A STITCH IN TIME
IT TAKES MONTHS OF WORK TO CREATE EIGHT MINUTES ON THE CATWALK, AND IT’S NEVER DRAMA-FREE – EVEN FOR ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S MOST SUCCESSFUL OUTFITS. WISH FOLLOWED ZIMMERMANN FROM SYDNEY TO NEW YORK FASHION WEEK 2018.
There are four boxes sitting on one side of a meeting room at an open-plan warehouse office in Sydney. These boxes are threequarters full and are covered in white tissue paper. The only clue that there is something extraordinary in these boxes is the behaviour of the people around them. There is a steady hum of voices coming from the next level, the whir of sewing machines, chatter about fabrics, getting the finishes right. For these boxes hold Zimmermann’s spring 2019 collection. They are bound for New York and will appear on a runway in exactly 12 days.
“A show is on average eight minutes but the level of work required and the months and months of creative heartache – everyone feels it,” Nicky Zimmermann tells WISH on this late August day. “The person that sends the collection feels it, the production team working on it there [in New York] feels it. I think there is a sense of responsibility felt by the entire team. It encapsulates our entire business – for just EIGHT minutes. It is kind of crazy, that is what it is. We probably have the biggest moments of heartache and the biggest moments of joy.”
Zimmermann and her team have been working on this collection for more than six months but today is the day they have to send it as Nicky is leaving tomorrow. The clock is ticking, yet some boxes are not full, some looks not finished. A patchwork mini-dress with ruffled trim is still on a mannequin being adjusted while other hands are madly – but very carefully -- running delicate white scalloped fabric through a sewing machine.
This is Australia’s most successful fashion house in full swing. Zimmermann started in 1991 as a market stall, and now Nicky and her sister, chief operating officer Simone, have 32 stores around the world and are about to show in New York for the eighth year running.
“This is now being sent today because yesterday we did a thorough review on it. No,” Nicky corrects herself, a calm voice amd the buzz of last-minute production. “Yesterday I styled it, so the day before, that is when we did the full review.” That review involved a team of about 50 people, from members of her design department to colleagues in international wholesale. It is not easy having your work critiqued at such a late stage in the design process. “You need people with a strong opinion who are game enough to say it to us,” she says. “If they go ‘that looks terrible’, you are like, ‘shit, we have been working on that for months!’ But one of the biggest things I have learnt – and one of the hardest things – is to listen, particularly when you are very attached and close to something. We don’t see what they are seeing, we only see the drawings in our mind.”
Those drawings and that original idea first germinated in Nicky’s head way back at the start of the year. It began as an observation of the changing political climate, particularly in regards to women’s rights. “There is so much happening in the world at the moment that people are talking about, which is quite inspiring and thoughtprovoking for most creative people,” Nicky told WISH back in March. “It made me think about Australia and how we think it is or was a conservative place.” But then she remembered the famously racy Australian soap opera Number 96, which ran from 1972-78. “It was about sex and drugs and there was a gay couple. It was also set in an apartment block in Paddington – I lived in Paddington, my first store was in Paddington, we sold at Paddington Markets, I went to design school in nearby Darlinghurst. As a young person, going to the markets, going to stores on Oxford Street, it was everything, particularly coming from the suburbs.
“There was a veneer of conservatism in Australia but what was actually going on, especially in these creative hubs like Paddington, was incredible. For me it is everything that we are talking about now but we were already talking about it then. I thought it was just really interesting and really forward. The fashion was also amazing and the whole thing appealed to me.”
Once her mind became focused on Number 96, Nicky began researching the show and the fashion of the era. In what she describes as a “treasure hunt”, she dug up images and details from the 70s and put them on a mood board in her office for the collection. There are images from the show; “The nude, rude goings on at Australia’s most outrageous and infamous address” is the catchcry. There are closeups of tuxedos, flares, sunglasses, hats and other fashion from the time. There is even an image of a TV colour test patch – with its tiny black and white and coloured squares – and station logos. But how does that translate into an actual show?