ON WITH THE SHOWS
Ahead of New Zealand Fashion Week, the designers behind three local labels share the moods and muses that shape their collections
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.
THE COLOUR PALETTE
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.
THE INSPIR ATION
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.