Kings of the court

Ethan Cruise (left) and Jonty Blakely in their King Edward Court studio. Photo: Shane Gilchrist
Ethan Cruise (left) and Jonty Blakely in their King Edward Court studio. Photo: Shane Gilchrist
Josie Steenhart talks to two young fashion designers taking King Edward Court full circle.

Ruling grandly over Stuart St in resplendent red brick for 110 years, the large and elegant group of buildings now known as King Edward Court, which previously housed the Dunedin Art School (among other things) where the likes of Colin McCahon, Doris Lusk and Toss Woollaston trained, is now home to a diverse collection of creatives and community organisations.

Designed by prominent architects Harry Mandeno and John Mair and established in 1914 as the King Edward Technical College, the art school was incorporated in 1921 and later housed Otago Polytechnic (from 1963) and King Edward Technical High School, before being sold to private owners.

Come April 6, sections of the 75-room space, listed as a category 1 historic place by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, will play host to a showcase of up-and-coming New Zealand fashion designers as the must-attend finale to this year’s iD Dunedin events, the "As We Watch the World Go By" show.

Jonty Blakely (right) and models wearing designs on the catwalk at iD last year. Photo: Chris...
Jonty Blakely (right) and models wearing designs on the catwalk at iD last year. Photo: Chris Sullivan
Attendees "can expect to be amazed", Otago Polytechnic fashion graduate and show co-organiser Ethan Cruise says.

"The runway spans 100m across two floors and will be graced with the work of 25 emerging designers from across Aotearoa, showcasing a wide range of talent and creative expression.

"The ‘As We Watch The World Go By’ journey began in April 2023 with Jack King, Finn Mora-Hill and James Warrender.

"From the get-go we knew we wanted to make this a spectacle and provide as much opportunity for local creatives as possible.

"We’ve learnt a lot navigating through application forms, proposals, emails, meetings, working with funding and sponsorship bodies.

"On top of organising the show, the four of us are also each creating five outfits to showcase.

"Life has been extremely busy, but the end is within reach and we couldn’t be happier with the way the show is shaping up."

It was important to focus on young designers specifically, as "without a young, passionate and thriving community of designers, there is no future for the fashion industry in New Zealand".

"We need to be fostering the talent we have in our country. This event is our first collective effort to unite young designers and show the industry we’re here."

Ethan Cruise on the catwalk. Photo: Chris Sullivan
Ethan Cruise on the catwalk. Photo: Chris Sullivan
Getting creative with fashion in the historic space is no flash in the pan for Cruise - he and five fellow budding fashion designers, including industry peer Jonty Blakely, took over the lease of a space in the building last year.

Last year he also launched his eponymously-named label, showcased it at iD and New Zealand Fashion Week, and was invited to join the iD board along with Blakely.

"After finishing my bachelor’s degree at Otago Polytechnic, I and a group of friends wanted to create our own hub for creativity.

"We found a home of our own at the top of the King Edward Court building, overlooking Dunedin.

"We’ve created a supportive working environment that operates well and we’re continuing to foster creative growth and move towards a more inclusive industry."

When it comes to the rich history of the building and the space they occupy, Cruise says "I haven’t dived into it but know a fair bit about the building from Polytechnic lecturers who taught/studied at the technical college".

"It feels really special to host a fashion show in a space that nurtured the people who taught me to sew. A full-circle moment for sure."

Blakely says their studio space is made up of six young designers "with varying knowledge and skills".

"We’ve been leasing this space for a little over a year now and it’s come a long way.

"It’s such a special place to work in that is so open-minded and collaborative. It’s simply where the magic happens."

Photo: Chris Sullivan
Photo: Chris Sullivan
The bachelor of design (fashion) alumni are the newest members of the iD Dunedin Fashion Board. Their appointments were announced at the board’s first meeting of the year.

"It’s very exciting to have Ethan and Jonty join our team," board co-chair Prof Margo Barton says.

"They also continue a strong connection between Otago Polytechnic and the iD board, which currently includes well known designers such as Tanya Carlson and Tara Viggo.

"The board has several board members who are Otago Polytechnic fashion alumni who bring a variety of perspectives.

"It also reflects how the fashion design programme at Otago Polytechnic leads to a range of outcomes.

"Some graduates go on to work on their own businesses and labels, but many others are employed with well-known industry players, or turn their design skills and methodologies to other areas.

"All of them have the ability not only to be creative, but to collaborate with and learn from others - that outlook and flexibility of thinking is highly valued.

"And that’s where Ethan and Jonty come in. Their energy and ability, as well as the many connections they have already established within the wider fashion community, will be of great value to iD Dunedin," she says.

Cruise says being invited to join the board "is a great opportunity".

"It’s really exciting and will push us out of our comfort zone, which is great."

Blakely agrees, adding that he is also looking forward to learning from more experienced fashion industry people.

"It’s a chance to gain insights into how big events are run, and how others go about putting flesh on the bones of ideas.

"At the same time, we’re able to bring a fresh perspective to things.

"For example, I’m excited about working with the wider creative community in Ōtepoti, bringing in other disciplines."

Both are passionate advocates for pursuing careers in fashion from Dunedin.

"Dunedin provides a hub for South Island creative communities, fostering designers in a range of different skill sets, and opening doors for collaborative opportunities that strengthen and elevate everyone involved," Cruise says.

"Beyond this there’s an overarching feeling that surrounds Dunedin, a special energy that I’m yet to feel anywhere else."

To see

As We Watch the World Go By, iD Dunedin Fashion Festival, King Edward Court, April 6 at 6pm.

King Edward Court in Stuart St, Dunedin. Photo: ODT files
King Edward Court in Stuart St, Dunedin. Photo: ODT files