Fash­ion au­dac­ity

How did a young Auckland de­signer’s lux­ury fash­ion brand go from zero to global hero so fast?

Paper Boy - - Front Page - TEXT BIANCA ZAN­DER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY TODD EYRE

It’s the stuff of Mil­len­nial fairy tales. Nine short months ago, 22-year-old Mag­gie He­witt was sit­ting in front of a clothes rack that held her debut col­lec­tion and won­der­ing what to do with it – how to “get some peo­ple in front of it”.

Now her epony­mous la­bel Mag­gie Mar­i­lyn has not only made the cov­eted front page of online fash­ion re­tailer Neta-porter’s The Edit as one of a host of new brands lead­ing a re­think of – what else? – black (“Frills, cutouts, flares and pleats… Fash­ion’s favourite shade takes on cool new shapes”), but its third sea­son has fea­tured on vogue.com. She is the first New Zealan­der to be short­listed for the pres­ti­gious 2017 LVMH (Louis Vuit­ton Moet Hen­nessy) prize, which sup­ports young designers with a €300,000 prize (the win­ner is an­nounced 16 June) and the recog­ni­tion of a judg­ing panel fea­tur­ing the likes of Karl Lager­feld, Marc Ja­cobs and Phoebe Philo.

He­witt’s as­cent to the pin­na­cle of the fash­ion in­dus­try is as rapid as the global heist pulled off a few years ago by Lorde. And just like Lorde, she ap­pears to have hatched fully formed, with­out a trace of anx­i­ety or self-doubt.

“I felt con­fi­dent that I had my own voice and I knew what my aes­thetic was to start

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my own brand, so I pretty much started it straight af­ter grad­u­a­tion,” says He­witt, who grad­u­ated from White­cliffe Col­lege of Arts and De­sign with a Bach­e­lor of Fine Arts in fash­ion de­sign at the end of 2015. “I didn’t, like, make the gar­ments my­self. I had sam­ple ma­chin­ists and a pat­tern­maker. That’s some­thing that comes quite eas­ily to me, know­ing how to con­struct gar­ments and how to build a col­lec­tion. You know, find mak­ers to do that.”

For a re­cent grad­u­ate, her first col­lec­tion was au­da­cious – and wildly lux­u­ri­ous. A tai­lored silk-satin blazer with ruf­fle sleeves and raw edges, rem­i­nis­cent of a Saint Lau­rent folly. Shirts and pants with ap­plique flow­ers and pre­pos­ter­ous frills, laser cut from eth­i­cally-sourced In­dian silk tulle.

To achieve all this, she cleaned out her per­sonal sav­ings, ad­ding, not at all sheep­ishly: “So I’m re­ally lucky to have my par­ents as in­vestors.”

Lucky, yes, but money and tal­ent on their own don’t open doors. For that you need con­nec­tions.

At up­mar­ket Pon­sonby con­cept store The Shel­ter, a fam­ily friend in­tro­duced her to fash­ion con­sul­tant Jo Knight, who had been bat­ting off fash­ion graduates – and even some es­tab­lished designers – ea­ger for her wis­dom since re­turn­ing two years ago from the UK. Knight pre­vi­ously ran high-end Lon­don fash­ion la­bel Richard Ni­coll for a decade (and in what is a dev­as­tat­ing loss to Knight and the close-knit Lon­don fash­ion com­mu­nity, Ni­coll passed away in Oc­to­ber last year, at age 39, from a heart at­tack).

Knight and He­witt had cof­fee. Knight thought He­witt’s col­lec­tion was beau­ti­ful but told her to go over­seas and get some ex­pe­ri­ence, pronto. Then she made an of­fer most fash­ion graduates would die for – to call up her Lon­don pals, Rok­sanda Ilin­cic and Christo­pher Kane, two of the world’s most cre­ative and revered fash­ion designers, to see if they’d take He­witt on.

Um, no thank you, said He­witt. “It would have been amaz­ing but I had al­ready built the col­lec­tion and in­vested money in it, and I wanted to do some­thing with it.”

Knight fell in love with He­witt’s au­dac­ity but tried to talk sense into her: “I said we’d need a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money, and maybe we’ll start in Aus­tralia and New Zealand.”

Her first col­lec­tion was au­da­cious – and wildly lux­u­ri­ous...ruf­fle sleeves and raw edges, rem­i­nis­cent of a Saint Lau­rent folly.

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He­witt (Mar­i­lyn is her mid­dle name) hails from Kerik­eri, the posh (and some would say, bor­ing) bit of North­land, where her par­ents own the Mount Pokaka tim­ber pro­cess­ing plant. She has three lit­tle sis­ters, and her pre­co­cious love of busi­ness was fos­tered by her fa­ther. “My dad is an amaz­ing en­tre­pre­neur. He was open about things he was fac­ing in his busi­ness, and he would ask my opinion when I was like, 10.”

A year ago, the fam­ily moved to Auckland and He­witt was de­lighted to be able to move back home while she started her la­bel. Home, and un­til re­cently, Mag­gie Mar­i­lyn HQ, is a large Herne Bay villa that re­sem­bles a five-star resort but ap­par­ently isn’t quite up to scratch. “My mum’s ren­o­vat­ing,” says He­witt, apol­o­gis­ing for the whin­ing skill­saws and co­pi­ous dust sheets.

Shortly af­ter they started work­ing to­gether, Knight sent the Mag­gie Mar­i­lyn look­book, along with a “very ca­sual” email, to her “dear col­leagues” at Net-a-porter, say­ing, “Look what I came across – isn’t it gor­geous?” to which the dear col­leagues replied: “We’ll take it.”

Net-a-porter has never in its his­tory taken on a de­signer’s first col­lec­tion but Knight put her 10-year rep­u­ta­tion on the line to vouch for the la­bel.

Mean­while, He­witt con­tracted five fac­to­ries to make up to four hun­dred units

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Op­po­site He­witt wear­ing some of her own de­signs from the Mag­gie Mar­i­lyn col­lec­tion. Pieces from her sec­ond sea­son are made of lux­u­ri­ous fab­rics and fea­ture flares, frills and metallics.

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