At home isolated from big centres

Margi Robertson is defying expectations by keeping her successful fashion brand Nom*D and retail store Plume in Dunedin. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Margi Robertson is defying expectations by keeping her successful fashion brand Nom*D and retail store Plume in Dunedin. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Despite her growing success and the ''obvious'' option of gravitating to a fashion capital, Margi Robertson is staying put in Dunedin.

The Nom*D founder has been at the forefront of fashion retail in Dunedin since 1975, and yesterday spoke to a group of women about why she was relieved to be relatively isolated.

''The thing I'm asked the most is why I'm still in Dunedin, because normally if a fashion brand becomes successful you have to move to the centre. That's why all the designers in France are in Paris, or in London or Milan, and in New Zealand the obvious place is Auckland,'' she said.

''I do quite like being isolated and perhaps not being influenced by what everybody else is doing. It's nice to be able to do your own thing and not be worried about what's happening down the street, although our street [George St] is getting bigger and more populated.''

Ms Robertson, who was born in Chatto Creek to Greek immigrants, shared her career experiences as part of iD Dunedin Fashion Week.

She explained her mother's influence on her fascination with fashion, and her initial foray into the retail sector.

''I was infatuated with the whole fashion industry but there wasn't really, to my mind, a store in Dunedin that had really unique clothes, like boutique-style. To indulge my passion I decided to open a store in Moray Pl with my husband Chris.''

It was an instant success, to the couple's amazement.

''The first day we took $1000, which was a lot at the time, and we had the realisation that we could actually have a successful retail business that could provide an income. My husband gave up his job at New Zealand Breweries and joined me in the store.''

Their business took off and prompted moves to bigger premises in Princes St, the Golden Centre mall and, eventually, to their coveted space in George St where they established Plume.

Ms Robertson brought European style to Dunedin, gambling with unconventional labels including Jean Paul Gaultier and Margiela, and was pleasantly surprised when items sold.

She was influenced by Japanese fashion during fabric-buying trips with her sister Liz Findlay (of Zambesi) and decided to fill a gap in Dunedin for locally-made knitwear.

In 1986, Nom*D was born, to complement, not compete with the Zambesi brand.

''I decided we would go down a more utilitarian approach. I've always been attracted to anything that isn't normal, anything ... which is a little bit more avant garde.''

As for the future, Ms Robertson has few set plans.

''I'm just waiting for the stars to align.''

rosie.manins@odt.co.nz