Designer Wynn Crawshaw from Wynn Hamlyn. Image supplied.
Fashion is one of those disciplines that gets into your head, under your skin and keeps you coming back for more. It’s also a relentless and constant machine, but designer Wynn Crawshaw from womenswear label Wynn Hamlyn, found the lure of fashion irresistible and the choice to drop engineering for the runway is turning out very well indeed for the talented man from Te Puke. His second solo show held at New Zealand Fashion Week 2017 back in August saw a full house enraptured by his clever designs and his latest collections have been represented in showrooms in Paris with big plans in the pipeline for his rapidly growing brand.
It’s a sunny Spring day when I head to Public Library’s airy showroom in Grey Lynn to chat to Wynn Crawshaw, who is dressed in his casual uniform of jeans and a crew neck t-shirt. It’s the first time I’ve properly met the designer although I’ve been following his impressive career trajectory with curiosity since first hearing about his label, which he founded in 2014. It’s immediately apparent that Wynn has a warm, laidback presence and a calmness that you could attribute to his upbringing in rural New Zealand.
Growing up, Wynn’s parents were horticulturalists and upon leaving school Wynn studied land surveying with the intention of also making a living outdoors. But what started as an interest in fashion led to stints at fashion school in Dunedin and at Auckland’s AUT, with the designer eventually choosing to abandon fashion and head to Australia to be a land surveyor but the pull of fashion saw him return home with one thing on his mind. “People sometimes describe it, fashion stuff or this industry, as kind of like catching a bit of a bug” says Crawshaw. “And I think that I just caught the bug and got a little bit obsessed with it. Fashion has an element of FOMO to it as well. When I was surveying in Australia I had a huge amount of FOMO about fashion and I kept looking at everything and watching what everyone was doing and felt like I was missing out so I just came back and got back into it.”
That decision to return to fashion turned out to be a very wise move with the designer creating his first five piece capsule collection for Winter 2015 and Wynn Hamlyn, the brand, was born. Fast forward to New Zealand Fashion Week 2017 and the designer claimed a scheduled space on the main runway to show his Winter 2018 collection to a full house of media, buyers and industry spectators. The show was in collaboration with The Flooring Foundation and although Crawshaw was initially sceptical of being able to fill the 800 seat space, he ended up with more people wanting to attend then there was room for.
As part of his working relationship with The Flooring Foundation a huge cream carpet was created of Crawshaw’s signature botanical print from his Winter 2018 collection using the company’s innovative technology. The print was designed in collaboration with Melbourne-based illustrator Kelly Thompson who Crawshaw had recently met and her winsome style was a great match for the botanical feel of the range. “She was great to work with, I’m keen to work with her again for sure,” adds Crawshaw. “I think for her it was probably on the simpler side of things that she does. She can draw things that are super life-like and that kind of thing. So for her, we had to ask her to dumb it down and try and do something a little more contrasting with just using a few colours. It was an interesting process, because it was going to be used for a textile as well in the collection and in terms of designing prints for textiles you don’t always want the most detailed possible. You’re kind of looking for what’s aesthetically nice from far away, like contrast and things like that rather than minute details.”
Looks from the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week 2017. Images by Katherine Tuenter from The Undefined Photography.
The collection itself riffed on the idea of a kind of fashion dystopia with the designer thinking about how fashion delivers seasons at such crazy times as a starting point and how the system is getting faster and faster. “I think it was quite relatable to everyone in the industry especially because everyone works to these weird timeframes but nobody really knows why,” he says. “I mean obviously you have to sell clothes and then make them so you need time in between. Just is what it is, but it keeps going faster. It might go so fast that it goes full circle and we just end up delivering the coats in like December/January and August the year before and then it’s back to normal.”
When it comes to the business of selling clothes it is a family affair with Wynn Crawshaw’s mother, Jill Hamlyn, helping manage the books and oversee the business with her son. The brand hired a production manager this year to help keep up with their increasing production and the sales and PR is managed through Public Library’s showroom in New Zealand and OMG Five in Australia. That leaves Crawshaw to focus more on sampling his collections and perfecting his designs as well as developing his plans for the brand.
“Now’s a time of change in a sense that we’ve been growing steadily but we need to start thinking about an overall vision and an idea about how we’re going to expand, not just this much but worldwide and a plan to set that in motion,” adds Crawshaw. Part of those plans means that the brand now shows in Paris each season through OMG Five which means Crawshaw has to think about adapting for the different international seasons while still making collections applicable to the seasons down here. “But you can’t just ditch everything that you’re doing in New Zealand and Australia to try to change to become international so you have to try and make your range, change it and make it better but also keep it the same,” he laughs.
Wynn Hamlyn has seen a lot of recent growth in Australia, aided by a strong presence at New Zealand Fashion Week which has garnered the designer favourable reviews and media coverage that is helping to grow his brand. Stepping up to the main runway this year was a bold move but perfectly timed and due to the increasing resources of his brand, a less stressful experience than previous years when he had limited resources and time to spend on the show side of things. “The first year I showed, I had to take the day off work to go to the show so there was a lot of stress in terms of trying to make a range with no time and now I’m full-time and there’s staff and stuff so it’s a lot more feasible,” he adds. ”Although it was definitely different trying to make a range that big, because that was my first time doing 40 looks.”
Helping the designer perfect those 40 looks for the runway was talented stylist and fashion editor, Danielle Clausen, whose sharp eye for style meant each outfit captured the eye as well as the imagination. Crawshaw first became friends with Clausen years ago before either was in fashion as a profession and their friendship makes their working relationship one of trust and easy communication with each a fan of the other’s work.
“She’s so confident in her own ability she doesn’t need to overdo anything,” says Crawshaw. “She sort of just allows the collection to be as it is and then just finalises the touches at the last instance. Not to say that there’s not a huge amount of planning or things like that but she just does an amazing job.”
Crawshaw also collaborated with Australian millinery company Helen Kaminsky who were showing at New Zealand Fashion Week’s trade space during the event. The brands were brought together by NZFW’s team and meant that Crawshaw got to design wide-brimmed visors that were custom-made by the team at Helen Kaminsky and perfectly suited his Winter 2018 collection.
Looks from Wynn Hamlyn’s 2017/2018 collection. Images by Sarah Adamson.
It was certainly a collection that got noticed for all the right reasons and although some brands are choosing not to show at fashion weeks anymore as they focus more on online marketing, Crawshaw sees NZFW as a relevant opportunity to grow his brand and tell its story in a meaningful way. “I think that for myself as a designer I’m still very much designing in a sense of high importance based on the idea behind the collection and it’s nice to have a chance to explain that idea in the context of a show,” he says. “Whereas other designers may be more orientated around a lifestyle or an aesthetic that’s repeating and they can tell that story more easily through very consistent social media or campaigns and stuff like that. So I think it’s just up to the brand and if the brand has a certain story to tell through different shows then it’s great. I personally think that for a new label it’s nice to have the show to solidify your place and to say that we’re still here and just gain some more exposure. I think the reason that some brands wouldn’t is obviously there’s a huge cost involved and not just financially but with all the time. We were lucky enough this year to work with all those collaborators to make the load lighter on everyone.”
Aside from during fashion weeks, brands are expected to deliver a high level of online content and social media these days with new brands helping make a name for themselves online while established brands solidify their place as industry players. When you’re an emerging brand with a rapidly growing following the demands of social media can be a strain on your time and resources but is vitally important in this increasingly digital world. It’s not something that comes easily to Wynn Crawshaw but he’s aware of how crucial a strong digital presence is to keep growing his brand.
“I think it’s hugely important, he says. “I’m not a very good social media person in general, because I’m not someone that finds it natural to be doing the stories and things all the time. But I’ve stopped doing it all myself which has helped a bit. In terms of the importance and outreach, it’s great for people knowing what you’re up to and buying into the brand because they obviously want to see what’s happening all the time. It’s been really interesting seeing what sort of momentum the brand’s gained and how much of that is through social media which I think is quite a lot.”
It helps that Wynn Hamlyn’s social media is full of striking images that beautifully convey his contemporary aesthetic. Unsurprisingly for someone whose studies incorporated a technical focus his designs lean towards clever construction and unexpected details while maintaining an elegant femininity. Those ideas come easily to the designer even if the process of bringing them into reality isn’t always so smooth. “When I’m creating I’m thinking of a silhouette that I’m interested in and then my brain just kind of wanders into different garment structure, composition and things like that,” muses Crawshaw. “I think I’m quite logically construction minded so I tend to create things that aren’t maybe expected and that’s led to some great things. Although some things just end up disasters and those things you don’t see. It’s just basically trial and error and things either work out or they don’t but I don’t sort of set out to make things complicated or technical from the outset. It still has to be wearable.”
The designer does all his sampling locally so he has full control of the process and can hone the specifics of his designs while utilising the knowledge of local manufacturers who have been in the industry a long time. Crawshaw relies on their expertise to help him pull off more complicated styles and he loves working with people that are able to help him fulfil his vision for each garment. “I just talk about what I want to do and they are thankfully open enough to not just say no or yes but to say ‘no, but we could try this or this’ which is always what you’re looking for in terms of an optimist. You want yes people not no people,” he adds. “It never doesn’t work, it just might work but it’s going to be a three thousand dollar garment or something like that. Or it might work then who would actually wear it, you know? When you’ve managed to make something good that’s also simple, that’s really when it’s a win.”
Those winning designs continue to gain Wynn Hamlyn more customers each season and while he is developing a vision for the international version of his brand, Crawshaw is realistic about not getting too big, too fast. He wants his business to be sustainable and the growth to be manageable as he grows the brand’s reputation as well. Wynn Hamlyn has already come a long way from the fledging label it was three years ago and the designer is grateful for the huge amount of support he has had and the people that took a risk on what was then an unknown brand.
“It’s been great because I’ve had so much support even when it might have been a tricky question as to whether they would have been able to sell the clothes or not, when it wasn’t a brand that anyone had heard of,” he says. “So it’s nice to talk about that in the past tense but be grateful for the people that did make it happen.”