ART AND COMMERCE – at home with Laing designer Anna Murray
Anna Murray’s impeccable range of luxury sleep and loungewear is dreamed up right here, in her tranquil Auckland home filled with exquisite artwork.
In late 2015, after Anna Murray had completed an 18-month contract that saw her rebranding fashion chain store Glassons and launching it across the ditch, she found herself re-evaluating her life. “My 50th birthday was looming and I felt it was time to take my branding knowledge, my retail knowledge and my fabric-sourcing knowledge and bring it all together to back my own venture,” says the former marketing and advertising executive with more than 20 years under her stylish belt at agencies including Mojo Publicis and Shine. “It really felt like it was now or never.”
Luckily, Anna had an excellent entrepreneurial role model in her mother Jill Tuck, the founder of one of New Zealand’s first interior design wholesale businesses. “I grew up seeing Mum travelling the world, looking at trends and fabric swatches and making products to bring back to New Zealand.”
However, the question remained as to what Anna should do with her own exceptional set of skills. “I didn’t want to go into fashion because it’s so hard and so fickle and just tricky,” she recalls. But while lying in bed one morning, she had her aha moment: stylish sleepwear for the discerning 35-plus woman who loves sleep followed by lounging around in pyjamas as much as she does.
“For me, going to bed, sleeping and my time first thing in the morning is a real ritual. I don’t get up and rush into my day – I cruise into my day,” says Anna. “And when I come home, I strip it all off and put it aside by changing into something more comfortable.”
Of course, what tracksuit pants offer in comfort, they lack in style, so Anna had always kept an eye out for chic sleepwear when travelling or on Net-a-porter. “But it was always so horrendously expensive,” she says.
A fortuitous conversation with her mother connected Anna to then 83-year-old Barbara Laing, who had been making and importing sleepwear for 25 years and was ready to wind down her business. Anna bought the business and Barbara taught her the necessary tricks and techniques to create sleepwear that’s ‘fit for purpose’ – meaning it doesn’t only look great when you’re standing in the kitchen, but actually facilitates a better night’s sleep by staying put on your body and allowing your skin to breathe.
Working from the peaceful, light-filled home that she shares with her husband Ron and their teenage son James in Auckland’s Remuera (their daughter Madeleine is living away from home while studying at Victoria University in Wellington), Anna rebranded and launched her label Laing this past November. The modern, vaguely masculine key pieces in beautiful natural materials – cotton, silk and fine wool – are impeccably tailored with French seams and piping. “My inspiration often comes from movies and film stars, and everything I do has a borrowed-fromthe-boys feel,” says Anna.
In the months since Laing’s launch, she’s kept adding to the range: silk-cashmere pieces for layering once you get out of bed; a silk nightgown that’s more feminine but without a frill in sight; and a gloriously oversized dove-grey cashmere cardigan that would be a challenge to reserve for wearing only in the privacy of your home.
“I look for trends both in fashion and in the home,” says Anna. “My pieces are flattering classics designed to be loved for years, not just for a season. They’re an investment in a stylish night’s sleep, whether you’re at home or travelling.”
In keeping with her love of lounging, Anna has made sure that her home has plenty of zones that invite reading, working and enjoying the sun. They’re equally well positioned for contemplating the many artworks, behind each of which is a story of how it came to be there. Take the Louise Fong painting in the dining room, for instance. Anna’s aunt is married to the auctioneer Dunbar Sloane, the painting’s former owner. When Anna heard that Dunbar was selling the Louise Fong, she stated her case so passionately that he allowed her to hang it in her home for more than a year while she paid it off.
“It’s very restful and dreamy,” says Anna. “And at night when it’s lit up, all the reds come out in it.”
She was equally tenacious when it came to acquiring the family’s rosewood dining room table and bespoke chairs – a set originally designed by the late, famed architect Claude Megson for his own Remuera home. When Anna saw it come up for auction at Webb’s, she just knew they had to have it. “The chairs rock when you sit in them,” she says. “It’s funny having a dinner party where everyone slowly starts to bounce up and down in their seats as the evening progresses!”
One thing you won’t find Anna doing, however, is cooking said dinner in the adjacent open-plan kitchen. “I can cook,” she says, “but I try not to. Ron tends to cook 80 per cent of the food in our house. That’s his way of relaxing when he comes home from work.”
As inviting as the dining suite are the 1950s leather armchairs in the lounge that are so worn, they’re starting to tear. “I love texture and how these are ageing,” says Anna. Another of her passions is books and magazines. “They’re the only things I’ll horde. Everything else – if its not nailed down, it gets chucked out.”
Up the stairs, past an early Karl Maughan painting that frequently gets moved around the house for a change of scenery, is James’s bedroom, Anna’s home office and the master bedroom – complete with that most coveted of indulgences: a spacious dressing room. “I feel privileged to have a good dressing room,” she says. “It’s great to be able to get to things easily and it’s filled with my favourite shoes from my corporate days. I haven’t worn high heels daily for two years, but they still get a regular outing.”
Above left: The dining chairs feature custom-designed upholstery.
Above right: Anna’s love of colour and texture is expressed here in a mustard armchair, kilim cushion and framed cloth bought in Papua New Guinea. Opposite: The rosewood dining suite was designed in the 1970s by lauded architect Claude Megson. The photograph is by Fiona Pardington and the painting is by Louise Fong.
The kitchen, which has not been refurbished since the house was bought, features Wenge and glass tiles.
Anna and pooch Benji in her studio, which is brightened by a rug from Madder & Rouge. She bought the black and white print behind her from 1stdibs.com. A rail of Laing sleepwear puts her cotton, silk and silk-cashmere pieces on display.