Charmaine Reveley’s broad church

Charmaine Reveley and her entry in the Otago Museum exhibition ‘‘Fashion FWD>>’’. PHOTO: LINDA...
Charmaine Reveley and her entry in the Otago Museum exhibition ‘‘Fashion FWD>>’’. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Charmaine Reveley makes feminine fashion, but she’s not interested in stereotypes, she tells Tom McKinlay.

It’s relatively easy to spot the fashion designer in the Otago Museum foyer. She’s the one with the nicest facemask. Otherwise she’s wearing black, of course.

But the facemask is a pretty print, feminine.

Feminine is what people say of Charmaine Reveley’s clothes.

They say they are feminine and flattering, bracketing the two together in such a way as to imply that women like to be flattered.

There’s no reason why men shouldn’t enjoy it too. Being flattered.

Maybe they should wear more Charmaine Reveley. Then as the compliments rolled in, they could initially be uncomfortable and awkward, bat them away or pretend not to hear. Then, over time, learn to embrace them. Listen to the flattery and try to understand what’s being said and what it means.

Reveley has a piece in Otago Museum’s "Fashion FWD>>" exhibition, in the section dedicated to the godmothers of Dunedin fashion. She’s one, in there with Margarita Robertson, Tanya Carlson et al.

Virtual tour

“FASHION FWD ) Disruption Through Design”
(Otago Museum)

At the risk of jeopardising the gains of first, second and third wave feminism, it’s arguable that hers is the most feminine entry in the exhibition’s godmother identity parade. It is a delicate nature-patterned polyester pleated lace in a soft shade over a cream viscose slip.

The lace was hand-pleated in New Zealand. There’s only one operation left in the country that does any pleating, Reveley says. "Pleating has been quite a big part of my collections."

The outfit is punctuated at the waist by two circuits of a slim Drake Leather belt. Dunedin made.

The ensemble is from Reveley’s 2019 summer collection and while she says she’s not much of an archivist, she’s archived this one.

"It’s probably one of our more occasion dresses," she says.

It was a special one, marking a change of direction, shape and look - while carrying other signatures through.

"I just find it pretty beautiful."

There’s the composition of the pleats, the gathered neck.

"It’s understated, which is what our aesthetic is. A bit understated feminine."

Pleats create further layers of depth and interest in Charmaine Reveley’s exhibition piece. PHOTO...
Pleats create further layers of depth and interest in Charmaine Reveley’s exhibition piece. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Fabric is often a starting point, she says, also the anchor point for the feminine aesthetic.

Which again raises the question of what feminine is, and whether it’s changed between 2003 when Reveley set up her eponymous label, and today.

The designer says she thinks it probably has, making it clear she is not interested in stereotypical definitions.

"I think of feminine as more of a confidence, I guess," she says.

There’s a low metal rail running along in front of the godmothers’ well dressed mannequins and Reveley has one foot up resting on it. Museum visitors are almost certainly not encourage to do so, but she looks relaxed. There’s a little bit of the country about it. Because you can take the farm girl out of the country, but she’ll still want to stand easy when shooting the breeze.

"I mean, really it is different for everybody," Reveley continues.

"I am not a particularly feminine person myself," she says with a chuckle. "My femininity is probably different to someone else’s."

Reveley’s famously includes the rough and tumble of roller derby in her spare time.

"But I would not like to get trapped into that box of being stereotypically feminine.

"It is what you make it really. You could wear that," she says, meaning the dress, "rough it up and wear it with a big oversized blazer or a pair of meaty chunky boots, or something."

Femininity is a broad church, getting broader all the time.

"It definitely comes down to the way people want to wear it," she says, meaning the dress, or possibly femininity.

Reveley is also a byword for occasion wear. Occasion wear that is at the same time effortless.

Which is the combination that everyone’s shooting for.

"I don’t like anything too fussy," Reveley says. "Too many layers. I like simplicity.

"If you can put on a really beautiful dress and go out and rock that, then that’s really all you need."

You’d be feminine and ready for flattery.

The talk

Charmaine Reveley will share her thoughts on fashion, design and running a label.

Thursday, October 14, 5.30pm, Beautiful Science Gallery, Otago Museum.

$15, includes a glass of bubbles.

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