Ahead of New Zealand Fash­ion Week, the de­sign­ers be­hind three lo­cal la­bels share the moods and muses that shape their col­lec­tions

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Vet­er­ans of our fash­ion in­dus­try, Zambesi first ap­peared on the New Zealand Fash­ion Week run­way in 2001. Hav­ing been named this year’s Mercedes-Benz Presents De­signer, the la­bel will open NZFW with their AW18 col­lec­tion. Founder and wom­enswear de­signer Liz Find­lay and menswear de­signer Dayne John­ston let us in on their de­sign process.


LIZ: The mo­ment of ge­n­e­sis was be­ing in­vited by Mercedes-Benz to cre­ate men’s and women’s be­spoke en­sem­bles to cel­e­brate our part­ner­ship. This in turn laid the foun­da­tion and in­spi­ra­tion for the win­ter col­lec­tion.

DAYNE: Hav­ing the Mercedes-Benz spot­light on us has given us an en­ergy. [It has] kind of rein­vented us in the sense that we’ve got this huge pro­ject that we’re work­ing to­wards and that we’re re­ally ex­cited to be show­cas­ing.

LIZ: What it has done too is trig­ger cer­tain things we’ve done in the past, or that we have in our com­po­nen­try. We’re sud­denly think­ing, ‘Oh I know, we could use that fab­ric or that pip­ing idea.’ We’re look­ing to what we have and how can we in­cor­po­rate that into a new col­lec­tion and make it fresh.

DAYNE: At the Mercedes-Benz show­room we saw lots of hall­marks of their brand phi­los­o­phy and it was ap­par­ent that the core val­ues of what we stand for mir­ror what they’re about as well. But the driv­ing force for me was a leather rac­ing suit I’d found at a vin­tage store in Paris. I’ve kind of re­volved [the menswear col­lec­tion] around it, be­cause it’s got re­ally beau­ti­ful de­tails like ar­tic­u­lated knees and knee pads, this amaz­ing yoke de­tail across the chest and a tricky lit­tle arm­hole that’s slightly ’80s but with a raglan shoul­der… I re­ally liked ex­am­in­ing those de­tails and try­ing to trans­pose them onto other gar­ments that flow through the col­lec­tion.


DAYNE: Peo­ple ex­pect black from Zambesi, but we al­ways ex­per­i­ment with colour. [This sea­son] we’re work­ing with yel­low

ac­cents. Liz has found an amaz­ing yel­low cor­duroy fab­ric that has metal con­tent, so it crushes and looks re­ally vel­vety. We also sourced this re­ally beau­ti­ful yel­low suit­ing from Aus­tralia, and jux­ta­posed with that is a very fu­tur­is­tic, Blade Run­ner-es­que sil­ver foil fab­ric.

LIZ: We al­ways ex­plore the colour pal­ette in­stinc­tively. We choose cloth, and those ac­cents soon be­come ap­par­ent and find a promi­nence to­gether with the un­der­cur­rent of black that’s fa­mil­iar to the brand.


DAYNE: We’re re­ally fond of fab­rics. We grav­i­tate to­wards tex­tures and they be­come the muses of the col­lec­tion, in a sense. Qual­ity is a hall­mark of the brand — we work with Euro­pean mills and Ja­panese mills and some­times we get things from China, but the qual­ity is [al­ways] there.

LIZ: It’s a mixed bag — we’ve got beau­ti­ful hand-loomed cot­ton from In­dia, which is made in a very tra­di­tional way, then we’ve got in­no­va­tive fab­rics, and craft…

DAYNE: The fab­rics are al­ways quite eclec­tic in the way we mix them to­gether. I think it’s some­thing Zambesi is known for — com­bi­na­tions that you can’t prob­a­bly imag­ine un­til you see them. But that speaks to our whole process.


DAYNE: We’re com­pletely hands-on with the sam­pling of our gar­ments, which makes the jour­ney to­wards the fi­nal col­lec­tion feel very val­i­dated. We have five full-time ma­chin­ists and we’re con­stantly work­ing with them to im­prove things, or try a dif­fer­ent fin­ish, or per­haps we’re wash­ing some­thing to see if it will shrink. We might make one pro­to­type and then re­cut it com­pletely un­til it’s per­fect. It’s that striv­ing for perfection that makes a col­lec­tion re­ally strong.

LIZ: We’re of­ten walk­ing around the work­room get­ting dif­fer­ent peo­ple to try things on, say­ing, “How does that feel?” or, “Do you think it’s too big? Too long? Should we do this? Should we do that?” There’s a lot of di­a­logue go­ing on, a lot of trial and er­ror… It’s not just us sit­ting there draw­ing pic­tures all day.

DAYNE: At the mo­ment we’re sewing a trench coat and it hasn’t re­ally been work­ing, so we’ve just had to fix a vent in it. You’re cri­tiquing as you go with the mo­ti­va­tion that ev­ery col­lec­tion has to be bet­ter than the last.


LIZ: Our in­spi­ra­tions are drawn from life ex­pe­ri­ences. We’re con­tin­u­ously col­lect­ing and re­search­ing, draw­ing from re­al­ity and imag­i­na­tion. You don’t con­sciously do it, but all this stuff that you soak up ends up per­me­at­ing and com­ing out as some­thing.

DAYNE: I’m pick­ing things up all the time. Just re­cently I went to SaveMart in [Auck­land’s] One­hunga and found a di­a­mond pat­tern in a vest that I fell in love with. So we sent this vin­tage vest down to our knitwear place and we’ve repli­cated it in a dif­fer­ent man­ner, where it’s nice and fine, 100% merino wool with a re­ally amaz­ing di­a­mond tex­ture. But it’s about seek­ing out dif­fer­ent in­spi­ra­tions, from life ex­pe­ri­ences, or movies, or travel.


LIZ: Dayne and I have al­ways had a great rap­port and an un­der­stand­ing of each other’s aes­thetic. We know how to push each other’s but­tons too, but the great thing for me is that Dayne can cross over into a wom­enswear mind­set. Or he’ll come up with a [menswear] idea and I’ll think, ‘Women would love that too.’ We feed off each other. I’ve just spent an hour un­pick­ing the back of a jacket be­cause he said, “Do you think you should’ve done this in neo­prene, like how I’ve done the men’s?” And I’m like, “Yep!”

Left: Zambesi’s Liz Find­lay and Dayne John­ston. Above: This Mercedes-Benz G-class SUV has been trans­lated into fash­ion; its colour, look and feel all make an ap­pear­ance in Zambesi’s col­lec­tion.

Fab­ric swatches and sketches form part of the Zambesi de­sign process. It’s hands-on, con­stantly evolv­ing and con­tin­ues un­til each piece is per­fect.

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