Intrepid trio's indelible iD memories

Margarita Robertson (NomD) relaxes in her workroom. Photo by Gregor Richardson
Margarita Robertson (NomD) relaxes in her workroom. Photo by Gregor Richardson

Intrepid designers Margarita Robertson, Tanya Carlson and Donna Tulloch have invigorated the New Zealand fashion scene for almost three decades.

 They also share the distinction of having shown their winter collections at every iD Dunedin Fashion Show from the first event in 2000. Jude Hathaway mines their memories of iD along with those of Victoria Muir, who has also been closely involved from the beginning. 

Margarita Robertson is highly regarded for the spirited and unfettered approach to fashion design that typifies the internationally lauded Nom*D label she and husband Chris launched in Dunedin in 1986.

She is also known for her support of Dunedin fashion and vividly remembers the first iD show.

''It amazed me how many members of the public were interested in attending. It was completely amateur but laid the foundations for what was to come.''

And the next year, when the show moved to Dunedin Railway Station, she was equally surprised.

''It was completely perfect [as a venue] and also unexpected. I thought it would be a one-off venue but rather it has become an iconic set for the event which now cannot be held anywhere else.''

She pointed out that like most venues, ''backstage'' has its pros and cons, but that every year the organisation gets better.

''There's a format that must be adhered to for any show to run smoothly, and experience and diligence has made for a trouble-free event.''

A number of past shows have clashed with Paris Fashion Week, which Robertson always attends. However, when she's in Dunedin she's backstage during her section to ensure looks are correct and no threads and tags are showing.

''I then go into the audience to view the rest of the show, on both nights!''

She says an important aspect of the show is the opportunity it provides for top graduate students taking part.

''It's their first taste of a professionally run catwalk event and having respect for an event which is essentially a group show. Some compromises have to be made to ensure the show's overall success and in this way it's a great learning experience for them.''

Over the years, show audiences have seen Nom*D maintain its unique and individual silhouettes.

''It's important,'' says Robertson, ''that Nom*D continues to sit ahead of the mainstream.''

She also sees iD as being important to the brand.

''It maintains our connection to Dunedin, which is unique in the world of New Zealand fashion,'' says Robertson, who mentions the number of people that each year come from outside Dunedin to attend the show, and rave about it.

''This makes me proud to be living and working here, and thankful to the people of Dunedin who've made both Nom*D and Plume a success.''

Tanya Carlson. Supplied photo
Tanya Carlson. Supplied photo

Tanya Carlson moved her business, which produces the classy and subtly sexy Carlson women's wear, to Auckland but remains a ''Dunedin designer''.

She's a long-time member of the voluntary organising committee of iD Dunedin Fashion Week and the judging panel of the International Emerging Designer awards, and her Carlson shop in George St is an enduring reminder of her Dunedin roots. The ties are strong.

She has many precious iD memories, and after the 2000 Bennu fashion show knew it was ''the beginning of something''.

But the following year's show at the Dunedin Railway Station left an even bigger impression, when the longest runway in the South was covered in gleaming white salt.

''I walked out on to the catwalk before the show started and thought: `Wow'. It was an extraordinary sight: the salt looking like a fresh snowfall. It was like no catwalk I'd ever seen before. That show set the bar. Our `Dressage' collection on the salt-encrusted catwalk was breathtaking and the after-party at the Temple Gallery ...''

She recalls details of other years: John Campbell's hilarious interview with the wonderfully eccentric Mittelmoda director Stefano Sopelza at the first Emerging Designer awards, the generosity of Pier 24 opening the kitchens and providing late-night supper for extremely hungry international judges; the heavy rain at the 2008 show that saw her mopping up large pools of water backstage to prevent models breaking their ankles or being electrocuted; and ''the sheer terror'' of the first time she walked down the railway station catwalk in the finale.

But, the extraordinary spectacle of Stephen Jones' hats has made the 2013 show her favourite to date.

''My dresses were modelled with his millinery. To think I could have had a career anywhere in the world and yet never had that opportunity!''

Carlson sees a bright future for the railway station show and iD Dunedin Fashion Week.

''The railway station and Emerging Designer Awards events celebrate independent fashion design and ingenuity. In an industry smothered by mass-produced, disposable fashion, the iD concept is an inspiration for both the audiences and the designers.

''The iD Dunedin week is run by a volunteer committee with local sponsorship and community support and because it is a non-profit organisation rooted in education it attracts an extraordinary calibre of judges and special guests.

''I believe iD is representative of the spirit of Dunedin. It is innovative, independent and original.''

Donna Tulloch.
Donna Tulloch.

Donna Tulloch and the ''tough elegance'' of her Mild Red brand has also weathered the highs and lows of the fickle fashion industry and she as a designer and businesswoman knows the importance of the iD concept.

''Mild Red has achieved much more exposure both locally and internationally and putting together the collection for the show is like dotting the i's and crossing the t's - it completes the season's story within a creative experience.''

She remembers vividly the first railway station show.

''It was pure inspiration. With Tim Pollock and Diann Waugh's design concept it was a total transformation. It was like stepping into the land of Narnia film set, although the salt was not so good for the model's footwear I had on loan. But the salt, the lighting and the sound will not be forgotten. And I'm sure that all who were there were inspired and it has driven all who are involved to make each year bigger and better.''

Tulloch also mentioned backstage improvements.

''The rain, or rather the lack of an effective roof, caused concern early on, as did the poor lighting, which made it difficult to check the models before they went on to the catwalk.''

She puts the changes down to a supportive and organised team.

From a personal perspective, she has three standout iD shows.

There was her Hundertwasser collection of 2005, inspired by her meeting artist Friedrich Hundertwasser, who had a passion for New Zealand. Her 2009 ''Attitude - frame of mind'' collection and collaboration with Christchurch sculptor Graham Bennett was special, as was her 2011 ''Black Knight'' collection inspired by Joan of Arc.

Her design aesthetic has remained the same but her business has grown from a small home-based concern in a studio above the garage to a large studio in Dunedin's CBD and soon, a retail space.

She sees Dunedin as a creative city with a world-class design school, which has communicated its success to a worldwide audience. It has attracted international designers who have inspired local talent.

And is there a future for iD?

''Certainly. There is nothing else like it and there can never be enough funding and support for such an event to continue. It's crucial.''

Victoria Muir.
Victoria Muir.

Victoria Muir's link with iD Dunedin has been in two main roles, as a model in the first six railway station shows and as convener of the iD Dunedin Fashion Week since 2008.

It was a serendipitous beginning. As cultural prefect at St Hilda's Collegiate School she had organised Margaret Farry Williams, director of the Vanity Walk Modelling School and Agency, to speak at a school assembly. Mrs Williams spotted Victoria's immense potential and signed her up.

A little later Victoria found herself brought in as a fill-in at the last moment for the first railway station event in 2001.

''I was pretty nervous. It was such a long catwalk and it was a show unlike any other I had been involved in. I also remember being very cold.''

Those first six consecutive railway shows generated many memories for Muir, including mastering ''the longest catwalk in the world'', which for the first few shows remained the uneven surface of the platform itself rather than the smooth surface of a raised runway.

To model in the first Emerging Designer Awards show a decade ago in the large marquee in the Octagon was another memorable experience, as was being ''the face'' for the artful iD 2006 (behind very large dark glasses).

And always she revelled in the clothes.

''I wore lots of standout outfits. The pale blue velvet Carlson gown and the Mild Red Hundertwasser outfit I first wore at New Zealand Fashion Week and then at iD were favourites, and I enjoyed the fun sections the DotCom brand staged.''

In 2004 another chapter opened when she began working for the show's then convener Annemarie Mains, who in 2007 handed the reins to her young protégé. Victoria managed her first show through her own company, Sequel Events, in 2008.

''It's been great working with the committee, particularly in developing the international element of fashion week. A real highlight has been being involved in bringing the international guests such as Zandra Rhodes, Hilary Alexander and Stephen Jones to Dunedin.''

Another milestone came in 2010 when the decision was made to add a second night at the railway station.

''This was a big decision for the committee at the time but has paid off.''

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