Lost in a world of soft gold

It is called the ‘Love Dress’.
It is from the Alexandra Owen 2010/11 collection.
And it is magic.
The fabric is sand-washed silk; the silk being tumbled with small stones to give it a brushed and slightly chalky feel. This treatment, coupled with the serendipitous colour, gives the fabric a fascinating appeal; not unlike the secret gleam of ancient gold artifacts in a museum.

The architecture and styling of the dress pays tribute to the 1930s-40s spirit of two-part assembly: a fitting bodice with a swooping skirt. The bodice, through ingenious stitching and gathering, has a wonderful complexity of volumes and horizontal accents, while the skirt is a pure waterfall of drapery. It is the sheer amount of fabric that allows this luxurious drop – the rolled hemline actually travels 9m in circumference.

Inside the dress is a cotton lining for strength and comfort. And while unseen, it further carries the theme of finesse with its Paisley patterning which is flecked with bronze and burnt Sienna sparkles.
The ‘Love Dress’ is at Alexandra Owen, 253 Wakefield Street, Wellington.

Meet Virginia Heel, the shoe

One of the memorable 2010 Fashion Week shows was the exhibition of shoes by Kathryn Wilson. It was a walk-past of excellently crafted and often humorous designs where the audience focus was unequivocally on the shoes as the stage was set 1.2 metres higher than usual. And being a catwalk, the audience could see the shoes actually performing – not always evident from a static display.

Kathryn Wilson’s show was a milestone for her brand which had been launched seven years prior, and before this, of course, were years of training. Part of her overseas training was done in Nottingham whose heritage of fabric manufacturing combined with access to many of the world’s leading practitioners of design and construction, made study there very sought after.

Such training, which included detailed study of where to source materials, is evident in this design –the Virginia Heel – performed in a ladder of cafe-au-lait, tan and black leather straps. Everything is cleanly worked: the stitching, the precision cutting, the folding under and curling over. Virginia Heel, part of Wilson’s 2010 range, is at MP (formerly Maggie Potter), 100 Willis Street, Wellington.

A Field of Triangles

With cotton being one of the world’s biggest crops, it is so easy to look away from the sheer weight of insecticides used in its growing, the dismal pay received by so many people in the industry, and the toxicity of the chemicals used for bleaching and colouring. Such things are modern responses to a colossal demand for the material, yet they are not universally viewed as safe or reasonable. The Wellington design house of Kowtow, run by Gosia Piatek, bases its cotton procurement on the principles of organic growing, fair trade guidelines, dyes which avoid poisonous effluent, and a packaging-shipping model leaving minimal waste.

Within this commercial paradigm, Kowtow produces garment which satisfy a growing consciousness, but without being strident. Each garment comes with a tiny booklet simply outlining how they operate, and lets the customer decide how they feel. The photo shows one of Kowtow’s arrestingly graphic T-shirts called the ‘Yelena Tee’. The original artwork is by Wellington artist Yelena Barbalich, one of a community of ‘outsider’ artists.

It is the intensity and volume of lines which catapults the artwork, and the resulting garment, into the orbit of stunning. Here we have a full blast of imagination in which we might see fishing nets, or Polynesian navigation lines, or modern architectural metalwork. Kowtow shows how a business model of fairness and a flair for the inventive can co-exist, and perform well.

Some Art from Starfish

Greatly applauded, particularly after his death, is the work of New Zealand artist Len Lye whose sculptures stir with energy and noise, dazzle with shimmer and sensuous movement, and humour with eccentric titles. It was Lye’s spirit and body of work which captivated Laurie Foon, designer and owner of Starfish at 128 Willis Street, Wellington, to pay him homage in her Summer 10/11 collection. The collection is titled Free Radicals and all the pieces carry the sorts of names which Lye would have smiled at : the ‘Honey I’m Home’ dress, the ‘Jumping Jacket’, the ‘Twitching Tee’, ‘Full Fathom Frock’, ‘Twister Pants’ and the ‘Can’t Stop Corset’.

Additional reference to Lye has been made by the use of coloured ribbons to decorate the shop as well as for the backgrounds in the lookbook. In this photo, the top is the ‘Boggle Blouse’ – a feather-light work of printed silk so sheer and fine, it’s like a pattern shown through a slide projector. Under it is the ‘Tip Top Tee’ of fine, comfortable merino knit. And the skirt is the ‘Fidget Skirt’, made from a linen-viscose mix with a hint of spandex to give it flexibility. It is an attractive charcoal colour, and its side panels have just the right amount of gathering to make the fabric ripple. The effect is like a receding tide playing with lines of beach sand – the sea practising its own signature perhaps – and we can gaze at it for minutes on end.