Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The Dress Circle,
New Zealand Fashion Design Since 1940
Lucy Hammonds, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Claire Regnault
Random House NZ - $75

The Bookman attended the impressive launch last night of the exquisitely illustrated, ‘The Dress Circle: New Zealand Fashion Design since 1940’  which inserts seven decades of history into the family tree of New Zealand fashion design.
It showcases the talents and undeniable flair of a wide range of New Zealand fashion designers, from the well-known to those who have slipped out of the public eye.

“I’d like to thank Auckland – the fabulous and sexy city where this story starts. I’d like to thank the yanks, over-dressed, over-paid and over here, who insisted on buying New Zealand made for their girlfriends. And thanks too, to Flora for realising, early on, the connection between prostitution and fashion
Douglas Lloyd Jenkins in his opening address to gathered fashionistas at the launch which attracted a big crowd gathered to celebrate our social history through fashion.

A couturiere who ran the infamous Ring Terrace brothel, Kiwi men baulking at the loss of cuff turn-ups during war-time rationing, the fashion impresario who was spat on in Queen St for her “provocative” dress sense, and one of our greatest All Blacks who had his own women’s fashion label.
All this and more in the book that everyone’s already talking about, Random House’s magnificent The Dress Circle: New Zealand Fashion Design since 1940, before it’s even hit the shelves so it’s not surprising that Webb’s was packed out last night with fashion mavens, young and old, to send the book out on its way.

The guests included contemporary designers Beth Ellery, Denise L’Estrange-Corbet, Murray Crane, Chris Cherry, Neville Finlay, Liz Mitchell and Jane Daniels as well as legends like Pierette Viscoe of Tigermoth, Vinka Lucas, Annie Bonza and former editor of Vogue New Zealand, Michal McKay, who launched the book. There was also a showing of vintage clothing collectors.

The launch may even have been the first example of an ‘interactive’ signing — designers were passing their books around the room getting other designers to sign the pages on which their designs appeared.

The story of our fashion history is a fascinating one and who better to tell it than Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, who unlocked the story of our modern architecture with his Montana award-wining book ‘At Home’ and accompanying TV series, together with Te Papa’s Claire Regnault and The Hawkes Bay Museum and Art Gallery’s Lucy Hammonds.

These three curators, who collectively have a great deal of expertise in both textiles and fashion, have spent hours of their own time fossicking amongst photo archives, delving into records, leafing through old magazines and interviewing key players in order to capture the full and rich story which, until now, has pretty much remained untold in its entirety.

They deftly explore and examine the fashion industry inside out, always putting it into the broader, social and commercial context, making the book such a page turner. They present a rich history of sharp business, textile, production, colourful personalities, pioneering designers and an exciting design culture: our social history through the clothes we designed, made and loved.

For many, the book will be a walk down memory lane. Older people will love to read about the glamorous days of exclusive fashion parades in department stores like Milne & Choyce, Smith & Caughey, Kirkcaldie & Stains, and Ballantynes and labels like El Jay and Miss Deb. For some, names like Annie Bonza, Hullabaloo and Zephyr will resonate, and for those current high-street devotees, it’s Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester, Zambesi and Crane Brothers.

The writers felt 1940 was a good place to start the journey because this is when New Zealand’s own independent designers began to emerge. Before that, ours was mostly a nation of home sewers and imported styles.

About the authors:

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins is the director of the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery and one of New Zealand’s best known commentators and writers on our design history, ranging from architecture to ceramics. His landmark book ‘At Home’ was the ‘Montana Book Awards’ Non-Fiction winner in 2005.

Claire Regnault is a fashion and textiles expert, has recently left the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, where she was an innovative senior curator, for a senior position at Te Papa.

Lucy Hammonds is a curator at the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery with expertise in fashion and textiles.

A selection of photographs from the book follows although of course I cannot do justice to the actual shots:

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