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fashion: feature

Hokonui comes of ageHokonui comes of age

The 21st anniversary edition of the Hokonui Fashion Design Awards impressed Samantha Hannah, who got to see the elegant side of New Zealand fashion
photographed by Raoul Photo


Carla Yeung’s designs were one of the stand-outs for Lucire.


IN THE SLEEPY TOWN of Gore during July, the Hokonui Design Awards celebrated its coming of age by turning 21, and I was fortunate enough to be invited. I couldn’t wait to get there, which was evident when I opened my suitcase at the other end, because what I “remember” packing had vanished. Still, a weekend of small-town glamour lay ahead and I was ready to wrap myself up in it.
   The Hokonui Fashion Design Awards in Gore is New Zealand’s oldest fashion competition and, as Francis Hooper from World reiterated throughout the weekend, one that should be entered by all aspiring amateur fashion designers. Where else, as an amateur, will you be able to show your wears to some of New Zealand’s fashion élite such as head judge Hooper, in a public environment that is relaxed, non-threatening and super-supportive? Or lay claim to part of a $24,000 prize pool proved that, with the overall winner taking home a package of $10,000. Fabulous, just like convenor Heather Paterson, who organized an event that flew like a well-oiled machine down the runway. And this weekend was all about the runway.
   To get to Gore from Wellington we had to catch two planes. I say we, because my husband came with me; he proved to be my best accessory, according to the ladies down south (I would have said it was my Prada sunnies; still, each to their own). So, with my hot accessory and no airsickness, the two flights were painless. They also provided picture-perfect views, which stimulated my eye for beauty and provoked this thought: I hope to see some simplicity and elegance in the designs this weekend. Many times in the past I have watched fashion awards where young designers send garments down the runway with everything over-done, and occasionally they win something for it. I hoped, with all the South Island beauty influencing the local designers, there would be some willing to draw on the less is more philosophy. As it turned out there were some design delights waiting.
   Our evening began with a quiet red-carpet event, which unfortunately showed signs of the big ‘R’. Heather did confirm they had been hit a little but didn’t seem fazed. You get the feeling nothing was going to knock this optimist. The show was going to bigger and better than last year: after all, it was their 21st. Actually, on reflection, I’m not sure why I even bothered asking her about the economic effects. The people of Gore made a roaring trade on whisky during the Prohibition. They don’t conform to restrictions. They rise above and excel. Take Jim Geddes, Gore’s district curator, for example. He organized the rebuilding of the local museum and has taken it such a level they are being gifted art fit for the Tate before some of New Zealand’s bigger museums.
   I enjoyed the quiet start. It gave me a chance to talk to all of the judges in the room. I wanted to get their thoughts on the standard of designs they’d seen, hoping they’d say something that would keep my already high enthusiasm intact. Francis’s exact words were ‘the standard was outstanding this year.’ That’s exactly what I wanted to hear from someone who was making his third appearance at the awards. Now armed with the excitement of any first-timer, I was really looking forward to the show. Not only were the designs going to be good, I’d also seen the size of the runway earlier in the day so I had a feeling we would be in for a treat.
   Judging this year with Francis Hooper were Rex Turnbull, Charmaine Reveley, Thérèsa Brady and Mike Hamel. A very qualified and talented bunch of creatives, that I was keen to measure myself against. I wanted to see if my eye for fashion was on the same level as these élite five. I decided to write down my top three from each section, and pick the winner.
   After watching some stunning dancing that opened the show and appreciating the excellent lighting that seemed to flatter the clothes along with the dancers’ skin (flawless!), out came section one’s designs, Howl to the Moon Streetwear, along with my scrutiny. Straight away I could see these students were well on trend as big-shouldered garments, jodhpurs and the slashed effect flowed down the runway. But most of this I had seen before. I wanted to see something different, interesting and as I said earlier, simple. Then out it came, number 36 by Elise Barnes, which not only won the streetwear award but went on to take out the Westpac Young Designer award. So began my winner’s streak. Elise’s garment is bang on trend for summer: tie-dyed with contrasting colours.
   Following streetwear was by far my favourite section of the evening, the entries for the Southern Institute of Technology Knitted Award. I never thought so much could be created by knitting or crocheting. I felt the designers had worked really hard on their creations, but it was the stand-out piece by Ruth Bucknell that caught my eye. It looked so elegant coming down the runway with all of the long hours visible in the layers of soft white yarn. Another personal pick to win, which not only took out this section but the Charles Parson Best Use of Fabric Award as well.
   Next up, the Nu Dax Denim Award. With only a few entries, I found this section a little boring. Following the knitwear section may have influenced this, but I felt all the designers played it quite safe. There were two designers’ outfits outside of the winner that I have to mention though. Tara Dockerty-Wanhalla’s detailed denim corset, which was very couture, and Andre Tamblyn-Johnston’s petal dress, which was fun and quirky. Both were editorial and would be great to style. But it was Gregory Wiseman-Spence’s long gown, with a fishtail that proved the best. The neck detail added a point of difference to the clean, fitted lines of the dress.
   The sections following were: Hokonui Heritage Kiwiana Award won by Margaret Lewis with the old blankets clearly the Kiwiana part of the design (I might send her some of mine because this dress looked super-warm); Westpac Wool Award won by Roberta Lee Davids with what I have named her trumpet dress.
   The VnC Avant Garde Award, unfortunately, was another let-down for me. Still this was a first-time section, so I’m sure it’ll get better. The award went to Marie Kelly, with a menswear design that had the “wow” factor even if it was dark in black and grey tones. The Heartland Hotel Croydon Nightlife Award went to Charmaine Cowlishaw with a long black evening gown I’d love to see in my wardrobe.
   The last two sections I have separated from the previous because the winning garments not only won their sections, but they went on to win the big awards. They were also my stand-outs from the entire event, and I’m unabashed in saying I knew they would be walking home with big recognition.
   Carla Yeung won the Doosh Collections’ and the Best Use of Yarn awards with dresses simple in design with clever, colourful detail. To win this award the designers’ garments had to link together, which these three dresses did on every level. Beautifully constructed and simply elegant. Exactly what I wanted to see.
   Then came Laura Marshall’s MacDonald Pearce Perniskie Menswear Award-winning design, which went on to take out the big prize, the Ensign Award of Excellence. This was true menswear elegance at its best. What made this a stand-out for me was the fluidity of the singlet fabric, contrasted by the heaviness of the jumper. Again the whole outfit was so simple: it was only a singlet top, pants and a cardigan. Laura’s menswear garments got better when you were up close, too. She had been inspired by jellyfish and growing bacteria, which led to the thin chains and dreamcatchers sewn onto the silk singlet. It was a work of art. The pure wool cardigan was hand painted in silver to create the heavy textured look that contrasted perfectly with the weight of the silk. The trousers are a cotton metal blend.
   What did Laura think of her win? ‘It’s amazing, it’s so exciting … unreal but fantastic!’ Laura is the assistant designer for the new label, Company of Strangers, and her plans are to keep working in the New Zealand industry designing menswear. I say she is one to watch.
   My first trip to Gore was filled with unexpected splendour from the moment Rose picked us all up from the airport. We were wined and dined, guided through the Eastern Southern Art Gallery and the Hokonui Moonshine Museum, where more than whisky was found. Old lace gowns and 1920s’ flapper dresses were on display as well. History poured out the place. After an entertaining address by Francis Hooper at the Sunday brunch, it was off for our final historical excursion, the Croydon Aircraft Co., a restoration facility for wood and fabric-type 1920s’ and 1930s’ planes. I was also excited to learn we would be flying in a Tiger Moth.
   The weekend had come to a romantic end. I pulled on my leather flying hat and channelled Amelia Earhart as we flew down the runway, taking off into the clear blue sky. I had seen more simplicity and elegance than I had expected this weekend. I’m already looking forward to heading back next year. •


Samantha Hannah is fashion editor of Lucire.


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Elise Barnes

Ruth Bucknell

Gregory Wiseman Spence

Margaret Lewis

Roberta Lee Davis

Charmaine Cowlishaw

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