How did a girl from a tiny village in New Zealand find her way into the heart of NYC's fashion world? It took a fierce imagination, a lucky issue of Elle magazine, a willingness to try and do anything to succeed—and of course, a little magic.
A Start By The Sea
For the very first chapter in our debut film series, we've gone back to the beginning of it all. New Zealand's coast, to be precise, to a sea town called Cudseatoon, where playing was unsupervised and necessity inspired invention. "New Zealand was very isolated, but having always lived there, I didn't really have any point of perspective on how isolated it was. There was lot of things that I really wanted, but I couldn't necessarily go to a store and buy them. So, some of the first things I remember making were little dresses for my Barbie doll."
A Gift From the Blue
Her first inkling of a future making clothes came one Christmas morning. "My first real conscious thoughts about wanting to be in fashion, about being a designer, was when my sister gave me a British Elle magazine for Christmas. We got them six months after the rest of the world—they literally had to come on a ship—
but what would I know? Christy Turlington was on the cover, and I just thought she was the prettiest thing in the world. Every page of that magazine is so imprinted on my brain. I loved it, I lived it, I wanted to be that. The feeling I got from that magazine is the same feeling I still get today from fashion. I'm still excited by it, it still makes me feel
very happy, and creative, and alive."
The Red Shoes
With a father who loved rock and roll, music was a muse, a soundtrack for daily life and part of the family. Especially Bowie.
"One particular memory I have is of David Bowie's video for 'Let's Dance.' It was shot in Australia and there was an Aboriginal girl dancing, and she had on these red shoes. I had to have those red shoes. Of course I couldn't find any in New Zealand, so I bought some white, pointy bridal pumps and painted them patent red with nail polish. Every time I walked, they cracked, so I had to take my bottle of nail polish out with me and just do touch-ups through the night. But I loved them."
Adrift In The Big City
In high school she made lace gloves by the dozens. And a white voile skirt with little covered buttons all the way up the back. Someone told her about fashion school, so she picked up and went. When most of her classmates headed out west, she decided on New York City. As far as she was concerned, it was the only place to be.
"I quickly regretted that when I got here with no coat. It was miserable, to be honest. It was 5:30 in the morning—still dark, all the shadows were down, and the place looked scary as hell. I ended up staying in a hostel on 23rd Street. I had, like, a mattress on the floor, and a sink, and I paid extra to have a bathroom."
Finding Her Way
She found a job as a busboy and fell in love with bagels. She ate at Cosmo diner and stole the salt and pepper shakers to take home and make pasta. And eventually she got to work with a real designer.
"She was having a runway show and she really needed sandwiches made. I was looking for some extra money, and she was like: 'Could you made sandwiches for our show?' And I said of course! I think I made something like 250 sandwiches in my little East Village apartment. And one thing led to another and I ended up working there for five years. Seeing this other female designer being very successful, I think, really encouraged and inspired me to be like, well, I think I could do that."
A Life In Bloom
She started sewing her first collection in her tiny apartment. She staged her first show and the fashion world took notice. For all the detours along the way, success was that much sweeter.
"New York has this sort of raw energy that is so beautiful, and so inspiring. There was nothing I really wouldn't do, or couldn't do, to be successful here. And I think a lot of that attitude comes from having grown up the way I did—having the attitude that sure, I can do anything. And I still think that today. I really believe anything is possible. It's all possible—you just have to find a way to do it."