Megan Douglas & Obscure Desire

Megan Douglas’ career in the fashion industry started at the age of 17 when she began to work as a model. She had been contemplating whether to follow a creative path or go into the family business of herbal medicine, when she was 'discovered'.

One year later, in 1984, Megan teamed up with hair and makeup artist Carron Sheffield to open the store Obscure Desire in central Auckland. Megan, daughter of the then Finance Minister Roger Douglas, used the $30,000 she had earned modelling in Japan to set up the business. It aimed to provide a full styling service for its customers.

Megan’s experience as a model in the 1980s had given her a thirst for expanding her skills in the world of fashion (Next, July 2011). Despite very little experience, she began to design clothes for Obscure Desire.

In a More magazine intervew (July 1988), Megan described her clothes as quite extravagant. "You have to feel confident about yourself, not be afraid of wearing something that you stand out in. New Zealanders tend to be a bit shy in that respect," she said. "The woman I design for is essentially strong in character, but with a feminine side that is not necessarily portrayed in the normal feminine clichés of flowers and lace. She does it in a more sensual way. I see her as slightly provocative but quite powerful, and always innovative."

Obscure Desire minidress and tights. Photo by Derek Henderson for ChaCha magazine, 1985.

Her designs reflected her own look, which was described in More magazine as bold and beautiful. "She is not the sort of woman who fades into the background in a crowd."

An Obscure Desire show at the Six Month Club, 1985. Photo © ChaCha magazine.

In 1986 Megan entered the young designer award at the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards with a black and silver evening dress. But unfortunately Megan and Carron could not keep the business afloat. Megan sold Obscure Desire and set her eyes on an international fashion career. "Megan left Auckland because she knew there was no way she could break into the international fashion business based in a country where fashion seasons are six months behind most of the rest of the world." (More, July 1988).

After a year of living in London, Megan’s reputation began to flourish. She launched the Megan Douglas fashion label, which instantly took off. "The young ex-pat with no credibility became one of the most hip and happening names around town" (More, May 1996). Her designs were featured in French fashion magazines such as Marie ClaireVogueHarpers & Queen and Elle. The Guardian newspaper annointed her as the designer most likely to succeed in the 1990s.

This dress from Megan's summer 1988 was photographed by Kerry Brown in London's Hyde Park. Image © Kerry Brown and ChaCha magazine.

But all this was to come to an end when Megan shut up shop in 1992 to embark on a spiritual journey in India, which would change her life forever. "London had gone into a semi-recession. High fashion gets hit hard during these times and I had a difficult season. Some of the stockists folded or didn’t pay and I’d lost my passion for it." (Next, July 2011).

"Fashion’s a really tough game. You have to be passionate about it. I needed a bit of soul searching to decide what I really wanted to do," (Unlimited magazine, December 2012). Megan returned to Japan, and then travelled to India where she dabbled in teaching English and making t-shirts.

Megan never planned to return to New Zealand but fate intervened when in a "typically dramatic" manner she fell 15 metres down a disused well and badly broke her leg. She waited two and a half weeks for surgery in Delhi and saw it as a wake-up-call to get back to a more practical reality.

On her return she worked as a costume designer in television and as a fashion tutor at the Auckland University of Technology before deciding to train as a medical herbalist and naturopath. From an early age, Megan was interested in natural health, learning to make remedies at the back of her grandmother Jennie’s health food shop on Karangahape Rd. Her great grandfather founded the shop and the health products business, Red Seal Natural Health, which is no longer owned by the Douglas family.

In 2007 Megan founded World Organic – a luxurious organic skincare range. She is happy to be immersed in her family tradition. "Success is hard to define. There aren’t many moments when you stop and think 'Ah, I’m a success'. There is always doubt, I didn’t find that type of outward success brought any particular happiness or peace. I think true success is infinitely more personal," (Next, July 2011).

Text by Karina Yanez. Banner image of Megan Douglas on the cover of ChaCha magazine. Image © ChaCha magazine.

Published June 2015, updated August 2019.

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