A Charming Winter's Tale in Navy: 'I'm Lost' by Twenty-seven Names

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Outfit from Twenty-seven Names Winter 2014 collection 'I'm Lost'

Nestled amongst a cluster of cafes and stores on busy Vivian Street in downtown Wellington is Twenty-seven Names’ first flagship boutique.  A simple monochromatic sandwich board printed with the brand’s name landmarks the spot and leads you into a light and airy shop with white walls, exposed brick and beautiful artwork amongst the rails of garments.  It’s here on a sun-dappled and breezy December day that I meet with Anjali Stewart, one half of the duo that founded Twenty-seven Names, a local label that has developed a loyal following since its inception in 2006.

Stewart is warm and welcoming as we discuss the new store, dressed casually in her own brand (the current season’s printed top and tailored black trousers), she has an easy manner but the underlying seriousness of someone who lives and breathes her business and quite rightly so, it’s a fast-paced and demanding operation.  She mentions that Rachel Easting, the other half of the designer duo and Stewart’s best friend since their school days, is busily pattern-making their Spring/Summer 2014/15 collection today.  

This past year has seen a couple of milestones for the brand, most importantly the opening of their own bricks and mortar store in a former art gallery space in August.  “This was the Mary Newton gallery,” Stewart explains.  “When we were students they always had really cool exhibitions here. So it was good that it was a blank canvas and we didn’t have to turn it into a gallery space, which is what we would have wanted to do anyway.  But we had a really small budget so we had to decide what we really wanted to do with it. It was a good hard slog over 3 months. Here at 7am, leaving at 11pm. It was definitely the hardest I’ve worked since we started the business.”

It’s safe to say that Stewart and Easting are very familiar with hard work; after all it’s no easy feat to run a successful business, especially in fashion which can be a particularly tough industry.  It just so happened that last year’s New Zealand Fashion Week was on a mere few weeks after they opened their boutique, which would have sent lesser-organised people into a tail-spin trying to do both.  Although initially the designers weren’t convinced they were going to show at all. “I keep saying to Rachel every year, promise me you’re not going to let me say that we’ll do fashion week,” laughs Stewart. “Then every year it’s like well we’ve just gotta do it.  We only decided to do fashion week maybe three weeks before fashion week this time.  And it was because we’d made the range and it was the first range we’d made with the store in mind and also we were going back to just doing what we wanted to do rather than trying to meet expectation for this market or that market, or listening to this person or that person.  We were just like: ‘Fuck it, let’s just do what we want to do and just really love it.’  So when we finished it (the range) we were like well this is the best collection we’ve ever done, we want to show it at fashion week.”

Landing the coveted opening slot at NZFW, which has in recent years been filled by the likes of Cybele, Ingrid Starnes and Ruby, was a great coup for the team and made the process of putting together the show that much easier and more enjoyable during a frantically busy time.  “Logistically it was the coolest thing because it’s so much easier if you’re first,” explains Stewart.  “You don’t have to worry about fitting in with other people’s schedules.  You don’t have a really short lead time.  You can choose the models you want and then you can sell your whole range to everyone else once you’ve shown it at fashion week.  It was a logistical big tick you know. It was also pretty cool because people are always so happy on the first day and if you start the week everyone’s like ‘I want to like this and oh whoops I did,’ you know?  So it was awesome and really fun for us.”

It was definitely a great experience for the assembled fashion set that day too, a full house rapturously received Twenty-seven Names’ Winter 2014 collection entitled ‘I’m Lost’ and the show received positive reviews.  The collection itself is a considered offering of wearable well-cut separates and sweet dresses with an emphasis on navy and subtle prints.  The sublime ‘rich girl’ nineties-inspired hair and soft, natural makeup added a nonchalant air and cool kid charm to proceedings.

The collection was inspired by Belgian surrealist artist, Rene Magritte, whom Stewart and Easting studied in sixth form Art History and then at university.  “He’s just ridiculously intellectual and you think this is what he means, but that’s what he means and it’s quite playful as well, with so many layers,” reveals Stewart.  “When we were in Brussels they had a retrospective there of his whole life’s work in one place which was pretty cool, as it was lots of drawings and photographs and then his work as well.”

When translating their references to the clothes the designers looked at Magritte’s wife, Georgette, because a lot of his work was about her.  Drawing their ideas from the end of the Second World War when the couple were together in Brussels, vintage undertones came through in the collection in reference to what Georgette would have worn at the time.  So naturally when choosing a model for the lookbook, the idea was to cast someone who looked like she might be a Belgian refugee.  Local model Derya Parlak fitted the brief perfectly and it’s easy to see the translation of the designer’s ideas in these images.

Although it can’t be easy moulding two people’s ideas into one collection and Stewart admits that as much as they have a dedicated working relationship, the two designers have to agree to disagree on some of their garments. “Rachel and I have really different tastes,” acknowledges Stewart.  “Most of the time we argue about everything, but that’s fine because we kind of have a rule where it’s like ‘this is for me and this is for you’.  When we make stuff, we make what we want to wear.  We ask each other ‘how do you want this to look? If this was the perfect version of what you want this to look, what would it look like?’ Because Rachel and I are a similar height but we have really different body shapes as well, so it’s like that’s going to look good on you but that will look terrible on me. And she’ll be like vice versa. She’s also really concerned on making everything wearable.”

Designing what they want to wear also extends to the label’s prints with Twenty-seven Names now producing at least four signature prints each season, which is also a great way to differentiate themselves from other labels and have further control over the look of their collection.  It’s their charming prints that have also helped draw many fans to the label, with the cute cats and sweet lovehearts adding an endearing quality to their collections.  However there are certainly challenges to coming up with new prints as well as new garments each season, and the temptation to ‘add another cat’ is one they deal with every season (for which they would be entirely forgiven by this cat lover though!).  “It’s a hard part of the job but when it works it’s such a relief,” says Stewart.  “There are just some prints that will last the test of time and you know this will as well (she gestures to current season print.)  But because you have to wear the clothes because we’re in the store and because it’s that certain season you have to wear it. But sometimes it gets to the end of the season and you’re like I’ve had enough of that, I had to wear it three times a week for six months, I don’t want to wear that anymore. But sometimes you’re like ‘I still want that!’”

Another priority for Twenty-seven Names is producing their garments in New Zealand, which is not an easy task in a small country when many manufacturers have closed down in recent years.  But for the duo it’s an important decision and one they absolutely stand behind. “It’s making it hard for us in offshore markets because we’re not priced competitively, so there’s always the question of should we move offshore but that’s just not us,” says Stewart.  “We’re contributing to the NZ industry and the GDP which I think is really important because otherwise we’re going to end up as more of a borrowing nation than we already are. If we can make a small contribution to that it’s almost like we are a social enterprise.  We’re not really turning over a great profit but what’s important to us is staying NZ made so we’re supporting the industry and making sure that the industry will be there for other people who were starting out like us.  Because as a label you can’t really go straight to producing offshore, you just won’t have the numbers to do so. So there has to be an industry here and if locally people don’t support it, it’s going to be really hard. But when you tell someone they’re buying something NZ made and they’re supporting the industry they’re like, ‘Ok, now I don’t feel so bad (for spending so much).’ It usually means we’re really busy at sale time too,” she laughs.

Anjali Stewart (left) and Rachel Easting (right) in their Wellington boutique
No doubt Twenty-seven Names fans also feel the same as the label’s pieces are coveted by fashion fans and as Stewart mentioned, rapidly snapped up as soon as sale time comes along.  Although something tells me their brilliant new collection will rapidly find popularity early on this winter, it’s abundance of navy also has the duo excited.  “To us it’s like the only colour and it’s been like that for such a long time,” explains Stewart.  “It’s just our colour. For me it’s not a problem but I think for some people it could be like ‘oh no more navy’ but I’m sure it will be sweet.” 

The future too looks rosy for this great little label, with the constant hard work and dedication of the designers and their supportive team of family and friends often working round the clock to keep the business meeting the demands of their customers.  It’s those loyal customers that the label are eager to get to know better by expanding their retail operation in the future.  “I’d love to open a store in Auckland,” enthuses Stewart.  “That’s the next thing we want to do, but it’s a matter of saving up the money to do it and finding the right space.  At the moment we just want to focus on doing the best job possible we can of this store. And we’ve just finished designing Spring/Summer 2014/15. We just live six months to six months and if we can squeeze something in between designing a collection like an exhibition or opening a store then we can be quite spontaneous.”

As I part ways with Stewart I’m grateful for an hour spent with such an enthusiastic, honest and humble person whose passion for her business is demonstrably clear.  I can’t wait to see what’s next from Twenty-seven Names and couldn’t be more excited to see their new collection arrive in store.  Although I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more cats in coming seasons (just a cheeky hint ladies). 

Twenty-seven Names Winter 2014 collection ‘I’m Lost’ is available in stores and online today.

Twenty-seven Names boutique: 152 Vivian Street, Wellington, New Zealand.

My Instagram shot of Twenty-seven Name's boutique from my visit.

Lookbook images by: Louise Hatton
Twenty-seven Names image from their Facebook page.

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