirting.
In the label’s resort 2017/2018 collection (now in stores), traditional long-line blazers and fluted skirts mingle with relaxed pants made in a shocking red or the softest baby-pink silk satin. For the brave among us, go for the ultra-ruched, baby blue, off-the-shoulder top.
The latest recipient of the Woolmark prize is this New Zealand-based duo, made up of Jessica Grubiša and Madeleine Harman. With backgrounds in styling and trend forecasting, the pair launched their label together in 2014. The focus is on long-lasting natural fabrics and flattering silhouettes. The current season collection, Rococo, features a standout, woven jacquard material. It’s worked into a tiered gown, blazer and cropped flare pants.
The spring-summer 2017/2018 collection, Panama, promises more pieces that highlight the female form in a subtle way, including drapey wrap dresses worn long and loose or tied up and tucked in at the waist.
Husband-and-wife team Claire Hammon and Greg Fromont are not exactly new kids on the block, but their success is one we don’t celebrate enough. Hammon and Fromont have been hammering away at their jewellery label for over a decade, landing pieces on FKA Twigs, Rihanna and Lorde.
Meadowlark’s delicate jewels draw inspiration from architecture and even singer Sade Adu, often weaving in darker themes that can result in snake or bone motif rings. Liberty is the recently released range that responds to the current political climate with original hippie symbols of freedom and strength. Look out for padlock necklaces with daisy chain details or the wildflower earrings.
Friends Paris Mitchell and Georgia Cherrie began their label in 2015 while running their online vintage store, The Mercantile. The label intended to fill the gap for elevated basics in their own wardrobes, but soon orders from the small range started eclipsing everything else. Fast forward to today and the pair have dropped “basics” from the name.
The made-in-New Zealand range of ’90s-style silk slips and high-waisted trousers has commanded a loyal following. This year's resort collection (which dropped on August 30) builds on past strengths and introduces us to flowing long-sleeved jumpsuits and left-of-centre two-piece suits.
This article was updated on October 31, 2017.