Big Apple beckons NZ fashion designer
23 Jul 2009
A young Wellington fashion designer is preparing to show in the Big Apple after receiving an invitation to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in fashion at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York.
Alexandra Owen is understood to be the first New Zealand-based designer to be invited on to the official schedule by event organisers IMG.
The 27-year-old designer has received glowing reviews internationally with the American press praising her as an "original and conceptual designer".
In just four years Owen has graduated, developed her own label and opened a boutique in Wellington employing four staff but remains unfazed by her meteoric rise in the competitive fashion industry.
Fashion week invitations
The invitation to show at New York fashion week came last month with a direct request from IMG.
At the same time, Owen's Auckland agent Murray Bevan - of Showroom 22 - was being contacted by the organisers of London Fashion Week with a similar request.
"I have never had an international fashion week contact any clients, or that persistently. It has never happened," Bevan said. "The fact they are reaching tentacles out to find talent south of the equator is refreshing to know."
Owen's clothes have been causing a stir in overseas fashion circles following glowing reviews by American press, who saw her past two collections at last year’s Air New Zealand Fashion Week.
New York bound
Owen and husband / business partner James Whitta will travel to New York in September to meet with IMG, hold talks with key industry figures and visit boutiques and showrooms in preparation.
While Owen admits to being delighted but unfazed by the turn of events, the cost of showing in New York is estimated to be between NZ$60 - 80,000, and she says it’s a hurdle yet to be cleared.
Her vision for her label has always been international with the long-term goal to open a boutique in Paris.
Owen says she realises the New York showing is a huge step for any label to take, but is confident that with thorough preparation she can foot it with the major fashion houses in international markets.
NZ Fashion Week
"We’ve shown at Air New Zealand Fashion Week for two years, and those shows alone have taught us so much in such a short time. What the Auckland event has shown us is the immense interest in quality New Zealand tailoring and ideas. Without that platform, we couldn’t justify this next leap," she said.
Six months ago Owen opened her first boutique in Wakefield St, Wellington - beside the Museum Hotel - and despite the uncertain economic climate, says the response has been overwhelming with her business experiencing its biggest growth yet.
The young designer established her self-titled label four years ago after graduating from Massey University with a two-year fashion diploma.
No show ponies
Owen and her husband married secretly at Wellington's registry office on 20 March this year, saying they wanted their wedding to be about them, and didn't want to be "show ponies for the day".
Whitta says his wife has always had the belief that she has something to offer on an international stage.
"It has never just been about making clothes or having a shop, it has been about showing the world something new," said Whitta.
"The key thing with her is she knows exactly what she wants. Never is there any umming or ahhing with her. It is always yes, or no. That is with everything, so it does make it very easy."
The couple were in Melbourne on a honeymoon / research trip when they received the New York news.
They are now working through funding the trip, and plan to stage a gala dinner with a special runway show at Wellington’s Museum Hotel on 20 August.
Originally from Auckland, Owen moved to Wellington at 15 to live with her older sister and attend Wellington High School, "which had an amazing art department".
"I pretty much always wanted to do fashion, though at one point I thought I might do architecture because fashion wasn't deemed a place for smart people, but labels like Zambesi and nom*d showing in London changed that, and we also have the Belgians to thank for bringing something to it."
Owen’s trade mark is sculptural design with what she calls free and exciting new cuts.
"Everything is cut on the mannequin. We are always experimenting. Working on new concepts all the time, not borrowed information," she said.
"I've never wanted to be a label that hangs on a celebrity. It is all about the product and I'm really lucky to have a team of people who also believe that."
Innovation in isolation
The isolation of Wellington - known as New Zealand’s creative capital - and New Zealand adds a positive side to designing, according to Owen.
"This side of the world makes us different - being in isolation is the key for any nation of innovation. You have to have a good perspective and be able to digest that at your own pace," she said.
When she’s not working her usual six-day week, Owen likes to take time out enjoying the beach near her home in Lyall Bay, Wellington. The popular inner city surfing beach faces out to Cook Strait, the stretch of water between New Zealand’s North and South islands.
"It’s wild and refreshing - a nice place to clear your head," said Owen.
While her immediate focus is on New York Fashion week, Owen says her longer term goal is to enter the US market through selected high-end boutiques beginning in New York City.
She intends to spend the next 5 - 10 years growing that market before making a foray into the European arena.
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