When Maori charted the coastline of New Zealand they were sketching an outline that would become the profile of our land, recording and fixing its identity. With a coastline in excess of 15,000 kilometres where no one lives more that 130 kilometres from the sea, New Zealanders are island people and never far from the edge. It is inevitable that this geography should play a part in defining who we are and how we stand in the world.
The At the Beach exhibition presents over 120 garments that help to tell the story of the evolution of summer fashion in New Zealand and explore how our relationship to the coast not only encapsulates our identity but how it has inadvertently influenced it and permeated our everyday existence. By looking at what we wore at the beach over the last 100 years we can see and experience in a visual and personal way some of that development, making connections that highlight the impact of living so close to the coastal margin. This exhibition covers a number of themes that invite you to look at past practice and also to reflect on how our unique beach culture is evident in our contemporary national fashion identity.
Packing up the household and decamping to the coast for a summer under canvas has been a seasonal ritual since the first people settled here. Whether to make use of the food resources or for recreation, the beach is our sweet spot. Camping out evolved from a necessity for the early settlers who had no other shelter to an annual custom through which we re-enacted and celebrated the ideology of self-reliance and our pioneering spirit. The 1950s to the 1970s were camping’s heydays and the square canvas tent with a green roof became ubiquitous. Government policy encouraged local councils to provide recreational facilities including municipal camping grounds and the Annual Holidays Act in 1944 guaranteed everyone two weeks’ paid annual leave. By convention this became the Christmas close down and witness to a mass exodus from the urban areas. Increasing car ownership in the 1950s made the transport of a tent, camp beds, folding tables and chairs, Thermette, pots and plates, Tilley lamps, a portable radio and the whole family to a remote beach a possibility for many. When we got there our neighbours might be anyone from anywhere, Maori, Pakeha or a new immigrant; under canvas in our swimsuits and shorts there were few markers of social or economic status.
A simple home away from home and more weather tight than a tent, the bach, was the beach accommodation of choice for others. While the bach may appear carelessly thrown together it is not unconsidered. The choice to preserve simplicity is deliberate, freeing the residents from a need to pay it any attention. The egalitarianism that spawned the beach holiday and the bach meant a fair share for everyone but it also meant not drawing too much attention to yourself, a characteristic that remains at the core of Kiwi culture and fashion. Even though this simple Kiwi bach of our imagination has been overtaken by a new reality we cling tenaciously to the mythology and even in luxury beach suburbs like Pauanui and Omaha where baches are bigger than your average suburban house, the aspiration is to keep it simple with open vistas, easy-care floors and carefully edited furniture and relaxed furnishings. The bach is a living expression of the culture of ease and functionality, which we so value as New Zealanders.
Through history our relationship to bathing has ebbed and flowed sometimes in favour and sometimes frowned upon. When we again recognised the benefits of bathing in the sea in the late 1800s it was modesty and the beauty ideal of pale skin that dictated the appropriate fashion and proposed a costume in dark coloured fabric thick enough not to become see-through when wet. These were heavy when wet and not at all conducive to swimming so when the liberal young ladies of the 1920s wanted to be more active they chose to adapt the smaller more fitted knitted woollen swimming suits worn by men to their own fashionable purpose. New ideas about health, fresh air, sports and exercise emerged and the swimsuit continued its shrinking trajectory exposing more and more skin; deeper-cut necklines, shorter legs and cutaway sections, removable shoulder straps and removable tops for men. Finally in the mid 1930s it became acceptable for men to fully expose their torsos, although not their navels. Even though World War II impacted negatively on civilian lives in the 1940s restricting the availability of materials such as wool and requiring women to take on men’s work, it also brought new freedoms in fashion and lifestyle for women. A need to reduce the size and number of clothing items one had gave rise to the idea of separates, a more casual wardrobe that could be mixed, matched and layered and to save material the one-piece bathing suit had the middle cut out and became the two-piece. What we wore to the beach changed very rapidly after World War II as a consequence of new materials and labour-saving appliances that gave us the luxury of leisure time.
In the 1950s the economy was booming and from Hollywood films we copied the look of their curvaceous women stars and suave leading men hoping to channel their glamour as we went swimming, sunning or sailing. In the 1960s a youthful silhouette replaced the well-rounded woman as the new fashion ideal. The modern bikini came to prominence in this decade inspired by wholesome California beach style as portrayed in films such as Gidget (1959). Ease, functionality, rich colours and textures are markers of this era. In the 1970s swimwear got smaller still and what we wore became more individual. Holiday clothes infiltrated the urban wardrobe: singlets, T-shirts, trousers for women, bare legs, sandals and jandals appeared as daywear on city streets. In the 1980s, thanks to Lycra, the leakage from the beach to the street continued. Bold bright swimsuits with high-cut legs were also worn for aerobics or as bodysuits under flamboyant skirts accessorised with big hair and bigger earrings. High fashion and beauty pageants were briefly aligned. The obsession with physical fitness and body-shaping meant that the body became the key player in the fashion stakes with clothes assuming the role of accessory. New Zealand showed that it could cut it on the world stage. Lorraine Downes was crowned Miss Mount Maunganui in 1983 and later that year became Miss Universe. Her win was New Zealand’s first in the pageant’s history. Auckland teenage model Rachel Hunter achieved global prominence appearing on the cover of magazines as diverse as Italian Vogue and Sports Illustrated. In the 1990s water-based activities such as triathlons and windsurfing saw the rise of practical one-piece suits designed for speed while the tankini and other separates allowed for personalised combinations and best fit, and rash shirts and other cover-ups offered protection from the sun. Today swimwear is more a matter of personal choice than prescription with something for every taste and need.
A word that conjure up images of beautiful bodies and seductive swimwear. Concepts of what constitutes glamour from a fashion perspective have changed over the years and although, to the modern eye, the idea of a wool bathing-suit is far from glamorous, adding a low-cut back, fine stripes and contrasting straps made it so. There are many parallels between evening dresses and swimwear designs with both existing outside the conventional rules of propriety expected of other clothing. Often more colourful, more shapely and more revealing than day clothes they are designed for showing off your physical assets to best effect. In the 1950s, we sallied forth to the beach, strapless, uplifted and wasp-waisted, just as we did to the ball and by the 1970s the crossover was working the other way, with bare-all bathing suits worn under a long skirt as evening attire. Swimsuits became bodysuits worn under streetwear and luxe materials like velvet, once the prerogative for after-dark, were translated into show-stopping swimsuits. The remarkable thing about the swimsuit is that for a garment so small, it has so many permutations and although we don’t get many opportunities to dress up these days the desire to look glamorous remains. The beach is one place where almost anything goes and we can show off without censure.
It seems we have come full circle in our relationship with the sun. As far back as Roman times, the colour of your complexion denoted social class and only those who toiled outdoors had tanned skin. Men and women covered up to protect their modesty but also the whiteness of their skins. This started to change in the 1920s when new ideas about health, fresh air, sports and exercise emerged and leisure, once a luxury for the privileged few, became something more people could enjoy. The swimsuits of both sexes, primarily made of wool and covering the body from neck to knee, began to be designed with sunbathing in mind. They had deeper-cut necklines front and back, larger armholes, shorter legs and cutaway sections that exposed various parts of the midriff. Removable shoulder straps for women and removable tops for men were next and finally in the mid 1930s it became acceptable for men to fully expose their torsos. Suntanning oils were initially designed to increase, not block, the effects of the sun with the inevitable need for sunburn treatments like Q-tol. The compulsion to get a tan continued with the swimsuit steadily shrinking into the 1980s but as our awareness of the dangers of sun exposure increased so too have our swimsuit options and we are now more sun savvy choosing materials with UV protection and covering up.
”Sun-baked sands and the holiday mood call for gay and practical clothes, and it matters not a whiff if they appear unconventional and even startling this summer. Nowadays none of us would dream of going down to the sea without the correct attire, and this must be as à la mode as our latest dazzling evening gown,” wrote Betty Kingscote in The Ladies’ Mirror: The Fashionable Ladies’ Journal of New Zealand. For her this meant linen shorts and bolero combinations, culottes, wraparound skirts, bra sun-tops, wide-brimmed sombrero hats and ”play-suits”, a name newly coined by the Paris-based Italian designer Schiaparelli. Even though World War II impacted negatively on civilian lives restricting the availability of materials such as wool and requiring women to take on men’s work, it also brought new freedoms in fashion and lifestyle for women. A need to reduce the size and number of clothing items one had gave rise to the idea of separates, a more casual approach that could be mixed and matched and layered. It was acceptable for women to wear trousers and shorts, to be strong and physically active. Rayon and the newest synthetic fabric, nylon, took the place of wool and cotton and to save material the one-piece bathing suit had the middle cut out and became the two-piece.
A softer more natural fashion silhouette emerged in the 1960s to replace the shapely pin-up of the 1950s with the material of choice, easy-care nylon. Developed in 1938 it was used extensively during World War II and in the postwar period came to represent prosperity, hopefulness and fashionable modernity. In 1958 the British Nylon Spinners trademarked their brand of nylon as Bri-Nylon and this became the default option for swimwear in New Zealand for the next three decades. With its quick-drying properties, its durability and colour fastness, and variety of textures, patterns and rich colours, Bri-Nylon surpassed anything that had come before.
In the beginning
The story of swimwear manufacturing in New Zealand starts with wool. It’s not a fabric we associate with swimming now, but our early woollen knitting mills such as Lane Walker Rudkin, Rosyln and Manawatu Knitting Mills made swimsuits for men and women for the first half of the 20th century.
Recognising the limited seasonal demand for woollen clothing, these companies sought to diversify and respond to changing social trends. One of the new trends was swimming, which was heralded in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Lane Walker Rudkin, the company behind the Canterbury brand, was established in 1904 and by 1910 it had produced its first knitted woollen swimsuits.
These first exemplars for men looked like long john underwear and were produced in black to reveal as little as possible of what was underneath. For women, a knitted tunic and knee-length shorts known as the Canadian became popular. The technical and fashion demands of swimwear production ensured these companies kept up with the latest in materials and manufacturing technologies keeping up to the minute. Knitted wool was the material of choice until the 1940s when elastic fibres became more accessible.
Designs under licence
For swimwear, branding was one of its significant features with logos embroidered or stitched to the outside of the garment. The cache of the label was an important part of the swimwear story as early as 1920, for example, the Jantzen “diving girl” and their slogan “The Suit That Changed Bathing to Swimming”, Speedo with “Speed on in your Speedos”, the green fern of the Pacific brand by Canterbury and the Roslyn label with the swimmer on the back of a seagull.
The demand for prestigeous international brands was fulfilled by local companies making these swimsuits under licence. Garment manufacturers A.J. Coleman in Tawa acquired the license for Jantzen. Cole of California, worn by Esther Williams in her films, was made in Auckland by California Fashions Ltd. Holeproof Industries, which opened in Auckland in 1938, produced the sophisticated Rose Marie Reid label. Lane Walker Rudkin bought the licence for glamour label Mabs of Hollywood in 1947. It also acquired Catalina, the label associated with the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, and Speedo.
When swimwear fashion moved from ’50s Hollywood glamour to a youthful ’60s Californian surfer look brands such as Jantzen and Catalina also included more activewear which was also made here.
In the 1970s and 1980s, local swimwear labels Expozay and Moontide successfully took New Zealand style to the world.
Expozay was started in Tauranga by Judy and Tony Alvos in 1976. The brand’s focus was on subtly sexy suits in vibrant colours and original prints. By 1978 they were selling into Australia, and a decade later the company had some 900 accounts throughout UK, Japan and North America including the major department stores. Expozay swimsuits featured on the covers of Vogue, Dolly, Cleo and Sports Illustrated. In 1981 the company was honoured with a New Zealand Export Award.
Established in 1980 by Tony Hart, Moontide championed the beach-loving New Zealand lifestyle using stylised Maori motifs and South Pacific colours and imagery in their original textile prints. Moontide crossed the ditch in 1984, and by 1990 it was one of the top five swimwear labels in Australia; Expozay was another. In the UK Moontide was sold in Harvey Nichols and Harrods, which opened up the European market. British Underlines magazine named Moontide the best swimwear range in 1989 and 1990 and it won a Best Sportswear Award in the UK in 1998. The brand continues today, produced in China and sold in 50 countries.
Local players making a splash
Boutique designers have also found loyal markets for their unique styles of swimwear. Jennifer Godward established her label Jennifer Dean in 1960.
She sold her fashionable and funky bikinis in Vulcan Lane, Auckland, and wholesaled around the country. In 1990 the brand was sold and with manufacturing off shore it continues to be a success today.
In 1961 Dutch immigrant designer Frank Carpay and patternmaker Robert Leek developed a range of beachwear for men and women. Carpay created his own Pacific-inspired designs which were printed on to towelling.
Lonely began as clothing label Lonely Hearts in 2003. It launched Lonely Lingerie in 2009 and it was a natural progression to add swimwear in 2014, following the signature long lines, straps and cut-outs seen in the lingerie. Designer Helene Morris produces two swimwear collections a year which are manufactured in China. Her partner Steve Ferguson manages Lonely’s social media strategy, which includes an Instagram post of Lorde wearing their garments.
Designer Emma Burton and her artist husband Mark are behind the Emma Ford label. After collaborating on swimwear ranges for Cybèle, The Carpenter's Daughter and Kathryn Wilson, Emma Ford is being relaunched in 2015. The range is made in NZ and offers the body-confident woman high-fashion swimsuits and resort wear.
No garment is more revealing of the fashions of the times than the swimsuit. From Edwardian bathing costumes to the best in contemporary styles, see what has constituted glamorous fashion and witness how the swimsuit has shrunk over the decades.
Displayed dramatically across two containers on Te Wero Island, the audience can enjoy the elegance of the 30s, the strong silhouettes of the 40s, the Hollywood siren inspired glamour of the 50s, brilliant bri nylon and flirty bikinis from the 60s, beads and a miniscule chamois set from the 70s and the revealing thigh high lines of the 80s.
Take a selfie with your favourite decade; Hollywood style, hippie or fabulous fit nineties.
Open every day 26 February - 6 March.
From noon to 6pm.
Te Wero Island, Viaduct Harbour, Auckland.
Air New Zealand holds a special place in the hearts of New Zealanders. As our national carrier we see it as an ambassador for the country and the things we hold dear. So when Air New Zealand celebrated its 75th anniversary this year it was fitting that it should do so with an exhibition at our National Museum, Te Papa Tongarewa.
The exhibition was a huge hit with audiences and is now getting a repeat showing at the Auckland Museum, opening on November 20th 2015. The New Zealand Fashion Museum has a special interest in this exhibition and we are looking at what the crew wore and how they chose to represent our identity to the world.
Progressing from the stiff military uniforms of the early years to the chic and stylish turquoise ensembles designed by Yves St Laurent at the house of Christian Dior and manufactured here in New Zealand by El Jay. And from the playful “Lollipop” uniforms of the seventies to the current koru printed uniforms by Trelise Cooper, the choice of uniform has been a subject of debate and occasionally controversy.
These uniforms also track the history of our fashion aspirations and our manufacturing industry. Making the transition from wanting to look “international” to becoming confident in our own local design capability and identity, while production changed from making everything in New Zealand to now having to take the majority off shore to be made.
The New Zealand Fashion Museum also interviewed the women who were responsible for creating the many uniform replicas used in the exhibition, whose expertise was challenged when tasked with recreating some of the garments simply from photographs of the time.
We invite you to take a seat, ensure your screen is in the upright position and come with us on this intriguing fashion journey with Air New Zealand. We hope you enjoy the trip.
There are very few occasions in life when the average person gets to dress to the nines, and for most people their school ball is the first time they're faced with the challenge of putting together a formal outfit. It's usually with a sense of trepidation, excitement and confusion that attendees ponder the most important question of all: 'What to wear to the ball?'
As winter is now upon us in New Zealand and the ball season is in full swing, we at the New Zealand Fashion Museum wanted to put together an online exhibition that celebrates this special kind of occasion dressing. Whether you have a ball to attend for school, work or charity, or you just love dressing up, we thought we'd provide some inspiration from the past and present with this wonderful collection of ball outfits that explores the glamorous side of our local fashion history.
Whilst it tends to be the ladies that get the most excited about the prospect of a ball and the chance to wear a beautiful ball gown, we've also included some dapper suits to inspire the gentlemen too. Featuring a host of local labels from our talented fashion industry including vintage labels Bruce Papas, Michael Mattar and El Jay through to current designers Miss Crabb and Tanya Carlson, there is something to suit every taste. Not to mention all the creative home-sewn garments that showcase New Zealander's ability to adapt overseas styles to our aesthetic and make them our own.
We'd love you to join us on a trip to the ball. Dance card optional.
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
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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