Tying up the threads

The ‘‘Maritza Boutique | Oamaru-London’’ exhibition in the Forrester Gallery Main Gallery. PHOTOS...
The ‘‘Maritza Boutique | Oamaru-London’’ exhibition in the Forrester Gallery Main Gallery. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
A town’s creativity is celebrated at the Forrester, writes Imogen Stockwell.

The threads of Oamaru’s creativity are pulled together in an exhibition at Forrester Gallery, linking the town’s design past to its creative present and providing inspiration to rangatahi.

The exhibition, "Maritza Boutique | Oamaru-London" features eight garments from the Waitaki Museum collection made by the Maritza Boutique (or with fabric from the boutique), Marjory Dench (the boutique’s founder) or Maritza Tschepp (Marjory Dench’s daughter).

In pulling together the strands of past, present and future, the project highlights and celebrates the creativity of our smaller rural towns.

Artist response by Dyan Prujean (left) and Maritza Tschepp designed and 
made garment (right).
Artist response by Dyan Prujean (left) and Maritza Tschepp designed and made garment (right).
The Maritza Boutique was a collective of women in Oamaru who set up a clothing business in 1966, they created bespoke garments for local women until 1978. The namesake of the boutique, Maritza Tschepp, took this Waitaki designing penchant to London, where she worked as a designer and made garments under her own name. Marjory Dench and her team of designers, sewers and embroiderers made special occasion and bridal wear in all the latest styles, bringing flair to the wardrobes of Waitaki. The boutique was known for sourcing fabrics with wonderful and unique designs.

In 1974 they opened a fabric store in town, a move that delighted home sewers like Sue Johnston, whose kaftan made from Maritza Boutique fabric is in the exhibition.

Marjory Dench’s daughter, Maritza Tschepp, had designing in her blood and childhood. She had several entries in the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards, winning the award in 1977.

Tschepp did not work for the boutique but went on to design in London under her own label, "Maritza", and for other companies. There are three garments designed and made by Maritza for her mother in the exhibition.

Every garment in the exhibition highlights how these women created the latest fashions using modern fabrics and techniques to make clothes that suited the wearer.

While developing the concept for the exhibition our team wanted to draw links between our design past and our creative present, so we invited some local artists to create "wearable accessories" as responses to the Maritza garments. They had behind the scenes access to our collection and used it as inspiration.

These artists all use different media and techniques, some explored new ideas with their response while others worked in their favourite media. In the end, seven artists took part, having the opportunity to be inspired by and exhibit alongside Oamaru’s design history, showcasing our local art community’s talent and range of skills.

Detail of dress with matching scarf, mid-1970s. Maritza Boutique. Collection of the Waitaki...
Detail of dress with matching scarf, mid-1970s. Maritza Boutique. Collection of the Waitaki Museum, 2017/138.
We also wanted to inspire future generations. To do this we took a leaf out of the boutique’s book and used local rangatahi to bring the garments to life. Marjory Dench liked to use local teenagers as models for fashion shows. With the help of four models and two local film-makers we captured the eight Maritza garments being worn, moving on the body and in the wind at sites around Oamaru. The result is a wonderful short film that took these garments from being static collection objects and reminded us of what they were designed to be — clothing worn and enjoyed by their owners. This thread enabled us to invite our models to share in our local history and to be part of what the gallery does.

Imogen Stockwell is curator, visual arts at Forrester Gallery, Oamaru.

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