Two designers who gave us the World

World co-founder Francis Hooper fits one of his gowns to a model backstage at the iD Dunedin Fashion Show last night. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
World co-founder Francis Hooper fits one of his gowns to a model backstage at the iD Dunedin Fashion Show last night. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
With $400 and endless naive optimism, one of New Zealand's most successful and influential fashion brands was established 25 years ago in Auckland's High St.

World co-founders Francis Hooper and Denise L'Estrange-Corbet each had just $200 to work with, yet managed to stay in business and create a label loved by men and women worldwide.

''We thought we were rich. In hindsight we were so bloody naive and made every mistake there was,'' Hooper said.

Both were at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery yesterday, where Hooper spoke about his career and the business of fashion ahead of showing World couture in last night's iD Dunedin Fashion Show.

He said the things which made World vulnerable and working in New Zealand fashion difficult also made them successful.

''We were the stupidest and most brilliant at the same time, and through a lot of hard work and good luck we did well. In New Zealand the isolation makes us weak but also very strong.''

He said fashion, whether people acknowledged it or not, was the driving force behind so many everyday things, from the preferred colour of cars to the increasing demand for boutique market food and produce.

''That's all trend-driven, that's all fashion, and we are all consumers.''

Hooper said people should buy the best they could afford, downsize their wardrobes and enjoy the longevity of quality.

''Choose wisely, not flippantly.''

He wore a brightly coloured, patterned Issey Miyake waistcoat he bought 22 years ago, and said there was no need to own 70 dresses and 40 pairs of jeans.

''If you buy the best you can afford, it lasts forever. Fashion is the worst part of mass consumption - all those containers of cheap clothes come into New Zealand and 90% of all that product ends up in landfill within a year.''

Far from conservative, New Zealanders were eclectic in their fashion choices, he said. Hooper cited the ''dark and broody'' nature of well-known Kiwi brands including Dunedin's Nom*D, and those which were ''polar opposites'' such as Zambesi and World.

''That character lives because of the New Zealand consumer. New Zealand fashion is quite eclectic and broody and odd because of you guys - none of us would exist without the New Zealand consumer.''

Hooper was unapologetic for constantly pushing the boundaries of style, and said he dressed personalities first and bodies second.

World retail stores now incorporate beauty sections complete with perfume, candles and taxidermy.

''It's things we love. Our average customer is 30-35 years old, a slightly more mature maddened woman that wears character clothes and wants to look and feel amazing - someone who thinks I don't give a s*** what you think, I'm going to wear a silver suit because I love it.''

Hooper said the fashion industry was tough and unforgiving and after 25 years he still worked seven days a week.

But New Zealand was a good place to foster creativity.

''You can still survive on an oily rag. The community is very supportive and I admire all the young designers coming through.''

- rosie.manins@odt.co.nz