While 2022 marked the third year in succession that New Zealand Fashion Week had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, the country’s dynamic fashion community has no trouble making stylish waves both at home and abroad.
Aotearoa is geographically isolated, but there’s a rich abundance of creativity in the nation of just over five million people. For these six trailblazing fashion and accessories labels, environmental awareness, cultural identity and thoughtful narratives come to the fore.
Jasmin Scott launched her jewellery label in 2010 after training formally in Wellington. Influenced by her grandmother’s love of jewellery, Scott’s vintage-inspired pieces – which she describes as “modern, sculptural metals in classic forms” – are designed to be passed down the generations.
Stocked in Australia at Lee Mathews and Makers Mrkt, Jasmin Sparrow pieces are made with ethically sourced stones and recycled materials. The gold plating process is conducted in New Zealand, and her pearls are responsibly cultivated in China, Japan and Thailand. Each piece is crafted by hand, while some are made to order, such as hand-beaded bralettes designed to be worn as a top layer or an adornment that peeks out from underneath.
Her new botanically inspired collection is out on August 31. Named Fiora, it comprises earrings set with stones such as chalcedony, citrine, and both green and smoky quartz – plus weighty, three-dimensional chain necklaces and bracelets made from numerous interlocking rings.
Dr Bobby Luke (Ngāti Ruanui) is both a designer and an academic, having founded his womenswear label Campbell Luke in 2015. It’s centred on a kaupapa (purpose) that aims to present Māori excellence both culturally and commercially – and to reframe Western ideas around design through an Indigenous lens.
Spanning the worlds of art, culture and fashion, his aesthetic hinges on nostalgia; romantic, flouncy dresses, shirts and skirts are inspired by both the mid-century period and the colonial prairie style he saw in old family photos that hang on the walls of his family homestead in Taranaki.
His pieces are often made from natural fibres such as linen, and upcycled materials such as his own family member’s floral sheets and duvet set. The latter falls firmly into the “art” category and was shown recently at group exhibition Whānau Mārama (which means ‘the family of light’). You can emulate this blend of contemporary and sentimental with the other pieces he periodically releases for purchase.
Yu Mei founder and designer Jessie Wong launched her leather goods label in 2015. The proud third-generation Chinese-New Zealander saw the need for aesthetically pleasing bags that could also be durable and practical – and the Wellington-based label is now available in nearly 40 retailers across Australia and New Zealand.
Each leather skin passes through 35 sets of hands to get to the final product. The company mostly uses New Zealand-farmed deer nappa – a by-product of the venison industry that would otherwise be wasted. Yu Mei operates a circular model whereby the brand pays for mending and refurbishment.
Last year, Wong took home the New Thinking Award at the 2021 Wellington Gold Awards – and was recently invited by Aotearoa’s prime minister to undertake a trade and enterprise trip to Australia as part of a delegation across multiple industries. Find Yu Mei in Australia at David Jones, Harrolds and Fenn Store in Paddington.
To many stylish Australians, such as Gemma Ward and Yan Yan Chan, Harris Tapper is a familiar name. Launched in 2018 by Sarah Harris Gould and Lauren Tapper, this womenswear label was at first focused on perfecting one garment: shirts.
The duo quickly branched out into ready-to-wear collections of crisp wardrobe staples and polished event-wear. Throughout, they’ve maintained a sleek yet easy-to-wear minimalism; their core desire is to bridge the sartorial gap between professional and personal life.
Harris Tapper’s latest collection, Composition, is designed to be feminine yet slightly avant-garde. It includes broad-shouldered suits, weighty oversized coats, blanket scarves and satin dresses that build on the label’s signature shirts. Bright pops of Yves Klein-inspired cobalt are striking among the neutrals.
Last year the label also welcomed a pre-purchase made-to-order option to reduce the risk of overproduction and excess stock. Harris Tapper has a good presence in Australia with a number of stockists across the country including David Jones, Sydney’s Mode Sportif, Est 90 in NSW and Sukii Boutique in Victoria.
Lavinia Ilolahia and Talia Soloa are two best friends and business partners that champion Pasifika women living in New Zealand and abroad. The name for their label comes from the textile process of layering patterns on fabric before cutting, designed to maximise usage and minimise waste – a fitting concept for their made-to-order pieces.
The label didn’t start as a business; instead, the duo initially designed garments to suit their own bodies and aesthetics. Today, Layplan offers a “free-sizing” option where a selection of styles can be made entirely to an individual’s measurements.
The inclusive label offers both dramatic statement pieces in oversized silhouettes and streamlined tops, dresses and jumpsuits you wouldn’t quite call basics but are more low-key. Ilolahia and Soloa often work with bright colours such as pinks, greens and butter yellows – so much so that a recent all-black collection called Soot made a statement all of its own.
Founder and director Wynn Hamlyn began his career in land surveying, but longed for a creative outlet, launching his label in 2014. The Auckland-based company has grown leaps and bounds and this year was the only New Zealand-based label with an official on-schedule show at Australian Fashion Week. It's also a regular styling favourite for magazine editorials and celebrities such as Benee and Lorde.
Dabbling with different colour palettes and materials, the knitwear and tailoring-heavy brand is now known for its wearable eccentricity and polished experimentation – meaning you’ll find perfect, everyday trousers for the office but also an eye-catching dress with artful cut-outs. As with Harris Tapper, Aussie Wynn Hamlyn enthusiasts can find the label at David Jones and Mode Sportif – plus both the label's womenswear and menswear at Harrolds.