Tim Allan began his involvement in the world of fashion shortly after leaving school in the 1950s. One of his earliest successes was a blush pink delustred satin evening gown and cloak, shown at a fashion parade in the Civic Theatre in Christchurch in 1959 and singled out for praise by a local newspaper.
Described as "one of the most outstanding garments ever seen", it was hand-embroidered by Tim with 40 thousand crystal beads, centred with large diamantes, in a delicate tracery of cobwebs and ferns.
Tim trained with several clothing companies in Christchurch and Auckland before leaving for London where he studied fashion drawing and worked for a time at John Cavanagh. Irish-born Cavanagh was one of London’s top couturiers and numbered members of the Royal family amongst his clients.
Seeking a change, Tim then turned his hand to interior design which he practiced in Auckland and Melbourne for 12 years. In his spare time, unable to stay away from a sewing machine, he also made clothes for private clients and opened a boutique in Melbourne.
On his return to New Zealand in 1986, Tim opened a salon, Tim Allan Design Haute Couture, in the Auckland suburb of Parnell. He quickly established a reputation as a go-to designer for dramatic and colourful evening gowns.
He enjoyed a big following within the entertainment industry, dressing television presenters such as Angela D’Audney, Judy Bailey and Jude Dobson and actresses Rima Te Wiata and Ilona Rogers.
On her wedding day, It’s in the Bag’s Hillary Timmins wore Tim Allan haute couture. For her appearance in a mini opera showcasing New Zealand at Expo ’92 in Seville, Spain, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa wore a multi-coloured Thai silk creation designed for her by Tim. The dress, which took the designer and an assistant 100 hours to hand-bead, is now in Te Papa.
In an article in More magazine, Tim recalled what he considered to be one of his more extravagant garments, a wedding dress he made for a Melbourne bride. An elaborate creation in pure silk taffeta, it took 28 metres of fabric, three months to make and cost $A4000. "I’m aware that my clothing costs a lot of money," he said, "but people pay for what they get. One of my dresses will last for years and years because it’s finished perfectly. I won’t take any shortcuts on quality of fabric, the fit or cut and I do everything myself."
In 1988, Tim entered the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards and his design – "a pale grey paper taffeta and coral shot taffeta gown, bare on one shoulder and frothing with fabric on the other" - received a nomination in the After Five High Fashion category.
He was the first male designer to be invited by Auckland model agency director Doreen Morrison to participate in the 'meet the designer' fashion parades she presented at the Pan Pacific Hotel on the second Wednesday of each month in 1991. His first show, featuring 30 cocktail and evening outfits, was a sell-out and Doreen invited him back the following month.
Tim Allan’s main objective was to make every client look and feel like a million dollars. He died in 1997, aged 54, having achieved his goal.
Text by Shannon Chester.
Last published November 2013.