“They’re for the wearer’s plea­sure, which I think is a re­ally em­pow­er­ing thing – to be wear­ing some­thing that feels great”

Fashion Quarterly - - Profile - Mag­gie He­witt @mag­giemar­i­lyn | mag­giemar­i­lyn.com

De­signer Mag­gie He­witt can only be de­scribed as an overnight sen­sa­tion. Six months ago, no one had heard of her or her brand, Mag­gie Mar­i­lyn. Then, in Septem­ber 2016, she launched her first col­lec­tion on Net-a-Porter and 75% of the stock had sold within the first 48 hours.

“Net-a-Porter never launches a la­bel first­sea­son,” says Mag­gie Mar­i­lyn man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Jo Knight – the mas­ter­mind be­hind the brand’s roll­out. An in­dus­try vet­eran, Jo had re­cently re­turned to New Zealand from Lon­don, where she’d spent 10 years as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Richard Ni­chol, and was con­tem­plat­ing her next ca­reer move when a fam­ily friend in­tro­duced her to Mag­gie. Her first piece of advice to the then 21-year-old was to get some over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence, but Mag­gie had other ideas. “I thought, no, I have this col­lec­tion sit­ting in my lounge and I want to sell it.” Jo went to check it out “and the walls in­stantly closed in”, she says. “I was just like, oh my good­ness, here we go, this is hap­pen­ing – I’m not walk­ing away from this.”

Cre­at­ing the col­lec­tion had been Mag­gie’s sole fo­cus since grad­u­at­ing from White­cliffe Col­lege of Arts and De­sign in De­cem­ber 2015. “I knew straight away that I wanted to start my own la­bel, so I did,” she says, aware now of how naïve she was, but mak­ing no apolo­gies for it. “You need to be re­ally pos­i­tive when launch­ing a brand, so it’s good to be quite shel­tered,” Mag­gie laughs. “You don’t want to know how many other brands are out there try­ing to get no­ticed.” The re­al­ity hit her on a sales trip to Paris in Oc­to­ber. “I was look­ing at the Paris Fash­ion Week sched­ules and I recog­nised the big names, but the rest of it I was like, who are these peo­ple? It just shows what a priv­i­lege it is to even se­cure an ap­point­ment with a buyer.”

The Paris sales were a suc­cess, with sev­eral in­ter­na­tional bou­tiques ex­press­ing se­ri­ous in­ter­est in the brand. “But even though we are get­ting that amaz­ing re­sponse over­seas, it’s so im­por­tant for us to be ac­ces­si­ble to New Zealan­ders and sup­port this mar­ket,” says Jo. In ad­di­tion to hav­ing lo­cal stock­ists, this means man­u­fac­tur­ing on home soil. “There’s a re­ally strong craft in­dus­try here that we want to help build up,” says Mag­gie, not­ing that work­ing with lo­cal mak­ers also al­lows her to keep a close eye on pro­duc­tion and en­sure that all her gar­ments meet the high­est pos­si­ble stan­dard of eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion. “My grad­u­ate col­lec­tion was based around the neg­a­tive im­pact the fash­ion in­dus­try has on peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment,” she ex­plains. “It made me quite tor­mented, be­cause I love fash­ion so much, but it also gave me this sense of pur­pose. I de­cided that if I was go­ing to be in the in­dus­try I was go­ing to make it bet­ter, and I’ve held my­self to that. I’m com­mit­ted to know­ing where my fabric comes from, where it’s made, and who made it.”

Al­though this means more hard work and higher pro­duc­tion costs, it pushes her to be more cre­ative, “and it’s in­creas­ingly what peo­ple want,” she says. “A few years ago ethics and trans­parency weren’t im­por­tant to con­sumers – it def­i­nitely wouldn’t have been the thing that they took no­tice of and cel­e­brated – but nowa­days I think you are crazy as a fash­ion brand not to think about it.”

As for why else Mag­gie Mar­i­lyn is res­onat­ing? Both Mag­gie and Jo be­lieve it comes down to the brand’s ethos of lux­ury gar­ments that are meant to be worn and lived in – “liv­able lux­ury”, if you will. “They’re for the wearer’s plea­sure which I think is a re­ally em­pow­er­ing thing – to be wear­ing some­thing that feels great rather than suf­fer­ing for fash­ion,” says Mag­gie. “It’s def­i­nitely the right look for this time.”

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