When getting dressed every day, she applies the same love for colour, mixing mediums and disregarding “rules” – resulting in textural looks comprising old faithfuls and new favourites, combining designers like Phoebe Philo-era Celine with vintage pieces and locally made jewellery.
It’s no wonder. Townsend, who is of Māori and Liverpudlian descent, has often worked at the intersection of fashion and art. While living in the UK, she was invited by luxury brand Hermes to work as an artist on window displays, cutting up its famous silk scarves for what she told Broadsheet felt like “having an exhibition on Oxford Street every month”. Season is located at Commercial Bay, “dangerously close” to favoured Aotearoa label Wynn Hamlyn – which she pops into on her lunch break.
Here, Townsend tells us about her fashion philosophy, go-to pieces for a great work day, and favourite designers and makers.
What’s your definition of a good work wardrobe?
I love the terrain of wool next to silk next to denim. A mix of fabrics and patterns is the dream work look for me – magic combinations that happen when you mix old faithfuls with new local designer pieces or a classic well-worn Chanel bag with one of my husband’s crisp shirts.
How do you describe your personal style? And does it overlap with your professional style?
I am an undercover Scouser when it comes to fashion. Scouse is a term for a person from Liverpool, which is where my mum is from and where I lived during high school. I am Scouse and Māori. Fashion is a thriving industry there, driven by models, footballers’ wives and pop stars. Iconic patterned luxury brands like Pucci and Missoni are common, and often worn head to toe. There is no such thing as being too dressed up, even to pop to the dairy. Seeing the way women dress in Liverpool has given me the confidence not to worry about what other people might find fashionable, or following trends. I try to lean into my own taste and collect pieces that I imagine wearing until I’m an old lady. My mum has always encouraged me to take risks and not wait for special occasions to wear pieces I cherish. There are no rules for how I dress for work.
Do you have a go-to item in your wardrobe that you associate with a good or productive day at work?
Yes, I have a beautiful pair of yellow wool trousers by Celine, from the Phoebe Philo era. I love the weight of them. The way they fall reveals the sophisticated construction inside. Genius tailoring. They are slightly flared and cropped, harking back to the ’70s – yet they also nod to Dickies or a ’90s grunge grandad trouser too, which I experimented with as a pre-teen. I am not an expert in garment making, but Philo’s suiting for the modern woman – technical fabrics with a Savile Row sensibility – is incredibly empowering to wear. I’m not sure if I am necessarily more productive on Celine days but, curiously, I do take myself and the vision for my work more seriously. They enhance a particular attitude. I feel tough. Philo has provided a framework for how to look strong, intentional and creative while maintaining one’s own aesthetic.
Is your style different if you’re working in the gallery versus working on your own art?
I’m not sure if my style is different per se. I build an outfit in a similar way, but I’ll pick from painting or non-painting clothes. Remember, all the painting clothes began their lives as non-painting clothes except they got splattered along the way.
What’s your approach to transitional dressing – like going from a meeting or working in the gallery or in your studio to an after-work event or dinner party?
Switching to a smaller bag is vital. I use my 15-year-old woven leather Mulberry bag most days, which fits my laptop, baby stuff and make-up, but I’ll swap to a delicate kete for an evening event. I like to add an Hermes or a Pucci silk scarf to transform an outfit and keep warm.
What are some of your current favourite fashion labels?
Wynn Hamlyn – his store is dangerously close to my gallery, so I pop in on [my] lunch break. I am always eager to try his blazers and trousers. The electric blue suit with the cut-out sides makes me feel incredible. Evisu Jeans forever. Issey [Miyake] because it is kinda the go-to art look and I don’t have to worry about creasing if I have a wiggly baby with me. Bobby Campbell Luke’s Indigenous fashion kaupapa is the future – I love his white lace skirt. Glen Prentice shirts are so chic. I wear Jasmin Sparrow a lot, her plaited shell belt is gorgeous. Paris Georgia is very aspirational, I am lucky to have some of their merino and cashmere pieces. Harry Were anything and everything – I love the way she works with local makers and uplifts them.
What’s your most beloved item of clothing?
A little waistcoat in heavy terracotta linen hand-stitched with red thread. I found it in a charity shop in Phuket, Thailand, and it's so charming. It makes me think of Visvim, Anecho or something 6x4 by Steven Junil Park might make. I can wear it with anything! I’m intrigued about its story – who made it and why?
How about accessories or jewellery?
I collect a lot of contemporary jewellery from Aotearoa-based makers including pounamu or shell adornments by Neke Moa, chunky silver pieces by Moniek Schrijer, rings by Karl Fritsch or, my most recent acquisition, a paua shell necklace by Jen Laracy. We have a single earring exhibition opening August 4 at Season, which is a huge curatorial indulgence – it will be hard to remained disciplined and not collect everything I fall in love with.
Where do you find inspiration for your art these days?
It’s cheesy, but my kids and husband. I want to make art that reflects the abundant mindset we share as a whānau. My paintings enhance the mana and wairua of those who stand with them. There is so much hauora, so much wellness that comes from art. I feel it every day when I look at my son’s mahi toi [artworks] and he feels it when he looks at mine. Exhibiting art in a gallery is an extension of that – how can I re-create the intimacy of sharing pictures with my son with a wider audience? That is the motivation that drives my practice today. The stories or questions I flesh out in my artworks are research-based with reference to poems, historical movements, the maramataka, popular culture… all manner of things.
Do you have any favourite skincare or make-up products?
Isn’t it weird how everything can run out at once? It’s time for a re-order but I use Elemis for my face and follow my best friend Ashleigh’s advice (she is a dermatology nurse and also trained as a Māori nurse): stay hydrated, wear sunscreen every day, and smile. I have just started using apothecary products by Ukaipo, which are made with whenua from Waiuku. The plants are all grown by one whanau and they smell amazing.