Fash­ion de­signer Natasha Ovely, in­ven­tor Su­ranga Nanayakkara and opera singer Mar­lena Devoe.

Natasha Ovely — Fash­ion de­signer


Back when Natasha Ovely was liv­ing in Berlin, she la­belled a coin jar on top of her fridge “Starv­ing Artists Fund”. “Be­ing a for­mer art-school kid, ev­ery­body knows what it’s like: you put all your money into your ma­te­ri­als and feel like you’re just throw­ing it into a black hole and noth­ing is com­ing out,” she says with a laugh over a flat white at The Store in Brit­o­mart.

The cash col­lected would fi­nance cups of cof­fee and trips to the flea mar­ket to dec­o­rate her apart­ment. Now, hav­ing re­lo­cated to Mt Eden in May, she’s launch­ing a fash­ion la­bel with the same moniker. “I thought it would be such a re­deem­ing feel­ing to ac­tu­ally be mak­ing some­thing where you can get some­thing back to sus­tain your prac­tice and keep go­ing.”

Be­tween pho­to­shoots and fit­tings, the 28-year-old is gearing up for the New Gen­er­a­tion show­case at New Zealand Fash­ion Week, where her first col­lec­tion will be pa­raded in front of me­dia and re­tail­ers on a run­way shared with three other emerg­ing de­sign­ers. Be­ing in­cluded is an im­pres­sive feat, given Ovely has never be­fore set foot at Fash­ion Week.

Her work is in­formed by a no­madic up­bring­ing. Born in In­dia, she moved around with her fa­ther’s ca­reer in

IT, but spent most of her child­hood in Riyadh, Sau­dia Ara­bia, where her mother, Su­nita, was al­ways the most fash­ion­able woman in the room, even if that wasn’t ap­par­ent. “I still re­mem­ber her wear­ing elec­tric-blue crop tops with high-waisted jeans un­der­neath the abaya.”

Ovely first moved to New Zealand to at­tend a Hawke’s Bay board­ing school at the age of 13. Her par­ents hoped that would pro­vide a well-rounded ed­u­ca­tion, but it didn’t last long. “I was the only per­son who wasn’t a white Kiwi girl, so that was a lit­tle bit dif­fi­cult for them to deal with and for me to deal with. It was a bit of a cul­ture shock for both sides, I think.”

She fin­ished her sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion in Dubai and is grate­ful to have been part of a more mul­ti­cul­tural world. “There is so much mis­un­der­stand­ing and a lot of strong opin­ions … It’s cool to have been on that side and try to get an un­der­stand­ing.”

After fin­ish­ing high school Ovely moved to Auck­land, this time with her fam­ily, and com­pleted a bach­e­lor of fine arts de­gree with hon­ours at Elam be­fore head­ing off again to work in pub­lish­ing and mar­ket­ing in Istanbul, Shang­hai, London, Berlin and Mu­nich.

Her style has been in­flu­enced by see­ing how, in dif­fer­ent cul­tures, fash­ion has far wider im­pli­ca­tions than flat­ter­ing a fig­ure. “My ap­proach to fash­ion al­ways car­ries some­thing more be­cause I’ve seen that value placed on it.”

Her de­but col­lec­tion, called Fu­ture Plans, com­prises two dis­tinc­tive sil­hou­ettes, an­gu­lar and rounded. The two shapes, worn at once, are a play­ful sym­bol of op­pos­ing ideas work­ing to­gether. “They’re quite in­tim­i­dat­ing, some of the pieces, be­cause they’re a bit un­usual and the sil­hou­ettes play with pro­por­tions a lot, but in the end I think they’re quite ap­proach­able.”

The de­signer has an in­clu­sive ap­proach to her brand — it’s gen­der neu­tral, LGBTQ+ friendly and ranges from size six to 22. “Call­ing my brand gen­der neu­tral is just like ex­tend­ing an in­vi­ta­tion, and in my mind is the way things should be,” she says. “And I gen­uinely do not un­der­stand why more brands don’t do larger sizes. This is ob­vi­ous for me; it’s a very nat­u­ral thing.”

Cur­rently, Ovely’s stu­dio is her liv­ing room, and even though she has man­nequins, she prefers to drape each sam­ple on her­self in front of the mir­ror — a process that mys­ti­fies her mother, who runs a fash­ion-de­sign school. “She’s al­ways want­ing to teach me, but I had to put my foot down and say I had to learn it my way, in my own time, and ap­proach it in a sculp­tural way.”

Fash­ion is Ovely’s call­ing. “In a way, I feel like it wasn’t even a choice. I just feel like it’s some­thing I was meant to do,” she says. She wants even­tu­ally to col­lab­o­rate with and hire a di­verse team of tal­ented peo­ple. “You have to be ready to fight for it,” she adds, “be­cause start­ing it is easy but sus­tain­ing it is hard.”

While travel will al­ways be a part of her life, she plans to stay in Auck­land for the fore­see­able fu­ture to build her busi­ness. “It’s funny where you find that home feel­ing,” she muses. “It’s in un­ex­pected places.”

Call­ing my brand gen­der neu­tral is just like ex­tend­ing an in­vi­ta­tion, and in my mind is the way things should be. And I gen­uinely do not un­der­stand why more brands don’t do larger sizes. This is ob­vi­ous for me.


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