Every year, when the lights come up on the 120-metre runway at iD Dunedin Fashion Week, Cherry Lucas gets goosebumps.
Image via ODT.
On the wings of the runway - erected at Dunedin Railway Station - guests from all over the country and abroad pile in three-rows-deep, rugged in layers of wool, boots, soft-leather gloves and hats that can be artfully peeled off as the night wears on.
Lucas is chair of the iD Dunedin Fashion Week organising committee, and the event, which has been running for 17 years, is a sartorial feat for the small city, bringing in more than $3 million in showgoer expenditure each year.
The longevity itself shows how Dunedin is a high-achiever when it comes to fashion.
“For the psyche of the city, having a distinctive and vibrant fashion scene that is confident and forward is exciting,” Lucas says.
Some of New Zealand’s biggest names in style, with the longest careers, have either come from Dunedin or based themselves there.
But Lucas would never call Dunedin an ‘unlikely’ fashion hub, in part because the Otago Polytechnic has a record for spurning outstanding designers: Sara Munro from Company of Strangers, Charmaine Reveley, Anjali Stewart and Rachel Easting from Twenty-Seven Names, to name a few.
Plus a number of internationally established and up-and-coming designers base themselves in Dunedin: brands like NOM*d,CARLSON, Mild-Red, Dada Manifesto, Clothes I've Made, Julian Danger and Danger Birds.
NOM*d’s founder Margi Robertson started her label in 1986 in Dunedin, and has never left. This year the brand, known for its cool, noir aesthetic and references to vintage and traditional tailoring, will celebrate its 30th birthday.
“In 1986 when we embarked on design and manufacture for NOM*d it seemed logical to keep our brand also based in Dunedin,” she says.
“In the beginning we were manufacturing knitwear, we were able to access yarn from Mosgiel knitting mills and work with a Dunedin-based knitting factory.”
“Isolation breeds creativity, we have the ability to be in our own bubble. I love that.” Sara Munro, Company of Strangers
Robertson says it’s important to recognise Dunedin’s strong historical tie with the garment industry. Her mother worked in tailoring: general garment manufacturing and for outdoor manufacturers in the region.
“There were several different factories operating then. That history coupled with the alternative subcultures that exist in the city due to the university and art and music schools make for a pretty interesting breed of customer.”
Most of those old manufacturing plants, however, do not exist today, she says.
The world has changed with the advent of fast fashion.
“But the consumer in Dunedin is well aware of the difference.”
She said locals have a “discerning and considered outlook” on what they wear and buy (as one of Dunedin’s ads says, “Dunedin fashion is like Dunedin itself. Not everyone gets it, but the ones that do absolutely love it”). Quality, workmanship and wearability were recognised, as well as style, and those traits are still apparent today.
Image via Showroom 22
Designer Charmaine Reveley also stayed in Dunedin after studying at the Otago Polytechnic, citing how supportive the city is of fashion.
“We are lucky to have the annual iD Dunedin Fashion Week still going strong.
“It really shines a spotlight on the Dunedin fashion scene every year. We also have great shopping here, a lot of interesting boutiques full of unique designers, that keeps the city’s fashion exciting.”
The 25,000 students flooding the city each year also play a part in keeping the city’s style fresh, and the climate lends itself to layering, she says.
Image via Good Good Girl
Company of Strangers designer Sara Munro says the brand opened its flagship store in Dunedin thanks to its loyal customer base.
She credits Dunedin with some of the brand’s darkness and “sense you can make anything work”.
“We also have that Scottish, never throw anything away nature to us, which is great as it makes us very ethical consumers," she says.
“Isolation breeds creativity, we have the ability to be in our own bubble. I love that.”