Dunedin designer's shot at the big time

Amber Bridgman and her 6-year-old twins Kahu (left) and Nuku. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Amber Bridgman and her 6-year-old twins Kahu (left) and Nuku. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
As a result of a win at the recent Miromoda Awards, Dunedin designer Amber Bridgman is set to show at New Zealand Fashion Week, Jude Hathaway reports.

Dunedin designer Amber Bridgman (31) has a chance at the big time by earning a place for her designs on the runway of the country's biggest annual fashion event, New Zealand Fashion Week, in Auckland this September.

Her chance to appear in the event came through the prestigious Miromoda Fashion Design Awards, held 10 days ago at Massey University, where, drawing on her Maori heritage, she won the T-Shirt placement section.

The awards were established by the Indigenous Maori Apparel Board in 2008 to advance the quality status of Maori fashion design and to raise its artistic and professional standards.

Miromoda's Ata Te Kanawa, who co-founded Miromoda with Rex Turnbull, is looking forward to a solid presentation from Amber at the big event.

"This is an exceptional opportunity for Amber to showcase her work in front of media and buyers," she said.

"The T-shirt section is for entry-level or budding designers and that the winner has the chance to show alongside winners and runner-ups of the other Miromoda sections is pretty special."

The full import of showing at fashion week did not, Amber admitted, really sink in until well into last week.

Having reached the finals of the haute couture section as well as the T-shirt placement section through the portfolio of sketches she had submitted, she had just three weeks to complete construction of the three haute couture garments and four T-shirts for the awards.

"Getting everything done before the awards, then the event itself, was fairly hectic and only now am I realising the significance of fashion week," she said towards the end of last week.

The haute couture garments, although not placed, were the challenge.

For her main outfit she used a peacock pout (the skin and feathers of a dead peacock) from which she constructed a corset-style bodice as the main feature of the gown which had a long, ruffled skirt and train.

The bodice is fully lined.

Inspiration for the motifs which are the soul of her T-shirts range came about two years ago when her twin boys, Nukuroa (Nuku) and Te Kahurangi (Kahu) attended the Maori preschool, Manaaki Kohanga Reo, in Caversham.

"We were talking about well-known cartoon characters and the way they are so commercial featuring on kids' clothing and the peer pressure children are under to own these garments," Amber recalled.

Why not produce some home-grown superheroes, she asked.

And from this arose her two prints "Tane pekapeka", based on Batman and "Super Maori Fella", inspired by Superman.

Designed in collaboration with graphic artist Dave Burke, formerly of Dunedin and who is now living in Auckland, the motifs, which show off Amber's love of traditional Maori art, are screen-printed on long-sleeved merino T-shirts.

The mix of fine merino and stylish screen prints has succeeded in lifting the range beyond most regular T-shirts.

These are designed under her Kahuwai label, for which she also produces a small range of babies' and children's wear and jewellery.

The name translates as "cloak of wellbeing".

Amber was impressed by the time given to the finalists by the Miromoda judges.

"They were really amazing the way they spent individual time with each of us, encouraging us and giving us plenty of constructive criticism," she says.

The panel included NZ Fashion Week brand co-ordinator Nikki Harmsen (head judge) Fashion Industry NZ executive officer Mapihi Opai and the publisher of Lucire fashion magazine and Wellington mayoral candidate, Jack Yan.

Spurred on by the judges' response to her designs, Amber realises the amount of work she has ahead of her as she prepares for the show.

With six outfits to be modelled she plans to take the opportunity to use garments from her 2011 winter collection to team with the T-shirt tops.

These include merino and leather pieces, while selections from her latest accessory collection will help set off each look.

To keep herself focused she plans to swap her studio at home - her usual workplace - for the Dunedin Fashion Incubator's (DFI) workrooms.

Although a full-time member of DFI for the past six months she has until now worked off-site.

She is also receiving invaluable support from the Otago Polytechnic School of Fashion where she is completing a one-year production course.

"Both the DFI and the tutors at the fashion school helped me to prepare for the awards and I know will keep me on track for fashion week. I'm really lucky," she says.

Road to success

It seems that things are coming together nicely for Amber, who six years ago exchanged a career in broadcasting for design.

Growing up in Dunedin, she attended Queen's High School before taking up tertiary studies at what was then the Television, Theatre and Radio School and which later became the Aorangi Polytechnic Dunedin campus.

After working for Channel 9 for three years she moved to Auckland where she was presenter and researcher for Mai Time and also did radio and film work.

Six years ago she came home to have her boys and reconnected with her love of fashion and design.

It's been a busy time.

As well as her design work, her striking good looks have led to modelling assignments with the Ali McD Model Agency.

But, most importantly, she has completed a bachelor of arts degree majoring in Maori traditional arts at the University of Otago.

She graduates in August.

"I'm the first member of the family to graduate with a degree. I just wanted to lay down some foundations for the boys that tell them that tertiary and higher education is important."


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