Margi Robertson (founder of iconic NZ label NOM*d) talks about her love of fashion, the one thing she would save in a fire and why summer is a season that never feels quite right.
It was the mid-'80s when Margi (Margarita) Robertson travelled to Japan, an experience that turned her ideas about fashion on their head.
At the time, Robertson was running Hang Up’s Boutique – her first retail store – with husband Chris.
The Japan trip opened the designer’s eyes in a way that she never forgot and underpinned the dark, edgy aesthetic that NOM*d is renowned for.
“Prior to [my trip] there was a lot of Dynasty dressing [with] shoulder pads and waists. [Traveling to Japan] changed my life. There was the presence of black and unashamedly wearing black was very acceptable” says Robertson from her spacious Dunedin workroom.
There was plenty to be gleaned from what was happening in Japanese fashion. Robertson took away the one-size-fits-all concept, as well as the minimalist presentation of Japanese stores.
“We went from being a very trendy boutique to being a very clean, tidy store. Everybody has stores like that now,” she says. “But back in the eighties, it was a huge transition for me.”
During that trip, Robertson bought garments by Maison Margiela and Comme Des Garcon. Some of those up to 30-year-old garments featured in an exhibition of her favourite outfits, presented last year at iD Dunedin Fashion Week.
While Robertson wears NOM*d she has always been drawn to other designers.
“Back in the seventies and eighties we were definitely wearing New Zealand-made clothes, but I’ve always been a fan of different designers work [that] I admire and would wear,” she says.
NOM*d has been running for thirty years now, and Robertson is well aware young designers entering the industry today face very different challenges to those she experienced. One thing she says is unique for emerging designers is the technical creation of fabrics.
“[Today] there are a lot of restraints, for instance with cottons and the way things are dyed and the damage it’s doing to the world. Also, our sheep don’t produce as strong wool - the thread isn’t as long and fabrics are becoming man-made or treated,” she says.
All of these elements make design more considered. Designers are encouraged to develop their own textiles through their course of study, she says.
NOM*d gave rise to what became known as the ‘New Zealand aesthetic’. It was dark and drapey with plenty of layering where archetypal garments were re-imagined and deconstructed to create an entirely new silhouette.
The backbone of the brand has been about adhering to that strong aesthetic and unique identity.
Robertson works with a design team which has changed over time. And she says it’s important that they all share an appreciation for the same types of music and aesthetic which informs the overall brand.
Before the globalisation of fashion, emerging New Zealand designers were looking closely to NOM*d as a source of inspiration and point of reference. But that has never phased Robertson.
“It’s an accolade to be referenced. [But] what happens when those aspiring designers go out into the world [they] start creating their collections [and] then develop their own look after that.”
Today, the fashion landscape has changed dramatically and New Zealand fashion can’t be put into a singular category or aesthetic.
From the refined classics in a Juliette Hogan or Ingrid Starnes collection to the beautiful timeless silks from Miss Crabb, new stars on the block Harman Grubisa have a sophisticated touch and continue to stack up international awards and ethical labels like Kowtow and Ovna Ovich are going strong.
Not to mention 23-year-old Maggie Hewitt whose luxury brand Maggie Marilyn is now stocked on international retailer Net-A-Porter (among other high-end international stockists).
So how does that affect a label like NOM*d who have garnered a strong New Zealand following and also stock in Australia and Japan?
“We just do what we do and I think it’s really important that we’re not trying to be everything. We’ve got a signature look and everything has to be unmistakably NOM*d,” Robertson says.
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