Lucy Kemp's Pardon My French

Just two collections in, this fresh and decidedly un-fussy label is picked for a very bright future…


Lucy Kemp


You could say we have then-lecturer Ian Archer to thank for clever, highly-welcomed newcomer Pardon My French.

When designer Lucy Kemp was in the 6th form, Archer visited her Napier High School to talk about fashion studies at Wanganui UCOL.  7th form was looking a bit gloomy, as Lucy's favourite subjects photography and clothing weren't available, so on the strength of Archer's presentation she decided to do a certificate in fashion at Napier Tech, going on to do a Bachelor of Fashion at Wanganui.  While studying Lucy created and sold her first label, Magpie, through Kristine Crabb's 'Rip, Shit and Bust' in Karangahape Road.

Moving to Auckland, she gleaned lots of experience, working as patternmaker for Adrian Hailwood for two years, and then as Sample Room Manager for Karen Walker for 2 1/2 years.  "I was at the point where I felt like it was time to move on and do something else.  Other jobs didn't excite me and I'd always wanted to do my own thing – it was 'now or never,' says Lucy.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot Tenenbaum


The only way Lucy could really focus on setting up her own business was to move home back to Napier ("but I am still here a year later," she laughs.  I have a very supportive Mum and Dad – I think they are my biggest fans").  Her first muse was Margot (played by Gwynneth Paltrow) from the film The Royal Tenenbaums, and Pardon My French was born:  "not fussy, east to wear, comfortable and practical yet still looking fashionable."


The first collection, 'Young American', drew immediate positive feedback.  That's been one of Lucy's high points, as well as meeting new people and "feeling like the risk I tool leaving my job, packing up my flat and moving back to Napier was all worth it.”   


Pardon My French Winter 2012


"I tried to make myself as prepared as possible and learned as much as I could from working in the industry,” she says, “but even so, hurdles have come up that I couldn't have thought of – lots of little things."  Lucy says starting her own label was a gamble and she didn't have much of a plan, except that  she thought she'd take it really slowly.  “I knew it would be difficult finding stockists but I don't think I realised exactly how hard it would be,  and that it's an indication of the times,” she says.  That being said, Pardon My French is stocked in five stores nationwide with The Service Depot the latest to the fold, joining existing Wellington stockist Emma.  Lucy also has plans for her own online store this year:  “it’s definitely on my mind and something I want to get sorted out as soon as I can afford to.  Eventually I would really like to do my own retail store, but I’m very aware retail’s not at its greatest at the moment.”


The widespread positive reviews that Pardon My French has had, has kept the designer from any thoughts of dropping her label back to a sideline.  Her second collection "Somewhere in Porto Ercole" will start to be delivered into stores in early September.  This Wednesday evening (18 July) will see the label in its first show, the second Fashion Rocks charity event at Mt Eden salon Live and Let Dye.  “(Owner) Sarah heard of me through a friend and invited me to do the show and I thought, why not?  It would be a bit of fun and a nice way to be able to show the clothes to some new people.  There will be ten outfits from the Winter collection that is instore at the moment – I think it will suit the style of Sarah’s salon.”


Pardon My French SS 12/13


Lucy says she would really love to do a Fashion Week show, but doesn’t feel she is ready this year.  Her drawings are done and fabrics chosen for Winter 2013, with her main focus being to continue to create a strong brand identity.  To that end we’ll see more Pardon My French black on white/black on cream (“strong in subtle ways” says Lucy) and the brand’s signature polo shirt.


Look out in the future for Pardon My French accessories and bags, something time and budget haven’t allowed Lucy to develop – yet.  “My next goal will be to move out of home again, and get back to Auckland with a workroom and hopefully an assistant!” she says.  Meantime this clever, pragmatic young woman will continue to expand her label’s wholesale business, with more audacious goals being opening in Melbourne and one day, Japan – “my biggest dream” she says.


– Julie Roulston





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