Paul Chaplin's dreams of becoming a fashion designer were dashed when he graduated into an industry at a time when female designers were highly sought after.
Paul graduated at 17 with a diploma in fashion design and pattern drafting but unable to secure a designer job, he decided instead to become a pattern maker and grader. He realised he could gain further experience while remaining in his beloved fashion industry. As a teenager Paul would sketch women’s apparel and it soon became very clear to him what he wanted to do. He left school at 15 and worked for a shoe manufacturer, using his wages to pay for courses at the New Zealand College of Fashion Design.
Paul found his pattern-making career a very satisfying choice. "I enjoy the creative process of seeing the garment come to life. Working with a designer to help bring their vision from a sketch to a reality is very fulfilling." He worked as a patternmaker for Rio Clothing and RW Saunders in the 1970s and Depeche, Carena Garments and Paspalum Clothing Co/Jigsaw in the 1980s. He also worked for Macjays Clothing, Hero, Verge Sportswear and Trelise Cooper Designs.
Early in his career, Paul developed a passion for working with pure fibres, in particular wool, silks and linens. In 1977 he decided to enter the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards. Paul received two nominations in the Day Wear and the Young Designer categories, winning a highly commended award for the Young Designer section.
He received regular nominations throughout the late 1980s until 1996. By this time clients, colleagues and friends would comment that they could spot one of his designs when it came out on to the catwalk. In 1994, he won the Woolmark Fashion Award with a hand-dyed wool ensemble inspired by the Jane Campion film The Piano. Most of his designs have been purchased by women looking for something special, but Paul has kept this garment in his collection as a memory of the occasion. "It was a shame these awards came to an end and unfortunate another sponsor couldn’t be found. This event was open to everyone and helped put the spotlight on New Zealand fashion. I still hear people today talk about the awards because everyone used to watch it on TV."
This garment was Highly Commended in the 1992 Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards. Image © Paul Chaplin.
In 1978 Paul married and was soon father to two children, Jordan and Veritty. Making garments for the Benson & Hedges Awards could be a bit disruptive to family life, he recalls, especially around Christmas time when his entries would go into production. "I sometimes used to hand dye my wool flannel fabrics to help keep costs down. Because many of my designs used a lot of fabric there would be yards of dyed fabric drying under the house." Fortunately his wife Linda was very supportive of his career.
In 2002, Paul decided he wanted to work for himself. He set up a company, PJD Pattern Services Ltd, and during this time he met his current partner Andrew. "It was a bit daunting starting a new business and a relationship at the same time. But it was all about looking forward and I felt I needed to go in a new direction."
PJD Patterns has offered Paul the freedom to work for various design companies including David Pond, Ricochet, Gregory’s, Maggie Potter, Sabine and Isakelle. Each has their own style and designs, which has allowed Paul to digress with his pattern-making skills.
Over the years Paul has seen many changes within the New Zealand fashion industry, most notably a recent resurgence of small locally based designers keeping their design and production onshore. "The middle market was all going offshore with its production. Companies that once did all their design and production within New Zealand were streamlining to help with their own costs."
This streamlining sometimes affected the amount of work available. However, the recent increase in small design labels who keep their ranges small and locally made has made a big difference. "This business can be all about word of mouth. So when people I know refer a small clothing design company to me for their pattern work, I am happy to help out in any way I can." Paul often finds himself in a mentor role for some of these emerging labels, including Hypnopencil, Harman Grubisa and Farnearer.
He even finds himself mentoring his daughter, Veritty, who has inherited her father's designer genes with a range of bags and accessories. "I encourage her to be confident and bold with her designs. We often go out fabric shopping together and bounce ideas off each other. But she knows what she wants and sometimes doesn’t need much input from me."
Seeing his daughter design, create and market her accessory range motivated Paul to start designing again. They sell their labels - Chaplin Design and MadebyV - through their online store. The idea of melding two distinct design ideas into a successful look, such as skull encrusted clutch bag on a high end gown, has always excited Paul. "This industry is always evolving and one has to keep up with what is going on to survive. I am encouraged when I see new designers focusing back on the design elements of fashion rather than worrying about profit margins. I love working with people who are not afraid to be different. Who’d have thought one of them would be my own daughter."
Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image of Paul Chaplin in the Macjays in 1991.
First published April 2014, updated February 2021.