Thursday 28 October 2010

Bridging the gap - Victoria n' Bird

Fashion is an art that combines design and craftsmanship seamlessly (now I've got the pun out of my system). A piece of fabric requires both designer and seamstress to evolve into fashion and in many ways a seamstress who cannot design is as lost as a designer who cannot sew and anyone who has ever watched an episode of Project Runway will know just how lost these people get.

There are people with wonderful ideas, and there are people with incredible practical skills, but without combination of the two, it is difficult to go out on your own into the world of fashion.

One person who has made this amalgamation is the lovely Amy from New Zealand-based label Victoria n' Bird. There were several reasons why I wanted to interview Amy this week. Firstly, she is really very lovely, but also because she is an incredibly successful one-girl operation. Amy has really set herself (and VnB) apart from many other makers of handmade clothing by having a clear and distinctive design aesthetic blended with a carefully edited collection. I wanted to know how she takes on both roles as maker and designer and what they both mean to her.

When and how did you get started?

I hadn’t done any serious sewing while at Uni so when I finished I got stuck in, being that I had just finished Uni and couldn’t just sit around sewing for myself all the time I thought I would also try and sell a couple of things on Trademe. They sold instantly so from there it sparked something fun and fabulous, I gained a bit of sewing confidence and a little business started. I sold on Trademe for a couple of years and slowly transitioned over to Etsy.

When you began did you have a clear idea of what your brand would be like or did it evolve?

It definitely evolved. At the start it was just about making clothing and less about the business as a whole. Things were mostly one-offs and I would let a garment be dictated by what fabric I had in stock: now the design comes first, fabric sourcing comes last. It may not be bold and extravagant but VnB has an aesthetic: ideas and garments now have to fit into that to make the cut.

Who do you have in mind when you are designing a piece?

Me mostly! Then variations in all directions of myself, whether it be someone with a different body shape, bolder clothes choices, less bold, in a different climate. Just a girl, a friend, a lady on the street! At the end of the day we’re not all that different, if I have a penchant for simple clothes with a touch of cute and a touch of vintage, chances are there will be bunches of other ladies who want the same thing.

Where would you like to be in five years time?

Just want it to be bigger and better. Sometimes it’s tricky juggling it with other parts of my working life but I don’t really want it to change in any big way so I just have to make small changes so it runs a lot smoother. It has changed a lot and I have learnt a bunch of lessons along the way. I am sure there are a lot more changes to come and lots left to learn. I have so many ideas in the pipeline, but it does take a wee while as a one-woman business with a to-do list to get them out of my head and out into the world. The possibilities of where VnB could go are part of the excitement to keep it going, who knows?!

Would you ever want to expand VnB so that you could employ others in the construction or is the making of each garment an important aspect of the business for you?

People are always suggesting I outsource my sewing. I even had someone outright laugh at me the other day when they heard that I made everything myself. I know VnB inside and out, it’s not what it’s about. It might be necessary somewhere down the track, who knows, but not for where VnB is right now. If it was all about how many garments I could make in a day I don’t think it would have lasted this long. I did fall into that mind state early on in the Trademe days, and it got miserable and tense pretty fast. The main hurdle with VnB is trying to explain it to others, a LOT of people don’t get it, it’s extremely personal and in business that is clearly frowned upon.

Is there a side to the business that you enjoy the most?

Getting to be myself all of the time... I am not trying to hide the person behind the label: it is what it is all about! I play quirky girl music while I sew, have dog chats, show off pieces I make to family, get grumpy, get excited - it’s 100% me. Then I get to sell this lovingly handmade piece of well-thought-out, well-made clothing to some other person somewhere else in the world, maybe down the road, maybe Paris, I mean come on, how cool is that?!

And, finally...

There is a level of stress and pressure to keep things running, but in the business of creativity, if that was all there was, it would fail miserably. VnB works (most of the time) because it is a perfect balance between personal Amy and business Amy and a perfect combination of the crafty/handmade and well thought out, designed and constructed garments.

Thank you so much to Amy for taking the time to answer these questions. You can of course shop VnB here (the scalloped hem dress is my absolute favourite) and check out her blog here.

Wednesday 27 October 2010


Ok I'm taking five from the indie design posts to do a quick bit of house keeping. Saturday is Craft2.0 at the New Dowse and I've got a stand (well half a stand). It's my second time around and I'm really looking forward to it. Anyway I wanted to do something nice for the local people who talk to me on twitter and facebook and who follow my blog - so I've put together 40 freebies. All you have to do is print out the voucher below (you can download it here on flickr) and drop by my stand with it and say hello - easy and you get a free gift. Some of the freebies are little things like badges and some are big things like rosettes and prints. The freebies work on a first come first served basis. Look forward to meeting some of you lovely peeps on Saturday.

Tuesday 26 October 2010


Well last week was a personal take on the categorization of indie design and craft– as it was personal and as I’m a graphic designer it was looked at from that prospective. I think it’s fair to say that in my world things are a little more black and white – if you’re a graphic design using your skill set to make graphic design pieces independently it’s pretty clear cut that you’re an indie designer. Any way I digress, today I’m still looking at the topic of categorization and not because I’m obsessed with pigeon holing, it’s just that I feel I have been labeled already under craft and that this label is misleading and dishonest for the work I produce. In some disciplines and for some creative’s the labels of indie design and craft could both easy apply and still not tell the whole story. These subjects sit between the black and white, in the grey.
Fashion is a huge grey area and luckily Fridays post will be covering this in a lot more depth, so today I’m going to focus on the most saturated market in the ‘handmade’ arena – Jewelry. Firstly I would like to talk about the work of Megan Auman creator of the Cozy/Cuff shown about. The Cozy/Cuff is a coffee cup sleeve that doubles as a bracelet and vice versa, it has green cred as it saves you from using a cardboard sleeve on your take-away hot drinks and it’s (pardon the pun) handy because it’s easy to keep on your person, as well as being pretty to look at. Auman is what I would class as an indie designer – this is an ideas lead piece, it is laser cut by machine and although she may well do some hand finishing, it isn’t what you could traditionally call handmade and nor does it matter because that’s not the point of a design like this. It’s attractive, smart, functional and yet just like the next piece I’m going to look at still a piece of jewelry.

Clare Stoker is a maker at the other end of the jewelry spectrum – see above. It’s not that she hasn’t put thought into her work but she is clearly more engaged with the materiality and textures of her pieces than the pursuit of communicating a ‘new’ or ‘original’ idea. I can clearly see that her work is informed by a long history of arts and crafts and although modern it has a feel of celtic or medieval jewelry. Her work revels in showing the un-uniform marks made by the maker’s hand. The craft of making the item is integral to the finished look and feel of the piece. Her jewelry is beautiful because of her skills as a crafter.

Both Auman and Stoker could be called jewelers but the methods by which they make their work could put them into different categories when it comes to talking about indie design and craft. To make maters even more confusing there are also designer/makers who cross over into both camps, Andrew Lamb definitely fits this bill – work shown above. He designs and makes world-renowned jewelry inspired by his interest in Illusion and visual effects. He was so keen to trick the eye that he invented a new metal forging technique, which bonds together gold and silver wire meaning that his jewelry changes colour depending on the angle it is viewed from. He’s a man on a quest to create something new but he’s also a skilled maker, seeing his vision through from concept to carefully crafted finished piece.

Maybe makers like Lamb need a whole new category or maybe-hopefully their vision and work stands on it’s own. I think that’s an idea all us creative’s might aspire to, just being excepted and known for our work, but I fear human nature and Google tagging doesn’t quite work that way - not yet at least.

Thursday 21 October 2010

nostalgic fashion - mad men

A lot has been said about the fashions and style of Mad Men. Fashion-wise it is undoubtedly the most influential show around. At all of the major fashion weeks the 50's and 60's were heavily revived. Full skirts, penny loafers, head scarfs and pedal pushers walked down the runway, unapologetic of their nostalgic vibe.
In one way or another almost all design has some relation to the past. It's impossible not to. The influence of Mad Men on fashion, and the influence of fashion on Mad Men is kind of like that old chicken/egg conundrum (though obviously it was the egg, right?) so I've decided to not even try and approach that one. Instead I wanted to look at the styling in Mad Men and how that relates to a modern designer.
The attention to detail in Mad Men is outstanding, the characters aren't just dressed 'all 60's' instead they are entirely appropriate to the time, their means, personality and job. Sure as time went on it would be fun to dress Joan in the latest 60's fashions but it wouldn't be faithful to her. Joan is resolutely a 50's pin-up, she knows her style but is not interested in modern trends unlike Trudy Campbell (Joan and Trudy shown above). Every character has their own style (yes, even Peggy). Silver Fox Roger Sterling obviously knows how well his grey suits set off his hair and Pete Campbell seems assured that his (kind of hideous) blue suits set him apart in the office.
As a visual, as a brand and as characters Mad Men is nothing but utterly convincing because it conforms completely to the zeitgeist of that place and time.

However, if I was to take Joan, Betty and Trudy's wardrobes and recreate them and declare them a collection, because everyone loves Mad Men and the 60s etc, it would look weird and it would look wrong. I can say this with some experience after meeting someone who picked apart vintage dresses, made patterns and then remade them using other vintage fabrics, hung them, unpressed, in a musty store amongst real vintage pieces and charged $300 for them, it was so strange. Today in 2010 the zeitgeist is very different and whilst many of us are still influenced and totally in love with times past it's important to remember we are not in those times ourselves.
It is vital as a designer to understand your own zeitgeist and be able to reinterpret influences effectively. The past is constantly a major inspiration for modern fashion design (all types of design) but it is that ability to mould the past to fit the present that determines who is the designer and who is the person re-making old dresses.

So whether you're designing it or wearing it. Make your mark with your own style. You'd never catch Don Draper using an old idea now would you?

Fashion Friday by Evie Kemp

Photos from Mad Men (Top) and Prada's F/W 2010 campaign.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

love letter...

Love is a pretty strong word and not one I would often use for an object but I really do love the Olivetti Valentine typewriter. As of yet it is an unrequited love, I just admire it from a far and spend my spare time day-dreaming that some long lost relative will bequest me one in a will just because they know what an amazing home I would give it.

Like Mad Men the Valentine says something about the social shift that happened in the sixties, designed by Sottsass (with Perry A. King) at the end of this decade – the idea was to create an "anti-machine machine," for use anyplace but an office. As well as being light weight and very portable because of it’s plastic casing, it is vibrant and confident looking. The idea and the design effortlessly reflect the looser, fun loving and more casual approach to life and work that were forming at the time. For me this is always when design is at it’s best when it’s not only functional and beautiful but also completely embracing and help form the age it was created in.

I also have a second reason for loving the Valentine and that’s because my graphic design hero Alan Fletcher did the classic marketing campaign which comprised of the fabulous logo and poster (shown above) and also having hundreds of silk scarves printed with the brand and dropped from a plane alone the Riviera – promotion doesn’t get more glamorous than that.

Tuesday 19 October 2010


Before I start writing about the whole gambit of Indie design I thought I should begin with what I know and that’s myself, so here’s a very personal take on what design is to me and what I think makes indie design different from craft.

I’m just crazy about Man Men from the minute I saw the first episode a couple of years ago I know I had just watched something very special. I love the same things as everyone else; the exquisite styling, the sharp and understated scripts, the well-placed looks, as well as the incredible way they document the social shifts that took place in the sixties. All of the above is hugely impressive but what I love most is the why they show creative thinking. I don’t know of any other example that better demonstrates commercial idea generation to a mainstream audience.

In the very first episode they showed Donald Draper the advertising mastermind sitting in a cafĂ© scribbling on a napkin after having a conversation that triggered his imagination – I can’t tell you how many napkins, receipts and bus tickets are shoved into my sketch book because ideas never happen when I’m sat at my desk thinking about them. I wouldn’t dare say I’m like the great Don but I do see myself in the character of Peggy Olson not the way she looks or acts but she like me is an extroverted thinker, this means she thinks as she talks and I love watching her ideas grow as she speaks to her colleagues. I don’t find it easy explaining my creative skills, I don’t really have many but I am good and fast at coming up with ideas and in Mad Men while other do the drawings, take the photos and type the letters the people that come up with the concepts are the heroes’. This is a rare glimpse of a different way of being a creative.

So why am I talking so much about Mad Men and ideas and all that stuff. Well I have a theory that the big difference between a designer (or indie designer) and a crafter is whether the work is lead by ideas or technique. My work is lead by ideas, there for I am a designer. I care about it’s production but I don’t have to make it myself to feel like it’s mine. Where as the careful making of a piece by hand is of the most significance to a crafter. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that creative thinking isn’t part of craft or that productions isn’t important to design, it’s a question of where the emphasis lays that’s key. Like most things it’s not clear-cut, black and white (I will explore this in more depth next week – work load permitting:). I do however believe this is an option for how we can define ourselves more clearly and it does once again highlight the issue faced by indie designers like myself working under the umbrella of ‘handmade’ ‘craft’. I wonder how many other indie designers get asked on a daily basis to talk about how they make their work, what there favorite materials are, the time each piece takes to create – all great questions for crafters. Because we - the indie designers - are currently hiding under someone else’s identity we’re talking in a language that isn't ours and it means that we’re not forming our own voice. We need to find the right questions to get the true answers.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Here comes the sun…

Here in New Zealand (or Auckland at least) for the past week or so it has finally felt like spring is here and summer is fast approaching. Down under it's widely believed that we Antipodeans are seasons behind in fashion, we wear our northern friends' summer cast-offs and are happy with that. I for one am no longer that happy playing little sister to the rest of the world and settling for trend hand-me-downs. I've been thinking about this and quite frankly, there's no reason to, given that Spring collections are shown at New York, Paris, London and Milan fashion weeks in September. This gives us (weather dependent) a good couple of months to pick up some trends and run with them.

I'm looking at the recent collections shown in fashion week and thinking about how I can make them my own this summer. I can't afford to buy much (if any) designer, but the inspiration is endless and I have a clear vibe and palette in my mind to keep my eyes peeled for pieces that will be on trend. With S/S 11 still firmly tipping its hat (Fedora whatever) to the 60's, 70's and 80's it's well worth taking some time to scour the op shops, markets and vintage shops for the good stuff (start now, when everyone else is still looking for capes and shearling jackets).

Personally I'll be taking my cues from designers like Lauren Moffatt with her retro holiday feel, light palette, nipped in waists, obligatory summer stripes and well-fitting shorts. These outfits from her spring lookbook (the collection is entitled 'The Honeymooner and What She Packed', how lovely is that?) are what really got me thinking about summer.

Regardless of trends everyone has their own style and with skin-bearing summer it's always important to do your own thing and wear what you feel comfortable and good in. My summer must, must, must have is a pair of smart, lightweight shorts and some breton stripes (t-shirts, cardigan, anything). What will you be wearing this summer? (or next summer for those on the other side of the earth!)

Thursday 7 October 2010

introducing fashion friday

I'm very pleased to bring you Evie Kemps first ‘Fashion Friday’. I wanted to get Evie onboard for a few reasons; firstly once I decided to change the content of this blog to focus on indie design I know it would be important to introduce fashion into the debate. I see fashion as the best example of art, design and craft all meeting to form an industry. I also believe fashion to be the most universally understood and spoken about creative art. Like it or not fashion touches your life and shows a form of creative self-expression. Sadly despite understanding the importantance of fashion I really don’t have much know-how, enter Evie. Over the past few months I’ve been I silent visitor to Miss Kemps own blog finding it a useful place to pick up snip bits of style info. It’s hard to find fashion writing that’s inclusive rather that elitist – Even though Evie often looks at high-end designers she does this with a charming and warm girl next-door perspective. I’m frilled to bring this perspective to my blog, so without further ado I’ll let Evie introduce herself.

Hello! I'm Evie, and I'm going to be writing on fashion here every Friday. Writing this weekly post is something I'm really excited about. I’m looking forward to seeing this blog move forward. I jumped at the opportunity to put something together but admittedly am sitting here biting my lip and worrying about what to write.

So, I'll start with the basics, I am not a fashion designer in any shape or form. I'm a fashion lover, spectator and a chronic shopper. I'm 23 and live in a little cottage in Auckland, NZ with my boyfriend Sam and our two dogs Bonnie & Jasper. I'm loath to take photos of myself so a myspacey mugshot is the best I can do. I follow more blogs than I can handle, and buy more shoes than I can wear (I have blisters today, naturally). I suppose first and foremost I'd consider myself an illustrator, but really I like to try my hand at everything. Fashion is absolutely my most favourite thing, I love to look at it, read about it, buy it and talk about it. I recently left my job to pursue more fun and exciting things and this blog is one of them.

Friday's emphasis will be on the independent designer and fashion scene in all its forms. I'll be mixing it up with some interviews, tips, trends, how-to's and of course lots of gorgeous clothes (not forgetting accessories). I'll state here and now, these Fridays are not about sewing but fashion and it's design. I'll expand on this more next week but hopefully that's a good starting point of what to expect!

I'm quite opinionated, but for the most part very nice. I love to talk and am really hoping I can make these Friday's into a fashion conversation. So, if you have ideas, thoughts, criticisms or comments please do comment below or email me at or tweet me @eviekemp.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

let’s call a spade a spade

I’m two days late in publishing this article for once not because I couldn’t make the time it’s just that I keep writing and rewriting this piece trying to perfectly articulate what I’m trying to say. I’ve decided that rather than writing everything I’m going to try and say it as simply as possible and then go into finer detail over the coming weeks hopefully with some feed back from anyone good enough to read this.
below, Robert Brownjohn's - Peace Poster

Well I’m coming out! I’m not a crafter, I’m a designer - this is the word I would use first and foremost to discribe myself. It’s not just a job it’s who I am. When I look around this world I see the marks of designers everywhere; in the cloths we wear, in buildings, in cars, even the way the streets are laid out. Being a designer is not a very tangible thing – us designers often spend a lot of time thinking, planning and laying the groundwork for others to go and do. We rarely physically produce anything ourselves – for example an architect doesn’t build the skyscraper.

This is why I’ve be feeling some what uncomfortable ever since I opened my online shop selling in a handmade market place because I really don’t hand make. If I had to pigeon hole myself I would say I’m an indie designer – this term simply means that I’m a designer who works independently from any clients or companies. I would also say that a good percentage of the sellers on etsy are in fact indie designers as well. I have nothing against craft and I can also see that there are grey areas between the two, just like there are grey areas between craft and art or art and design. What I do take objection to is how weak us indie designers seem to be at flying our own flag and that’s what I’m aiming to address from now on. I want to make this a space to showcase, debate and just be proud of the best in indie design. In the coming weeks I will look at the grey areas, the ethics and the skills displayed by indie designers.

Mondays will be an article day looking at and debating all things Indie design. Wednesdays will be the show case day featuring and sometimes interviewing designers. Finally I'm very excited to be introducing Evie Kemp who’s going to be writing a fashion Friday slot - sorry I've moved it a day Evie:)

This is a huge undertaking for me as I barely have any spare time as it is, not to mention that I'm hopelessly dyslexic but I deeply believe it’s important to make a space purely dedicated to and for indie design.