Presented by the New Zealand Fashion Museum and the Otago Polytechnic School of Design, and hosted by Waterfront Auckland, the exhibition A Darker Eden: Fashion from Dunedin examines and celebrates the creative context unique to Dunedin.
The exhibition includes established and emerging Dunedin fashion designers including NOM*d, Mild-Red, Tanya Carlson and Company of Strangers, as well as 20 Otago Polytechnic fashion graduates including twenty-seven names, Vaughan Geeson, Maaike and Mu. With more than 50 garments and a gallery specifically curated for Dunedin’s iconic iD Dunedin Fashion Week, the exhibition seeks to give a sense of the contemporary Dunedin fashion identity.
We all understand that the way we dress is more than a matter of personal taste, it tells a bigger story about our culture and society. In 2011 the New Zealand Fashion Museum tracked the development of the unique relationship that exists between the colour black and New Zealandness in an exhibition and book titled Black: The history of black in fashion, society and culture in New Zealand. We saw that clothes provide a window through which we can view ourselves, our history and our identity. If this can be true on a national level it follows that it could equally be so on a regional level. Can we find evidence of a distinctive Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin identity and where is that distinction located? What are the markers and salient features that allow us to recognise it? While climate is a natural determinant of variation in style are there other qualities that are are specific to a particular location such as architecture, cultural values and history that contribute to the evolution of a unique local fashion?
All of the designers in this exhibition have experienced life under the influence of Dunedin’s history and also bring their personal history to their practice.
Dunedin's three most established designers represented here, have created their own distinctive handwriting, developing a personal creative identity, which is clearly mapped onto their location. The graduate group of designers from the Otago Polytechnic who have been included in this exhibition have various origins and places of residence and are brought together to help the audience consider whether their work too reveals characteristics that identify them as emerging from that Darker Eden, Dunedin.
The iD Dunedin Fashion show was established in 1999 to celebrate and promote Dunedin’s fashion creativity. Featuring selected Dunedin designers and graduates from the Otago Polytechnic Fashion Design degree programme, the runway show at the Dunedin Railway Station brings national and international designers to Dunedin to participate and its inclusion in this exhibition completes the picture of New Zealand's romantic, dark, neo Gothic southern city.
A Darker Eden
This fashion exhibition will explore over a century of New Zealand beach culture and our love affair with the coast. It will, of course, include the story of the ever shrinking swimsuit, but the exhibition will also extend beyond swimwear to include fashionable attire such as sundresses, Hawaiian shirts and other garments associated with activities on and off the water, for both men and women.
We are interested in men’s and women’s summer beach fashion from the early 1900s to 2000 including swimwear, sundresses, lounging suits, coveralls, Hawaiian shirts and board shorts. We're also looking for beach fashion accessories (such as jandals, plimsoles, sandals, hats, sunglasses, parasols and bathing caps) and photos or advertising images which fit within the beach theme.
At the Beach
Be a part of our exhibition, At the Beach, by sharing original New Zealand beach fashion, magazines and newspapers or original photos of your friends and family dressed in beach attire.
Your contributions will add to our knowledge of what we looked like 'at the beach' and your personal stories will animate and enliven that history. We can't wait to see what turns up.
Email us for more information.
Elle and the Youthquake: The changing face of fashion tells the story of Wendy Ganley and her boutique Elle. While Mary Quant led the way in swinging London, young women like Wendy represented the new generation of New Zealanders in the 1960s. They replaced the fashionable ideas of elegance and sophistication with fun, exuberance and, above all, a youthful spirit. The mod era, which began in London, kicked off a raucous fashion decade where pop music and musicians were a big influence, and trends set in boutiques and on the street trickled up to the mainstream manufacturers and couturiers who then also made mini dresses and pantsuits – fashion made for movement.
The exhibition also shows Wendy’s position within the whakapapa of New Zealand fashion. She trained with Barbara Herrick (Babs Radon), before passing on her knowledge to Marilyn Sainty, who in her turn supported the development of the design talent of Beth Ellery. The exhibition uses the Elle story as a framework to look at the current face of young New Zealand fashion design and to pose questions about the situation for new designers today. What are they up to and where are the opportunities for them to make their mark?
To illustrate, we invited 12 new designers to be part of the exhibition and to set up a display of their work in a pop-up shop. The space gave visitors an opportunity to view their designs, while gaining an understanding of the opportunities available for today’s young designers to make their mark.
Elle and the Youthquake: The changing face of fashion exhibition
The New Zealand Fashion Museum and Glory Days magazine have joined forces to create our latest exhibition, The Way We Wore – In Service and On The Street.
This online exhibition has brought to light photographs from the attics and old suitcases of New Zealanders that were taken during the wartime periods 1914–1918 and 1939–1945. These images show how real people dressed and interacted at the time and the impact of the war years on our sartorial style. An eight-page war themed spread in Glory Days magazine also includes some of these images. The impact of World War I and II can be seen in what we wore, both in the practical construction of garments and the inventive use of the limited materials at hand. Fashion, as we think of it, was all but suspended during the war years not just 'over there' but on the home front too.
Prior to the war, New Zealand was prospering due to the rewards of its role as “Britain’s Farm”. Women in particular were attune to and followed the latest fashions from London and Paris. New Zealand was particularly hard hit by the war – the Gallipoli campaign was not only a resounding defeat for the Allies – it resulted in the decimation of the New Zealand contingent sent to participate, with a casualty rate of an astonishing 88% of our troops dead or wounded. With a population of only one million in 1914 this and the subsequent disproportionate and heavy losses at the western front meant that every New Zealander at home was affected directly or indirectly by this war. Ostentatious dress was considered inappropriate even where people had the means. Sober and muted colours including shades of grey, one described in a local paper as “Battleship”, were prevalent. Jewellery and other showy decorative elements were put aside
As the men had departed for war, it was necessary for women to step into previously male dominated roles such as farm work, transport and factory work. The physicality of the work women were doing meant that traditional garments weren’t appropriate. Women raided men's wardrobes for shirts and trousers to adapt and skirts were modified to be more practical. Many of the new roles required a uniform and women happily wore these to work.
The ‘uniform look’ was particularly influential during both wars and women often wore what were called tailor-mades, suits “tailored” for women. Designs often included military style jackets with pockets, belts, buckles and epaulets. The trench coat, worn by officers in the trenches in World War I, was introduced for civilian use after the war and has become one of the world's most enduring weather proof style for men and women.
New Zealand’s geographical and physical isolation had made for a culture of inventiveness, the oft cited number 8 wire mentality that led to creative ways of “making do” with what was available. War heightened this isolation and it was virtually impossible to import goods from overseas. By the beginning of World War II, most New Zealand women made many of the clothes for themselves and their families. They found it difficult when the tools for home, and also professional sewers, were cut off – patterns, international fashion magazines and fabrics such as silk and cotton were no longer easily available.
Josie Perham, who was 13 when World War II broke out, recalls that zips were in short supply so most of her dresses had smaller zips in the side seams rather than long zips down the back. "We just wore short, ordinary dresses to dances. We enjoyed the Big Band music that involved the Jitterbug, so flared skirts were also popular."
Wartime rationing was introduced in 1942 for clothing manufacturers. The aim was to reduce the material and time required to make a garment. There were strict guidelines regarding the size of seams, pleats, pockets and hems. A government-produced video from 1943 describes the style as “austere but still elegant”.
Seamed stockings were rationed and Josie Perham remembers using leg paint to replicate the seam down the back of the leg. "If you didn't wash the paint off before going to bed, you had your mother's wrath the next day when there was leg paint all over the bed sheets!"
Clothing regulation was not enforced for home sewers but the culture of patriotism and supporting the war effort meant that women made an effort to re-use existing materials. Local women’s magazines provided plenty of advice about how to alter or accessorise existing clothes.
Women were also busy knitting for their families and 'for the troops'. Josie Perham recalls they must have had a good supply of wool. "We were always knitting to send socks and balaclavas to not only our servicemen but also for children in England who suffered in the bombing. We used every bit of wool we could get our hands on. No waste in those days ..."
Queens Carnivals were popular events to raise funds for war related causes in both World War I and II. There were talent shows, fancy dress, sporting fixtures and the closing event, the coronation of the Queen of the Carnival. During World War II, New Zealand designer and journalist Mollie Rodie used her fashion talents to patriotic effect. Her splendid costume designs for the Victory Queen Carnival helped raise thousands of pounds for Kiwis fighting overseas and rallied spirits on the home front.
The wartime attitudes of ‘seizing the moment’ meant that there were many wartime marriages. Often men were home for a matter of days before returning overseas for a year or more. During World War II, wedding gowns were known to be made out of the Airforce's silk parachutes and furnishing fabrics but many women were married in a smart suit that they could continue to wear. Joan and Les Dix were one couple who decided to get married before Les left for active service in the New Zealand Airforce. Joan wore a two-piece suit and a hat that cost ￡5. "That was a fortune in 1941," she recalled. Josie Perham notes that some girls did manage to "fulfil their full bridal dream" but she's not sure how they managed it. "They must have saved their coupons and used their family's coupons as well."
Although it took place far from New Zealand, the experience of war had a great impact on New Zealand society. Women had gained a great deal of freedom during wartime and many were reluctant to return to pre-war gender definitions - including the definition of what was proper for a woman to wear.
Post World War I the changes, already signalled before the war, came to full bloom and fashion became freer. Corsets were abandoned in favour of dresses that hung loose from the shoulders allowing for action. This was the era of the flapper and the garcon look with its short hair and hemlines.
The post World War II response was somewhat different with a huge desire by both men and women for a more safe and secure life with the nuclear family at its heart, a dream made increasingly possible by the huge advances in technology as a result of the war. These produced an enormous range of new time saving home appliances as well as easy care fabrics. A life at home did not have to be a life of drudgery it could be light and bright with time for leisure, just like in the movies.
The pop-up fashion exhibition, HELLO, we are the New Zealand Fashion Museum is a mini retrospective of four previous exhibitions, curated as part of the 2014 Fashion in the City Festival. Each retrospective canvased a different aspect of our fashion heritage and explored what a look inside the country's wardrobes reveals about ourselves.
Each mini exhibition of garments was enhanced by the work of Daniel Davis of Dandy&Co, known for exciting projects such as 'Pearshaped' at Art in the Dark and 'Highlights' on K Road. Daniel utilised advanced digital mapping technology to project imagery from the original exhibitions in the spaces to animate the presentation and to transform the content into a captivating visual experience.
In the space titled Black in Fashion, the garments have been chosen to help shed light on the question of why wearing the colour black is so ubiquitous in New Zealand today. What was Kate Patterson thinking when she chose to wear a black dress to her daughter's wedding in 1913? And how is it that the black singlet has become a symbol of the Kiwi bloke? This mini exhibition provides a visual and concrete way to help consider the question of whether there is something essential about what it means to be a New Zealander encapsulated in the colour black.
Looking Terrific is a high-end fashion business story that spans the half century from 1938 to 1988. Gus Fisher and his El Jay label made elegant and up-to-the-minute clothes for all occasions. While the young Queen Elizabeth was the fashion role model for most New Zealand women of the 1950s, Gus Fisher looked to the couture of Paris and in 1953 he gained the exclusive rights to manufacture and sell Christian Dior originals and Christian Dior prêt a porter in the New Zealand market. These became treasured wardrobe items that feature in this mini-exhibition.
With its focus on fashion garments, Home Sewn demonstrates the wealth of creativity that can be found in the domestic arena. A passion for fashion often originated at home and one who attributes her expertise and talent to her mother’s tutelage is Turet Knuefermann of TK fame. Karla Kneufermann's passion and skill were an inspiration and one of her superbly crafted and finely embroidered dresses is included in the exhibition. Home sewing could be a solution to getting what you could not buy whether through cost or availability. The beautiful and once fashionable garments featured in the exhibition are gathered from the closets of talented sewers or the daughters or granddaughters who could not bear to part with their inheritance. Stories of love and loss, humour and sadness are the backdrop to these clothes and are the very good reason for surviving to be shown here.
1970s styles, so evident in this current season's fashion, are brought sharply into focus by revisiting the originals in The Age of Aquarius. A lithe and languid silhouette clad in an abundance of colour and print regardless of gender, and clothes that expressed your individuality. Think orange and brown, ethnic prints and embroideries, hair, lots of it and the mandatory flared trousers and you have a brief style summation of the offering. The exhibition provides a visual record of this time in our history, and includes pieces by manufacturers such as Society, new artisan makers such as Susan Holmes, salons such as Julie, boutique pieces by Wendy Ganley for Elle and one-off garments found in local boutiques and markets.
HELLO, we are the New Zealand Fashion Museum:
"When the Moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars"
James Rado and Gerome Ragni, ’Age of Aquarius’, from the musical Hair
Flares, platforms, hand-painted muslin tunics, crushed velvet, embroidered jeans and shirts, long hair, op-shop frocks, Liberty prints, empire line dresses, skinny rib tank tops, aviator sunglasses, peasant skirts, unisex t-shirts: this is what the 1970s looked like in New Zealand. Whether this summation causes cringe or happy nostalgia will depend upon your age and where you were in the 1970s. If you were young, optimistic and embraced the era as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius you will remember the decade as a dynamic time, a time when the social status quo was being challenged. The 1970s brought social upheaval, with many questioning the validity of the prevailing post-war culture: comfortable, suburban, consumerist.
Young women were asking why their lives should be limited to child rearing and homemaking and why when they did participate in the work force they were being paid less than their male counterparts. Young men were asking why we were fighting an American led war in Vietnam, and why they should be conscripted for military training in the first place. Everyone questioned how “safe” the testing of French nuclear weapons was if they were doing it our Pacific neighbourhood rather than their own backyard. And closer to home we had decided that we were not prepared to sacrifice our natural environmental assets, the pristine shores of Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau, in order to provide cheap electricity that would generate profits for a foreign owned aluminium company.
We were coming to the realisation that we needed to formulate our own views and to look our own capabilities and resources for our future well-being both at home and in the world. The social climate was ripe for creative local solutions and that was reflected in the fashion of the day, both in what we wore and in the way our clothes were being made and sold.
The Age of Aquarius exhibition provides a platform to see and experience New Zealand in the 1970s through the wardrobes and stories of six individuals, and through examples of six different modes of fashion making. They represent the diversity that existed and the trends that were prevalent. The consciousness-raising espoused by the women's liberation movement had clearly found purchase with our group, where regardless of marital status all were working. The experience of the one man profiled in this exhibition shows that there were also benefits for men that arose from social equity for women, because it removed some of the pressure on them to be the sole providers for a household, and allowed them to indulge their own interests.
Geoffrey Bailey was 36 at the beginning of the decade and worked for the civil service, but outside of work he expressed his passion for clothes.
Eloise Watts was 54 in 1970 and together with her husband Vic was the proprietor of the London Bar on Wellesley St, a working life that required a glamorous, yet practical, wardrobe.
Kathie Figgins was 25 and working as medical laboratory technician in 1970. Although she had married in 1968 she continued to work and earn her own income, which she put partly towards clothes.
Rachel Stace was 20 when she left home and moved to Auckland. Parties, weddings, music gigs and the like were motivation and inspiration for purchasing something new and for dressing up. Rachel (1973) is our cover girl.
Anita Arlov was a 13 year old student in 1970 in Christchurch and shares her wardrobe over a decade of growing up.
Also living in that city, Zora Price was a 39 year old and spent the 1970s working as a teacher, a dressmaker, a housewife and a mother of three girls.
While each expression of identity is different and personal, each of these people shared a time and place, and illuminate the sociological influences that impacted the entire culture at the time. These signs of the times reached into all forms of cultural expression including what we wear, and also, importantly, how our clothes were being made and sold.
Established manufacturers like El Jay, Society, Southwell and House of Raymonde, which had developed a loyal client base, continued to flourish by following the fashion of the day and delivering it to their customers. There also emerged a new breed of manufacturers, keen to take a different approach and to cater to an increasingly educated, informed, well-travelled and youthful clientele. Labels like Peppertree, Miss Deb, Attic 80, Fotheringay and Hullabaloo targeted this younger set, while labels like Bendon were agile enough to change their product to suit the changing market.
High-end couturiers like Colin Cole continued to successfully occupy the glamorous end of the spectrum while responding to changing demand by adding ready to wear. But the avant garde of couture was led by a new generation epitomised by Annie Bonza who combined the skills of couture cutting and making with the application of contemporary artistic embellishments using colour blocking, appliqué and cornelli techniques.
Customisation was a strategy that many of the aspiring designers of the day followed, bypassing the limitations of available fabrics to create their own original garments using materials that were hand-woven, appliquéd, printed, painted or embroidered. These designers made and sold their work through various models such as textile dyer and printer Susan Holmes who sold through artisan market Brown's Mill. Others like Linda Evans and Mary Jane and Phil O'Reilly sold through emporia, either small local shops or larger venues like Cook St Market. Still others chose the model of independent boutiques. Wendy Ganley of Elle boutique is a notable example, as is Laraine Flowers of Petrouska. There were others who joined forces such as the group who sold through Tigermoth or Virginia King who was sold her designs through Nova.
By the end of the era it was widely accepted that different styles of clothing and of making and retailing could co-exist and that it was possible for everyone to choose clothes that expressed your individuality.
The Age of Aquarius reader is available to purchase in our shop.
For most New Zealand designers their passion for fabric and fashion started at home. It was a mother or grandmother who taught them to sew clothes for their dolls or a dress for themselves and it was at home that they learnt the skills necessary to create a unique and individual wardrobe. Home sewing has always been a way to achieve what you could not buy, whether you were constrained by cost or availability the solution was the same – DIY, and in New Zealand we did in huge numbers. Home Sewn looks at the evolution of home sewing in New Zealand, bringing together examples of the garments that were produced and worn here and includes examples of the fashion illustrations, articles and patterns that inspired the makers.
The pioneer women of New Zealand made everyday clothing for the family themselves; the underwear, shirts and day dresses, only the “best clothes”, the formal dresses and the men's suits, were made by professional tailors and seamstresses. Fashion information arrived via illustrations in the women's pages of the daily newspapers and through regular correspondence with friends and family who lived nearer the fashion capitals of London and Paris. While the well-to-do could keep abreast of fashion and had more occasion for “best” their cast-offs trickled down to the less well off and were remodelled and repurposed by the skilled sewer who then gave these cast off garments an extension to their useful life.
Even when dresses started to be readily available “off the peg” in department stores and in urban dress shops such as The Elite owned by Josephine McGuire in Nelson in the 1920s, home sewing remained the primary source of a woman's wardrobe. The fabric, and notions section of Smith and Caughey's occupied prime daylit space on the ground floor while you had to go to the first floor to get to the women's ready to wear section. While sewing skills were primarily passed on at home with mother's teaching daughter's, there were also training schools where you could refine your techniques and also learn pattern making to become a qualified dressmaker. Druleigh College was one of these and trained many of the young women who went on to work for fashion manufacturers like El Jay and later, as married women with families, could supplemented their incomes through dressmaking. According to Douglas Lloyd Jenkins in The Dress Circle, “It is a defining characteristic of mid century New Zealand that most women could sew and large numbers did so very skilfully”.
The range of sources for the latest fashion information became more diverse. Newspapers had their own “fashion correspondents” in London and Paris who wrote columns for the women's pages, Hollywood fashion style arrived via the movies and “star” gossip magazines like Movie Mirror and True Story and in 1948 the real thing was seen in New Zealand when 50 garments from Christian Dior's summer couture collections was shown at a fashion parade at Milne and Choyce and described in the Women's Weekly with detailed descriptions of the construction details for the home dressmaker.
Most sewers however were not skilled enough to replicate a garment simply from a pictures and the most powerful fashion tool available to them was the commercial dress pattern. In the 1930s the Women's Weekly started a free pattern service for it readers so that they could keep up with the latest trends. While Druleigh, Academy and McCalls were among the names on the patterns at this time the one that has stood the test of time and survived into the contemporary era is Butterick.
Fashion in the first half of the century was largely described in terms of elegance and sophistication, an aesthetic attune to the mature woman but in the 1960s the “youthquake” changed all that. Fashion and music were taken over by the young and chic was replaced by cool. Mary Quant and Betsey Johnson defined the look which was simple, short and fun. Home sewing engaged a whole new following with teenagers who were keen to have the newest fashions and able to make them because the shapes were so simple. For the cost of a two yards of fabric and a few hours to “run up” a frock on a Saturday morning, a young woman could hit the clubs in the evening looking every inch the groovy miss, the equal of her London or New York counterpart.
Home sewing made fashion fast and affordable and brought on an new generation with the skills to turn ideas into wearable reality. The 1970s hippy era with its op shop aesthetic and its ethos of self sufficiency served to further embed and expand these skills.
It is these two decades that gave rise to the nascent talent that was to become the New Zealand fashion design industry which blossomed in the 1980s and continues today. For Annie Bonza, Marilyn Sainty, Liz Findlay, Doris de Pont and their cohort it was their sewing skills that allowed them to make what they could not buy. They were able to defy the constraints of budget and mainstream taste and could create garments that were uniquely their own. Today globalisation has made every fashion item imaginable, no matter where in the world, available via the internet. On the High Street, the fashion offering is identical in London, Paris, New York and Auckland. In response there is a new generation looking for a way to make something that is personal, hand made and individual and they are discovering that there is creative freedom inherent in an ability to sew.
The New Zealand Fashion Museum publication Home Sewn is available to buy in the New Zealand Fashion Museum shop.
Home Sewn: Original New Zealand Fashion:
This exhibition was inspired by the Rugby World Cup tournament in 2011. The title, Black in Fashion references our national rugby team, the All Blacks, and in so doing seeks to identify links between sport, heritage and culture. It seeks to provide a framework to look at the wearing of all black by our sports teams and the place of black more generally in the New Zealand fashion context both historical and in the present day where it could be considered ubiquitous. By bringing together a historical array of over 70 fashionable and other significant black garments and objects this exhibition provides a platform to canvas ideas, to propose connections and to see and experience relationships in a visual and concrete way.
Curated by Doris de Pont, the diverse content was organised and grouped across a number of themes including: black in early New Zealand, black in sport, in music, black in authority, black from a Maori perspective, black in kiwiana, black fashion icons and the history of wearing black as a fashionable colour.
This is the first time the relationship between wearing black and the representation of our New Zealand identity has been explored in a museum exhibition. Spanning a 120 year period the exhibition highlighted not just how fashion has changed, but also how immigration and our changing relationship with the rest of the world has impacted on our sense of self and how that manifests itself in a developing New Zealand identity. It asks us to consider the question of whether there is something essential about what it means to be a New Zealander encapsulated in the colour black. When Julia Torrens chose to have her silk and lace dress made in black in 1892 she was showing that she had achieved financial success in this new land. On the other hand, the black jersey worn by the musicians who created the Dunedin Sound nearly a century later was chosen because it was cheap and practical. When Yvette Williams won New Zealand’s first women’s Olympic gold medal in 1952, black was not a fashion choice but symbolic of a nation’s pride. In contrast, black was chosen deliberately by Shona Tawhiao for her Mauao dress to make a visual statement about her ideas on family and modern tribal relationships.
The exhibition display allowed visitors the opportunity for up close scrutiny, as no areas were roped off and the majority of garments were positioned on low plinths enabling eye level viewing. All were accompanied by a narrative label that provided information and context. A TV set from the 1970s, was positioned next to the sports garments and played a continuous loop of historic rugby footage including film of the Invincibles Tour of 1924-25 compiled by the New Zealand Film Archive for the exhibition. A compilation of black themed New Zealand music played from speakers positioned next to the garments which represented Black in music.
In Auckland the exhibition was housed in a new retail space in the Britomart precinct, designed by Cheshire Architects and shaped like a black box. At night a video of the exhibition was projected onto the outside windows of the venue, giving those in the street an opportunity for an after-hours viewing of the exhibition. In Wellington the Black in Fashion exhibition was part of the International Arts Festival and was hosted by the Museum of Wellington City and Sea and was housed in a “pop up” venue over the road in the newly refurbished heritage Tower building in Brandon St.
Everything in this exhibition is connected through colour but if you look closely you may see other common threads and surprising differences that offer an insight into the wearing of black in New Zealand.
Two New Zealand Fashion Museum publications on the subject, the exhibition reader Black in Fashion and Black: the history of black in fashion, society and culture in New Zealand available through our shop.
Black in Fashion: Wearing the colour black in New Zealand exhibition:
Gus Fisher, 1961
Gus Fisher and his El Jay label made high quality, elegant and up-to-the-minute clothes for all occasions, from day dresses to party dresses, and from stylish suits to essential coats. Looking Terrific is a high-end fashion business story that spans 50 years from 1938 to 1988. It is about much more than a collection of dresses. While the young Queen Elizabeth was the fashion role model for most New Zealand women of the 1950s, Gus Fisher looked to the couture of Paris instead. He travelled every year to see first-hand the new designs, and to purchase the latest fabrics for El Jay. The contacts he established and his growing reputation for quality led, in 1953, to an invitation to become the licensee for Christian Dior, giving him the exclusive rights to manufacture and sell Christian Dior originals and Christian Dior prêt-à-porter in the New Zealand market.
The Dior connection is one part of the El Jay story and there are many more stories about ideas, ideals and New Zealand's cultural development, which the wonderful garments included in this exhibition symbolise. Looking Terrific: The Story of El Jay was the first ‘pop-up’ exhibition of the New Zealand Fashion Museum. Curated by Doris de Pont, it showcased 67 vintage garments produced by fashion industry leader Gus Fisher from the 1940s through to the 1980s. The choice of the Gus Fisher Gallery as the venue for this exhibition was of significance. Whilst Gus Fisher is well known for his support of the arts, his role in the New Zealand fashion industry is less well known today. The exhibition paid homage to Gus’ contribution to the fashion industry, within the Gallery that he generously supports. The foyer of the Gus Fisher Gallery was decorated to look like the El Jay showroom where buyers would be shown the new collections each season. This look was recreated with the original El Jay–Christian Dior cartouche, tables and vase all sourced from the now closed El Jay factory, offices and showroom in Kingston St, in Auckland. A mannequin greeted visitors on entry to the foyer and the requisite vase of fresh flowers completed the 'live' feel of the presentation.
Entering the gallery was reminiscent of walking into a department store display with garments displayed on a range of mannequins old and new, and deliberately grouped by garment type rather than by period in order to show the timelessness of the styles while the labels provided insight into the changes in fashion over the decades. The use of large ornate mirrors offered a further dimension adding to the 'salon' styling of the show and offering a view of the back of the garments. The overall look was completed with Kentia palms and salon chairs upholstered in Ultra Suede, two further style features borrowed from the original El Jay showroom, the chairs in fact the genuine article on loan from Kingston St.
A video interview with Gus Fisher recorded in April 2010 by Shirley Horrocks which played in a corridor off the foyer was a popular addition to the exhibition; visitors, young and old took time to sit and learn more about El Jay. The foyer and corridor also housed display cabinets of El Jay memorabilia including Fashion Awards, look books of Christian Dior and El Jay collections. The exhibition went on tour to Wellington with a scaled back version that occupied a section of the fashion floor at Kirkcaldie & Stains, much as it had done in its heyday when the department store was a proud stockists of both the El Jay and Christian Dior labels.
Gus Fisher died on Tuesday 20 July 2010, three days after the close of the Auckland exhibition making the timing and the tenor of Looking Terrific: The Story of El Jay all the more poignant. Thanks to this exhibition and the research that made it possible Gus Fisher’s contribution to the development of New Zealand fashion is now a matter of record which will be available for the future.
A reader with a history of El Jay was authored by exhibition curator Doris de Pont. Looking Terrific: the Story of El Jay is available through our shop.
Looking Terrific: The story of El Jay exhibition:
The New Zealand Fashion Museum is for anyone with a love of fashion, heritage, innovation and creativity. With no fixed abode other than this online address, it is a museum dedicated to the curation of New Zealand’s rich fashion past, making it relevant for the present and future.
Established in 2010 as a Charitable Trust, it records and shares the stories of the people, objects and photographs that have contributed to the development of New Zealand's unique fashion identity. It makes them visible and accessible to a broad audience through pop-up exhibitions, publications and our online museum. Read more
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