The youth culture that emerged in the 1960s became the chief influence on fashion in the 1970s. Made-to-measure garments gave way to ready-to-wear items, which shoppers wore straight off the rack. The tailoring and structure characteristic of previous decades was replaced by looser, flowing and in many cases more casual garments in the 1970s. Designers dared to be more original and were less inclined to follow ‘rules’ about hemlines and colour. Tailored suits for women returned in the 1980s, complete with shoulder pads and wide lapels.
Independent labels and boutiques flourished in the 1970s and many new designers started out as stall holders in Brown’s Mill and Cook Street markets in Auckland, Victoria Market in Wellington and Atlantis and Mollett Street markets in Christchurch. They often used hand-made and printed textiles, and embellishments like appliqué and embroidery. Polytechnic fashion and graphic-design courses replaced boutique apprenticeships as training grounds.
Susan Holmes – who was to become the World of Wearable Art supreme winner in 1996 – opened a stall at Brown’s Mill in 1972. She had produced her first textile prints the previous year: ‘I had never made [a print], so I got a potato, cut it in half, cut out a bird with the veggie knife, improvised a pad of foam on a plate, made a print on some material I had, and my career was started!’1
Annie Bonza opened her boutique in Auckland in 1968 and became the leader in high-end youth fashion in the 1970s.
Auckland’s Tigermoth started off as a collective of designers, and the boutique of the same name was a drawcard for the young, fashionable and daring. Jane Bezar was Wellington’s equivalent. Men had an increasing number of fashion options thanks to shops like Frinton in Auckland’s Victoria Street, which opened in 1976 and stocked owner Michael Anderson’s designs.
Designers who became the major names of New Zealand fashion in succeeding decades got their start in the late 1970s, including Marilyn Sainty, Elizabeth and Neville Findlay (Zambesi) and Liz Mitchell.
Trelise Cooper started out with the label Limited Editions in 1984. Adrienne Winkelmann designed for urban, professional women and Brigid Brock produced distinctive leatherwear. Svelt, the label of Kerrie Hughes and Di Jennings, was known for its theatrical, avant garde evening wear. Margarita Robertson started knitwear label NOM*d in Dunedin in 1986.
NOM*d, the in-house brand of Margi Robertson’s Dunedin boutique Plume, is one of the most unusual label names in New Zealand fashion. It is short for ‘nom de plume’, the French phrase for a pseudonym. The use of capitals and an asterisk makes it stand out even more.
Workshop produced casual garments for women and men. Men’s labels included Equipment, Clacton and Frinton, and Strangely Normal.
Adrienne Foote designed distinctive Pacific-inspired fabric which she used in her clothes. Fellow textile designer Mike Brookfield specialised in printed garments under the label VIRUS.
There was still room for bespoke designers, who made one-off garments. Kevin Berkahn, Vinka Lucas and Michael Mattar all had loyal followers prepared to spend handsomely.
Berkahn was entrepreneurial and expanded to Australia in the early 1970s. Lucas, a Croatian immigrant, was known for her wedding dresses and was sought after by women wanting a gown for a special occasion. Michael Mattar opened a boutique in his home town of Taumarunui in 1963 and sold clothes to the rich and famous in the 1970s. The location was no obstacle because clients enjoyed travelling there on the main trunk railway line.
Patrick Steel catered to moneyed Aucklanders in the 1980s.
Apparel manufacturers had employed fashion designers before, but they became more design-led in the 1970s. Manufacturers tended to directly copy garments made overseas, but some firms, such as Sonny Elegant Knitwear, started to design from scratch. Fashion labels like Thornton Hall and Vamp, which were major New Zealand brands in the 1980s, emerged from apparel firms.
Manufacturers were protected from overseas competition by import tariffs – New Zealand shoppers were a captive audience. The signing of the Closer Economic Relations deal with Australia in 1983, which removed nearly all tariffs on trade between the two countries by 1990, was the beginning of the end of protection.