Lecturer Leica Johnson, 48, and senior lecturers Sharon Evans-Mikellis, 55, Lisa McEwan, 55, and Linda Jones, 66, are key players in Auckland University of Technology’s
fashion design programme. With several decades of design and teaching experience between them, they’re authorities on design
integrity, which is as evident in their own impeccable sartorial choices as it is in the way
they inspire the next generation of talent.
LISA: Prior to becoming an academic, I’d spent 26 years working as a designer and patternmaker in the New Zealand fashion industry. When the 2008 global financial crisis hit, many of the remaining firms that were still manufacturing in New Zealand decided that in order to compete in the globalised fashion market, they needed to produce offshore. Companies were restructured, and as a result I decided to go into education — something that had always been an aspiration. I’m now in my 10th year at AUT.
LINDA: My design and teaching career started after graduating from art school at the beginning of the ’70s. I worked in London as a fashion designer/illustrator for numerous fashion companies, including my own, and this, combined with teaching, continued through to the late ’90s, which is when I moved to New Zealand. I was invited to join the AUT fashion teaching staff not long after arriving in Auckland. The current focus of my design practice is raincoats.
SHARON: I have been a designer since I left art school in the UK in 1985, worked in all areas of the fashion and knitwear industry, had my own business and taught fashion and textile design in New Zealand and the UK.
LEICA: On returning to lecturing in February 2015, I knew I wanted to work in a creative environment with people of like mind, and I had briefly worked with Sharon and her husband [AUT senior lecturer Andreas Mikellis] when I first came to
New Zealand from the UK, so I knew [at AUT] I’d be in good hands.
LEICA: True clothing design is an art, a craft and an act of self-expression. This group definitely values design integrity and authenticity. Working initially for myself in the UK, and then as a commercial designer in New Zealand and the US, I’m focused on working with companies with an ethical and sustainable ethos.
LISA: I’m a firm believer in slow fashion, so I wear the same pieces for years — old is the new black! I like to support independent designers, so my key pieces are from
New Zealanders and Australians such as Sherie Muijs and Masayo Yasuki. I also wear some of my own designs and vintage Japanese pieces.
LEICA: I appreciate many different designers for many different reasons, so my favourites can change from week to week, but this week I love Vetements’ AW17 collection. I often find myself looking very austere in a ‘turn of the 20th century school teacher’ way, with a hint of clergy — in a floor-length dress, a decent coat and black Margiela lace-ups, which I swap for Birkenstocks during the weekend.
LINDA: I own key pieces from international designer labels, but I also take great pleasure in wearing clothes from ex-students, including emerging designers Joseph Yen from Tür and his partner Christopher Duncan the weaver, Glenn Yungnickel’s beautifully crafted shirts and anything from Nicola Luey’s crazy bricolage collection.
The rest of my wardrobe I make myself.
SHARON: My favourite designers at the moment are Simone Rocha, Henrik Vibskov, Yohji Yamamoto and JW Anderson. For work I need comfortable clothes for crawling around under knitting machines, and flat shoes for long days standing on concrete floors. Luckily, working at an art school
I can get away with a polka-dot dress and Chuck Taylors most days, and because I live on Waiheke I can get away with the same polka-dot dress and gumboots during the weekend.
LISA: My weekend look is relaxed — T-shirt, hoodie, drop-crotch jersey pants and sneakers. It sounds pretty generic, but every piece is considered. The drop-crotch pants were developed from a series of designs we did for a collaborative art installation, and I love their drape. My current staple hoodie is from AS Colour — great fabrication and fit. I have an eclectic collection of T-shirts, from Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto, to hand-me-downs from my son. And my sneakers are vegan-leather high-tops from Matt & Nat. I have them in four colours.
LINDA: I only wear clothes that I enjoy wearing. That is to say I don’t have a ‘work uniform’ and my style of dress doesn’t change into something else during the weekend. Having been involved in fashion for a long time, I greatly admire the work of a number of designers, but I think the one who consistently inspires me is Yohji Yamamoto — I find his work and design philosophy emotionally affecting.
LINDA: Each of us values fairness.
LISA: And honesty. And staying cognisant of the big picture, rather than getting caught up in the minutiae.
LEICA: A large portion of the group is originally from the UK. Consequently, when events happen concerning the UK, there’s an innate understanding. When David Bowie passed away, I called Linda, and we shared stories, reminiscing about my childhood and her youth and the impact he had on us at those times.
LISA: Linda and I often share a ride home. It’s a great time to debrief on the day at work, but also to discuss family life and deeper philosophical stuff.
SHARON: We care about one another and support each other when support is needed, whether it be with work, life or family issues.
LISA: As with families, we just know we have each other’s backs. But also, the family that plays together stays together. I have fond memories of a great Japanese dinner with lashings of sake and much hilarity.
Let’s just say there’s no point crying over spilt sake.
LEICA: I love the wit and humour of the group, and the authenticity. Everyone genuinely cares about what they do.
SHARON: We have a laugh together — you can’t underestimate the power of that.
WHO CAN SIT WITH US?
LEICA: Vivienne Westwood for flipping her finger to the establishment, and for her ongoing campaigns around climate change.
LINDA: I would very much appreciate it if Yohji Yamamoto would consider seamlessly joining our team.
LISA: Berlin-based sisters Anja and
Sandra Umann, whose label Umasan offers androgynous yet cultivated Japaneseinspired designs in cool, monochromatic fabrications that reflect their firmly held views on sustainability and animal rights. Style with substance.
SHARON: I’d love to have been able to work with Ray Eames or Lucienne Day. Both were great designers and teachers and I think both strong female role models.
The academics (from left): Sharon Evans-Mikellis, Leica Johnson, Lisa McEwan
and Linda Jones.