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May 10, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Old head, young shoulders

Salient feature writer Elle Hunt talks to fashion designer Alexandra Owen, whose elegance belies her age.

Wellington-based designer Alexandra Owen makes succeeding in the cut-throat fashion industry look easy. Upon graduating in Fashion Design from Massey University in 2005, she launched her namesake label in 2006. She made her public debut at Air New Zealand Fashion Week the following year, and opened her flagship store in Wellington last year. When listed, Owen’s achievements look effortless, much like the classic tailoring of her designs—but both are the results of a combination of clarity of vision and hard work.

How would you describe your designs? Who do you design for?

Sculptural, tailored, classic and elegant designs, for mature, sophisticated, thinking women.

What appeal did fashion design have you for?

The seasonality, freshness and ability to work on something new every day.

What influence did your education in Fashion Design at Massey University have on your career? Do you consider it important that those interested in pursuing a career in fashion study it formally, and at tertiary level?

I think it is important to have formal training as a base for working in the industry. It gives you a basic toolkit, but it is really character, courage and determination that helps you in the real world.

What designers inspire you, and why?

I love Dries Van Noten for his idealism, and humble beauty aesthetic. I loved Alexander McQueen for his cutting and drama. Locally, I love Zambesi for their enduring and wearable beauty.

How did you manage to make a name for yourself in such a notoriously competitive industry? What were your biggest obstacles in doing so?

I always think of Winston Churchill’s quote “Never ever, ever, ever give up”, or something to that effect. A lot of succeeding is believing in your cause deep to the core, while maintaining a good perspective on how what you do can remain relevant to your audience. Obstacles come every day in business, and come in many forms—but I have found they are there to teach us not to make the same mistake twice!

What have been your biggest successes, since your debut at Air New Zealand Fashion Week 2007?

Going to New York Fashion Week this year was a highlight. Opening a second store in Auckland. Continuing to do work we all look to work on here at the workroom.
What’s your opinion of the fashion scene and street style of Wellington?

I don’t get out much, but people here are far better dressers than those in Auckland, and even Melbourne for that matter. Wellingtonians have soul.

How do you explain general society’s fascination with fashion, and especially, the appeal it has for women?

At the end of the day, there are few women who could deny the attraction of an exquisitely designed garment. It is part of our nature as humans to appreciate visual beauty, whether it be a painting, piece of architecture or a Balenciaga dress. The French see fashion as relevant as any design form. I find it disappointing when society does not look beyond the fashion clichés to truly appreciate artists like [Yohji] Yamamoto, or Comme des Garçons, who have changed the way everybody today dresses.

How do you connect your designs, and fashion design in general, to art?

Fashion is still an applied art, and has to have a function, so its relevance is more rational on a day-to-day basis. The best fashion designers throughout history are just as relevant to modern society as Le Corbusier or Picasso. Women would not be wearing pants today if Gabrielle Chanel had not been truly radical in her day.

Would you ever consider designing menswear?

Menswear is another set of rules, complicated tailoring and different values. It is not for me right now, but never say never!

What advice would you have for students who want to work in the fashion industry, or start their own business?

It is vital that you know exactly what you want to do in the industry, to be clear about it as early as possible, plan it—even if it is over ten years, set goals and know what you want. Fashion offers many careers, so I think it is important to do as much work experience in the industry whilst studying to define what sort of roles appeal.

What are your plans for the future?

To continue showing our collections overseas, become a brand that is successful offshore, and to continue to make good collections.

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About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

Comments (2)

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  1. Raptor says:

    Awesome article, Elle. I once made a dress. By dress I mean I took a piece of cloth and draped it over myself. By cloth I mean snuggie.

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