Adrian Hailwood: New Zealand’s fashion knight


Designer Adrian Hailwood in his Karangahape Road boutique. Image by Carolyn Ebrey.

There is something magical about the transformative power of fashion and it’s an agent that designer Adrian Hailwood innately understands. The craftsmanship and creativity of clothing caught the softly spoken designer’s attention at a young age and his keen eye for drawing and design led him first towards graphic design and then later fashion. Over the past 16 years the Auckland-based designer has evolved his eponymous brand (with its recognisable knight logo) from printed t-shirts to seasonal collections of womenswear that includes denim, knits, dresses and stunning eveningwear.

On the day we meet at his Karangahape Road boutique, the designer is welcoming and chatty, casually but smartly dressed in blue skinny jeans and a bomber jacket. He possesses a laid back charm and warmth that means it’s not long before we’re chatting about fashion as if we’ve known each other for years. It’s easy to see how his amiable nature and attentiveness (along with his winsome designs) has seen him build a loyal following of customers, some of whom have been with Hailwood since he first went into womenswear. It’s well-known that the designer spends a good deal of his time on the shop floor in the boutique he moved into 11 years ago and it’s that personal service that makes a difference when there are so many choices on offer for shoppers.

“Nearly seventeen years on it’s still a small business, I’m not big by any means and it can still be a struggle, but I love it,” says Adrian Hailwood. “There are things I could have done or don’t do but it’s because it’s manageable.” While the retail side of his business comprises of his flagship Karangahape Road boutique with the designer currently scouting for another Auckland boutique location, the wholesale side sees the Hailwood label stocked in 40 boutiques in New Zealand, as well as four in Australia and the USA.

Hailwood’s brand of alluring cool, which comes through in his playful prints and sensual evening wear, is definitely in demand but he knows that things are changing quickly and designers have to work hard and adapt to keep up. “Fashion is in a strange time. There’s a massive shift going on and we’re unsure where it’s going to settle,” he adds. “There are no rules anymore, there are no boundaries, and it’s all up in the air. If you’re still wholesaling they want lots of small drops throughout the year now, they don’t want just summer and winter. They want a constant turnover which as a designer is really hard.”

That persistent pressure to keep delivering something new has seen many designer brands expand their product ranges and/or offer bespoke services which is something Hailwood has been finding success with. He famously created a custom-made gown for singer/songwriter Lorde who wore the sequined floral look on the cover of Billboard magazine in September 2013. “I’m getting lots more made-to-measure gowns now and have more clients which is great as ready to wear is getting so competitive,” says Hailwood.

Leather handbag by Hailwood from his new handbag collection. Image by Belinda Merrie with styling by Karlya Smith.

The designer has also recently delved into handbags with the first range of stunning leather bags released late last year. “They’re really pretty and they are so much easier to make,” he enthuses. “I’ve done my research as I didn’t want to do anything that was similar to Deadly Ponies or Saben but there’s a massive gap in the market for local bags. I’ve done structured bags and the quality of them is amazing. I use the same factory that does Kate Spade and Coach so everything is just superb. The price point is really good, all my bags are $450 and under and they’re handmade in Italian leather.”

As the market for clothing is so crowded the designer is excited about venturing into bags as it’s a lot bigger market and accessories are more straightforward to sell. Given there was a waiting list for Hailwood’s bags before they were even released it wouldn’t be surprising if this arm of the designer’s brand blossoms into a key part of his business in the not too distant future. His second collection of bags arrives in store and online in early August.

Collaborations have also featured many times in Hailwood’s career and late last year one of his creative collaborations resulted in a spectacular show that caught fashion fans’ attention for all the right reasons. Earlier in 2016, he worked with The Graduate Choir designing glamorous new uniforms for their performances which sparked the idea for the designer to ask them to perform for his New Zealand Fashion Week show.

As you may recall Hailwood’s show was undoubtedly the show of the week. The combination of his magnificent collection of 1950s-inspired looks from his winter 2017 collection, perfect styling and casting not to mention the spine-tingling renditions of beautiful classic songs by the choir made for a spectacular show that was spell-binding and a truly emotional experience for the full house gathered at the Viaduct Events Centre.

Hailwood’s Winter 2017 collection on the runway at NZFW 2016. Image by James Yang Photography.

The designer had dedicated the show to his mother who used to come to his shows every year but had passed away. While it was always going to be a personal show for him he didn’t anticipate how perfectly it would all come together or how much it would affect people. “I don’t know how but it seemed effortless,” he muses. “Things change so fast backstage, we ended up liking the clips in the hair so we decided to just leave them in. There are lots of things that changed at the last minute and I didn’t realise that the music wasn’t just going to continuously go and that the choir would shuffle round but it worked and it was beautiful. The models kept walking, there was no waiting for them and it was great. You could hear the rain on the roof. It was one of those shows that captivated everyone that was there. That’s never happened before. I’ve had good shows before but never one like that. It felt like a pivotal show.”

It was Hailwood’s fifteenth year showing at New Zealand Fashion Week as he’s shown every year except for the very first one. The success of his own show reminded the designer of one of his first fashion week experiences that’s still stuck in his mind well over a decade later. “Nom*d’s show was one of the first fashion week shows I went to and it was at York Street Studios, and she had rock salt that she used like snow,” he laughs. “Not many people know about this but she used vintage fur coats and they turned them inside out and put the Nom*d prints on them. It was incredible and the best show ever.”

Hailwood brought some more of his magic to the runway at iD Dunedin Fashion Week in March when he showcased his glorious winter 2017 collection. He first showed at the Dunedin event back in 2008 where he was also the national guest designer and judge. This year he also did an event sponsored by Bee yü with dear friend Tanya Carlson, the two share a close friendship that goes back many years and have similar views on womenswear with both designers preferring a feminine, tailored approach.

“I think you need structure in clothing, it’s an old fashioned way of doing it but it works,” says Hailwood. “Normally I’m quite 70s and 80s but the winter collection is quite 50s and I love doing all that tailored stuff. The fitted clothing is harder to sell but it just looks so much better on.” He cites the New Look era of the late 1940s and early 1950s as one of his favourite periods with the designer having a long-held love of old films. “I just watched All About Eve,” he enthuses.” It’s so great, I’d forgotten how good it was. Bette Davis is amazing and it was one of Marilyn Monroe’s first films. Edith Head did the costume design and it was great.”

Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers in Hailwood designs. Image by Ross Brown.

The designer got to indulge his love for elegant fashion again in late 2016, when his collaboration with the Royal New Zealand Ballet saw his pieces worn by the dancers in the photoshoot to promote their 2017 season. His breath-taking outfits were a perfect match with the dramatic poses of the dancers creating stunning images that were shot by photographer Ross Brown. Hailwood was thrilled with the results and working with the ballet is something he’s keen to do more of in future.

Most recently he made another foray into costume design producing beautiful 18th century-inspired outfits for Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Amadeus which was on at the ASB Waterfront Theatre last month. Unsurprisingly Hailwood was in his element crafting detailed outfits in sumptuous fabrics for the cast of the production directed by Oliver Driver. The designer’s delightful creations perfectly captured the theatricality and grandeur of the fictionalised account of Mozart’s career in Vienna. Hailwood has also signed on to design costumes for the upcoming 80s musical Pleasuredome starring Lucy Lawless and directed by Michael Hurst, which will hit the stage in Auckland in all its sexy glory near the end of the year.

It’s safe to say the rest of 2017 will certainly be busy for the designer, with Hailwood currently working on next year’s winter collection and developing ideas for more collaborations and partnerships. He’s grateful that the ongoing support of his sponsors enables him to continue creating sublime collections and fabulous shows. Something tells me he already has a brilliant idea in mind for this year’s NZFW show but we’ll have to hold out until late August to find out what that is. Hailwood is truly a designer who has mastered his craft and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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