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.
NEW ZEALAND FASHION WEEK, AUGUST 27-SEPTEMBER 2. NZFASHIONWEEK.COM