In my closet hang 20 dresses*. Four of them are cocktail dresses, four of them are suitable only for summer, two of them can only be worn in the colder months, and ten of them can be worn all year round, depending on what I combine them with. Lots of them I wear for both work and play.
This is more 'dog bites man' news than anything else, unless you knew me during my university days, when I owned maybe two dresses. I was very keen to dress like an authentic student, possibly believing I was bound to get higher marks as a result (cue image of a lecturer poring over one of my essays, musing to himself about how my slovenly appearance must mean I'm actually a deeply thoughtful genius, and marking accordingly) and I worked part time in a kayak shop, and that meant lots of jeans and t-shirts. Not much call for dresses**.
But now I'm making up for lost time, and I wear dresses often. And where go clothes goes - ta da! - New Zealand design. Now, I don't know whether I've made this clear enough, but I kind of adore New Zealand, especially its creative output. Especially especially its fashion output.
Overseas readers, unless they pay much attention to international fashion, and have done so since 1999, may not have any immediate associations when they think 'New Zealand fashion'. New Zealand readers may not also, of course. My associations are there, but they are attached to 1999 - when the 'New Zealand Four' showed at London Fashion Week - and for me, at least, they ring false to a certain degree. New Zealand fashion, at that time, was referenced with gothic imagery and words. Dark, interesting, moody. And lots of New Zealand designers still work to this aesthetic, but, as this article from the NZ Herald notes, it's not so much the case anymore. It's an easy shorthand, but one that New Zealand can't, and shouldn't, use anymore. Just look at this, for example:
The New Zealands. 'Scuse wrinkles - I don't iron until I need to
Those five dresses make up the New Zealand section of my dress collection. Five out of twenty may not seem much, but I think one quarter Kiwi's quite impressive, considering that when I left New Zealand I didn't really wear dresses. All but one of them have been bought since I've been abroad, despite the fact that for the same price, or even cheaper, I could get something lovely from a British or American designer, and that's not just because I'm a loyal Kiwi. It's because there's something special about NZ design, and it's not just about those associations created in London 13 years ago.
As a collection, those five dresses of mine are actually backing up my point in a pretty bloody poor manner, considering the surfeit of black. But they all have something in common besides the dark shades (and the wrinkles) and that is that they are all fun, black or not. They're also all really well constructed and they all fit excellently, but mostly, they are fun. They feature fabric folded into interesting shapes, and random buckles, and pockets, and multicolored spots, frills and pleats and bows. Yet somehow, they always stay on the restrained side, never letting any one feature get so full of itself that it defines your entire outfit.
And that is what New Zealand fashion is, in my opinion, and while we're at it, it's a pretty strong reflection of our shared culture and identity. All of the designers* of those dresses are doing brilliantly within New Zealand, and most are doing very well globally also. No doubt the fit and construction has a lot to do with that, but the appeal - which is pretty much always based on something much more esoteric - lies in the simplicity based on the complicated, the wit based on the intelligence, and the fun, the constant yet quiet fun.
*I actually own 21****, but one - my wedding dress - currently resides in my mother in law's closet. I haven't counted it because it's not here, and also because, although I really love it and I've thought long and hard, I can't work out another suitable occasion to wear it at.
**Not long after finishing university I was invited to a posh dinner, the sort that really calls for a nice dress of the sort I didn't own. As I was preparing to move overseas I didn't want to buy one, so borrowed one from a friend - a friend who had been...how to put this...blessed with a rather more 'womanly' figure than me. I had to get my new boyfriend to help me stick the top and back down with double-sided tape so I would remain decent throughout the posh dinner.
***From l to r: Kate Sylvester; Icebreaker; Kilt; RPM; Hi There by Karen Walker
****Ahem! I took a couple of days between writing and publishing to make sure this was edited properly, and in that time, somehow the total went up to 22. The title of this piece is now a lie. Don't worry, I'm blushing as I write this.