Fashion designers share inspiration for their latest looks

Top designers tell Viva the ideas behind their latest collections.

Next week designers Kate Sylvester, Karen Walker, Zambesi, Nom*D and Helen Cherry will present their new spring/summer collections as part of The Marr Factory series of nightly fashion shows in Auckland – with pieces available to buy in stores the day after. We wanted to know what was behind the collections they will showcase, so asked them to share their mood boards and inspirations for the season.

* The Marr Factory, presented by Stephen Marr and Hallertau, at the Golden Dawn. Limited tickets are still available to some shows – to purchase, visit and search Marr Factory. Tickets are $40.


Books have often inspired Kate Sylvester, from the Love in a Cold Climate collection in 2005 that paid homage to Nancy Mitford and her scandalous sisters, to the recent optical line with styles named after characters and writers (Marcel, Harper, Truman, J.D. Salinger). This season’s collection, called All My Heart, continues Sylvester’s literary love affair by drawing inspiration from one of her favourite books, Jane Eyre – although she rewrites the story and imagines what would have happened if Jane had run off to the South of France with Mr Rochester instead.

That means less of the dark gothicism of the novel, with a lighter, more romantic mood. Imagine Jane lounging on the deck of a whitewashed villa on the shores of the Mediterranean in a pair of silk pyjamas, or frolicking happily in the moors in an apple blossom print gown. Other interpretations of the Victoriana theme are given the Kate Sylvester once-over: lacework is inspired by wrought iron gates, a hunting suit comes in fiery red, much like Jane’s temper, while Charlotte Bronte’s influence is seen most literally in the collection through beautiful shirt collars embroidered with the famous line that names the collection: “All my heart is yours, sir”.

Incidentally Sylvester, who first read Jane Eyre in her teens and has read it around four times, is distantly related by marriage to Bronte – her brother Patrick Branwell Bronte’s wife was a great-great aunt.

* Kate Sylvester in association with Viva, Thursday August 30, 7.30pm.


Designer Margi Robertson’s collection of vintage New Zealand souvenir scarves formed the inspiration for the spring/summer Nom*D collection, called A Raven’s Tale. Robertson has had a longstanding love of scarves, having featured them in collections past – memorably, the scarf skirts of the late 1990s, which were each made up of five vintage scarf panels. She recalls needing around 1000 scarves to complete the orders, resulting in a massive collection; although some were too precious to be cut up, especially her collection of beautiful old souvenir prints.

“In the years following, whenever an opshop mission was on, I couldn’t go past an amazing scarf,” she explains, “so currently I would have a collection of about 200. When my mother passed away last year, we discovered she had about 200 as well! Of course, some of those are in our archives, too”.

These kitsch souvenir prints find their way into this season’s collection via a vintage look, sepia-toned print featuring iconic New Zealand imagery and the quirky place name, ‘Nom*D-land’. Robertson also drew some inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, The Alan Parsons Project’s rock interpretation of his work, and the idea of a raven “gradually morphing to an all-seeing bird’s eye view”.

* Nom*D, Wednesday August 29, 7.30pm.


Karen Walker was five-years-old when she first read Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Disney read-along version that was inspired by the 1954 film. This season Walker has looked back to that, with her collection called Sea Monsters which brings together “odd bedfellows”, Verne’s character Captain Nemo and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones.

Walker explains that she and her team wanted a 1960s Victoriana look, and the two iconic figures provided the perfect contrast. “Captain Nemo, a Victorian futuristic figure, and 60s pop rocker Brian Jones provide the perfect juxtaposition of masculine and feminine. It’s flamboyant 60s dandy infused with the decorative flourish of the Victorian age.”

That under the sea militariana inspiration translates into the collection via bold paisleys made up of what look like tentacles, and quirky whale and octopus prints; the Victorian age comes through in the high-necked ruffles and textured rose jacquard and gold embroidery, a reference to Victorian drawing rooms – a uniquely Karen Walker combination of Victoriana, mod and science fiction.

* Karen Walker, Sunday August 26, 5.30pm.


For the Zambesi team, it always begins with the fabric. Rather than a literal theme, Elisabeth Findlay and her team, menswear designer Dayne Johnston and design assistant Olga Khimitch, find their inspiration in textiles, which for spring/summer translates into a casual collection described as resort wear “with an edge of melancholia”. That play on contrast is seen most visibly through the fabrics throughout the collection: a traditionally tough camouflage print is offered in delicate silk-cotton, lace and mesh, while colourful polka dots – a playful print that doesn’t often feature in Zambesi collections – embroider grey playsuits and shirts. Plays on proportion and volume are also key, with loose-fitting silhouettes and oversized fits: Zambesi’s take on ease and comfort, and their answer to the question of what people need and what feels good.

* Zambesi, Monday August 27, 6.30pm.


Health and vitality loosely inspired Helen Cherry to create her spring/summer collection, as well as the lightness and colour that traditionally symbolises summer. A healthy point of view, influenced in part by recent ventures at health and yoga retreats, is visualised through subtle sportswear touches – a racer-back vest, knee-length shorts, cropped trousers with gathered cuffs – and the vibrancy of colour and print in the range, including a beautiful chartreuse tropical floral and fuchsia, “not hippie” paisley. Cherry explains she had also fixated on a specific shade of vivid blue that she wanted to appear in the collection – not electric and not navy, but a lovely deep Klein blue. That focus on finding the perfect colour reflects Cherry’s design approach each season, working and finding inspiration in fabrics rather than an overriding theme.

* Helen Cherry & Workshop, Tuesday August 28, 6.30pm.


Viva has beautiful Kate Sylvester leather collar with laser-cut brogue detailing, worth $175, to give away. To enter, visit our Facebook page.

By Zoe Walker
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