Liz Mitchell

De­signer Liz Mitchell, 61, re­calls a hel­ter-skel­ter year of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional chal­lenges and tri­umphs

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - AS TOLD TO PAUL LIT­TLE

When the year be­gan, I’d been di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer and had to have surgery. It was dev­as­tat­ing. I was in my 40s and I’d done char­i­ties like Look Good Feel Bet­ter, so I was aware of can­cer, but never imag­ined it would be some­thing I’d ex­pe­ri­ence.

It was also the time the Amer­ica’s Cup was on in Auck­land. We had a busi­ness in the T&G Build­ing in Welles­ley St and there were in­cred­i­ble things hap­pen­ing.

Cathy Cun­ning­ham, who was do­ing PR, said, “Cartier are do­ing a fash­ion show on Kawau Is­land, and the su­pery­achts are all sail­ing over there,” and she in­vited me to take part. We had a won­der­ful show with evening cou­ture and Cartier jew­ellery.

And that week was also my first week of chemo­ther­apy. You couldn’t have had a more ex­treme con­trast — Cham­pagne on one side and some­thing so chal­leng­ing and fun­da­men­tally dev­as­tat­ing on the other.

At that time, we did a lot more bri­dal work, and you can spend a year work­ing with some­body on that project. I said to my can­cer spe­cial­ist: “I can’t go to have surgery be­cause I have all those brides to look af­ter.” She said: “You have to think dif­fer­ently.”

Lots of things helped. My fam­ily, my part­ner, my staff and all my friends — you get so much sup­port when some­thing like this hap­pens.

I de­cided I’d do a show for New Zealand Fash­ion Week. That gave me some­thing to work to­wards and put energy into. Some­times, when you face a lot of ad­ver­sity it’s im­por­tant cre­atively to do some­thing spe­cial.

The show was called The Kiss of the Dragon. It was so beau­ti­ful and the­atri­cal. I had Geel­ing Ng, Su­san Wood, Jen­nifer Ward-Lealand. We got a great re­sponse to that.

And then I was re­cov­er­ing, and we were go­ing to Amer­ica to visit a friend in New York. We stopped off in Los Angeles and an­other friend, who was in­volved with the New Zealand Con­sulate, said “There’s go­ing to be an amaz­ing party — would you like to come?”

So we went. Keisha Cas­tle-Hughes and her mum, Des­rae, were also at the party. They told me how much they loved my clothes and used to go past my win­dow in Par­nell and look at what we were do­ing. It was one of those serendip­i­tous things that our paths crossed.

I knew she’d been nom­i­nated for an Academy Award for Whale Rider and I said, “If you need some­thing to wear to the Os­cars, come and see me when you get back.”

So she did. It was a re­ally short amount of time — just a few weeks and she was go­ing to be away again. I did a lit­tle wardrobe design idea for her, and she loved all the things, so she wore lots of my clothes at the dif­fer­ent func­tions she went to for the Academy Awards.

I didn’t go. We had a great party at my home and watched it. It was amaz­ing see­ing her on the red car­pet in the dress we made.

My hair had grown back by then, and I looked like a poo­dle. Can­cer is a bell curve — some peo­ple sur­vive, some peo­ple die. But the ex­pe­ri­ence en­cour­aged me to be true to my­self and my love of women’s design.

Some­times, when you face a lot of ad­ver­sity it’s im­por­tant cre­atively to do some­thing spe­cial.

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