Finale at Zambesi’s 40th anniversary retrospective show at NZFW 2019. Image by Annupam Singh.
Friday saw the official end of NZ Fashion Week and the beginning of Fashion Weekend with the Zambesi retrospective show on Friday evening. Celebrating 40 years of New Zealand fashion, Liz Findlay opened their extensive archives to share with the sold out crowd.
The show started with a solo performance by Anita Moa of Po Karekare Ana which set the emotional tone for the evening. I think everyone was a little choked up even before the clothes started coming down the runway. With 120 looks coming down the runway, it was not a usual runway show but rather a long look back at one of our most iconic labels.
The first part of the soundtrack was the haunting Song of the Siren from This Mortal Coil… and right from the beginning it was apparent that the runway was going to be full of friends of Zambesi – we had heard this through the grapevine that it was going to be many of the people that Zambesi had worked with over the years – but we hadn’t realised how many it would end up being. Zambesi has always worked with people that end up becoming part of the extended #ZamFam – they often use the same models time and again. If I made a list of the many familiar faces it would pretty much take up the entire post. Suffice it to say their were a huge cast of models that they have worked with over the years (Penny Pickard and Dani Hayes), musicians (Moana Maniapoto and Stan Walker), past staff members (Terzann Elliot, Jo Mickleborough) as well as many fashion personalities (Kylie Cooke, Tatum Savage). Even family members walked with Liz and Neville’s grandson Bruno putting in an appearance.
But for me it was all about the clothes. Zambesi was, for me anyway, the start of my very own long love affair with fashion. And I think for many, many others over the years. I had always had my own approach to clothing growing up in a small town where my mother made my clothes, until I took over and made them also. Walking into Zambesi oh so many years ago and looking through the racks for the first time realising that the uber cool, all black, textured and layered look was all the things I had been looking for, was a watershed moment for me and I never looked back.
I’ve always identified with the strong, almost armour-like quality of Liz’s designs that somehow are uniquely feminine. I have always adored the fabrics she uses as the foundation to any of the garments she makes. And that’s what I saw down the runway. A great parade of silks, wools, boucle, voiles, leather, denims and faux furs. And they were covered in fringing, sequins, beads, and tassels. All the Zambesi hallmarks. I think the thing that was most surprising for most people was the breadth of colour that walked the runway. From soft cream at the beginning to silver, reds and hot pinks in the middle, on to violet and finally brown and gold at the very end. All with a great dollop of black thrown in their to tie everything together.
The pieces I particularly loved seeing (aside from pieces I still own) were the iconic Hoop Skirt which was originally debuted in 1986 (and was reissued in 1999 and then again in 2006). This piece was in their London Fashion Week Show in 1999. The beautiful bright Marigold wool jacket from 2018. The gorgeous pink silk tulle skirt aptly named Tinkerbelle from 2004. And anything that reminded me of the most memorable of Zambesi’s NZFW shows, the show in the St James theatre (with Pluto playing live on stage).
The thing that struck me the most (aside from what a huge body of work this was) is that any of it, absolutely any of it could be taken off the runway right now and worn today. The whole thing felt like a great big collection (which fundamentally it was – just one spanning 40 years). I felt privileged to have seen it all, worn some of it over the years and to have known how much it has meant to fashion in New Zealand as a whole. We have been so incredibly lucky to have it as part of our fashion lives.
Images by Annupam Singh.