Back In Black
The creative force behind one of New Zealand’s edgiest labels, NOM*d, and the inimitable boutique Plume, Margi Robertson has simultaneously put New Zealand fashion on the world stage while bringing some of the planet’s top brands into the country. Cityscape caught up with the iconic Dunedin fashion powerhouse ahead of Plume’s triumphant return to the CBD this month.
How does it feel moving Plume back to High Street?
It feels fantastic, because we are a city store and we’ve missed not being part of that busy feeling. It’s great to be back opposite our old site and I just think it’s really exciting how Christchurch is developing – the time is right to move back into the CBD.
What can you tell us about your new store?
We’re actually going really minimal. I want it to be very clean and very easy to see the shop we have, we stock various brands and we like to have each brand identified easily.
How did Plume come to be, and how do you select which brands you’ll stock?
Our history really started in 1975 when we decided to open a store in Dunedin [Hang-ups] that was a multi-brand store, and we established our own brand, NOM*d, in 1986. We’ve been a multi-brand retailer since the inception of the idea of doing retail. The idea has always been to provide our audience with brands or concepts that aren’t mainstream, but are still very wearable. Back in ‘75 we were featuring brands that were very unique in New Zealand and weren’t available in other centres. In the late 80s we started bringing in imported brands from Europe, as the import restrictions were loosened up in New Zealand. One of those first brands was Jean-Paul Gaultier which was very cool, we then started bringing in Martin Margiela who was a Belgian brand out of Paris. We just slowly increased that brand presence of international [labels] so it now represents 50 per cent of what’s in store. Each brand has to have its own signature, like, there’s no mistaking a Rick Owens garment, there’s no mistaking a garment by Bernhard Willhelm – they are completely different to each other. There’s no mistaking a Vetements garment, who we are buying from now. It’s not just about clothes and what’s in fashion; it’s actually more about the creative element that’s gone into that brand’s culture. The aesthetic of each of those designers is really important to me.
NOM*d has notched up 30 years as a leading fashion label. What prompted you to start your own label, and how have you ensured its longevity and signature edge?
It’s not a secret that my sister [Liz Findlay] has Zambesi, and in the 80s I was travelling with her when she was sourcing quite a lot of fabric out of Japan, and I went along as her sort of a somebody-to-throw-ideas-off type thing, and I thought: ‘I should be doing this’. Going to Japan and that whole way they retail over there and how that environment works actually changed my whole way of thinking about retail, that minimalism, the type of clothes that you sell and the way things are presented – so it became quite desirable for us to have our own brand. The one thing too that was very prevalent in Japan, at that time, was their concept of one-size-fits-all clothing – when you think about something like a kimono or work pants or that type of thing – we thought maybe we can do a brand that represents that idea, but because Liz was doing Zambesi and doing wovens, we thought that we’d do knitwear. We were based in Dunedin, we had Roslyn Woollen Mill over the hill, there was a knitting plant that could produce the clothes, so we thought we can still do it from Dunedin, we don’t have to be in a big city to be able to do this. So that’s how NOM*d came into play. By the end of the 90s, we were invited to be part of the New Zealand Four at London Fashion Week, and because we had only done knitwear in all those years, and whenever NOM*d was presented we always teamed it up with Zambesi, I didn’t want that to happen when we were on an international stage, so we thought it actually has to be all NOM*d. The concept for me was that we wanted to make garments that weren’t like Zambesi, were quite utilitarian and very easy to wear. So it was still that little idea of the one-size-fits-all, easy to look after, nothing too precious and very, sort of, every day I suppose. When I think about it, it was led by a street culture kind of thing, and if you look at a lot of our early garments they were quite street. We did a lot of hoodies and denim, but life has progressed since then and we now really do a complete range of different garments for NOM*d.
What was it about the fashion world that attracted you to the industry?
I’ve just really been a victim all my life, to be honest. Even from when I was at teenager, I was a Mod back in the 60s. I’ve always really been into reading fashion magazines and my mother – we were very fortunate in that she worked as a seamstress so she was always able to indulge those passions – taught me to sew, so I had an appreciation of the construction of clothing and being able to change things around quite a bit, and being more creative with the ideas.
What was it like heading over for London Fashion Week (with your sister, Karen Walker and WORLD) as part of the New Zealand Four?
Pretty scary. I’d been to international fashion shows before so I sort of knew what it was like. I can’t deny that we were quite naïve in as far as marketing ourselves. The amazing thing that came out of it was that we had several accounts internationally, it made us liaise with other people in the industry and there were lots of collaborations through doing those shows. We employed a PR and sales agency in London who introduced me to Alastair McKimm who was styling for i-D magazine; he liked what we did and used it in his work and he even came out to New Zealand Fashion Week. There’s lots of great stuff that’s come out of that, and when I think about it, if we hadn’t had London Fashion Week I don’t know what we’d be or what we’d be doing now.
How do your personal tastes and living in Dunedin inspire your design?
My personal taste is quite narrow. I do quite like things that are out of the ordinary, a little bit. The type of clothes I like aren’t ‘look at me’ clothes, but are clothes that can be admired for their creativity, look, silhouette, and have a uniqueness about them. The wonderful thing about living in Dunedin is that you can go out into the world, you can go to Paris, London and New York and still feel good about what you’re wearing, and that it has been created from Dunedin. A lot of our clients will come and say that somebody in a store at Barneys or in New York has told them they look really great and asked them where they got their clothes from – and often it’s been our brand. Travelling gives me the confidence to know that what we are doing is up there and is as good as what you see on the world stage. But then having that, luxury I suppose, of being able to go back to a city of 130,000 people and be able to carry on a business from there is so something quite special. Not that it was planned, but [coming from Dunedin] does give us a point of difference as well.
You and your sister Liz go on buying trips to Europe together; what are they like?
Well, back in my partying days, I have had the odd really good party in Paris and hung out with Bono from U2 and that type of thing, but these days we like a really good meal. We’ve got some really good friends of course from going over on a regular basis; there’s a group of friends that we only see when we go to Paris and it’s always really cool to hook up with those people. And they’re there from all over the world too. I’m not really out partying until the dawn anymore, but I have done, so I can tick it off.
Is there any sibling competition between you?
Not really; we get on really well and our business relationship is completely separate to our personal relationship. From a business side of things we have no involvement in each other’s business apart from
What’s your favourite NOM*d piece ever?
My tee-shirts, I have to say my stencil tee-shirts. I have a sort of uniform I’ll often wear for 2 or 3 years, not every day, but I’ll probably wear it once a week and generally it involves a tee-shirt. I remember one time I was in Paris with Liz and we got all dressed up to go out, like, here we are in Paris Fashion Week, and I had tee-shirt withdrawal because I didn’t have one on, so I had to go back to the hotel and put one on. Our eldest son does the stencilling and one year I made him (because he hated it) do this series where we joined two prints together – but it took him ages as he had to cover one half of the stencil, do that, spray that, then put the other one on – it took ages, but, actually I love those prints. One of my favourites right now is of Skinny Bob – it’s not one of the best-selling, but it’s one of my favourites.
What are your favourite haunts in Christchurch?
We’re lucky to be between two: C1 Espresso and Little High. Uncommon is great too, and we like spending time in Akaroa.
What fashion rules do you live by?
I always have to be comfortable, and any colour as long as it’s black! I’ve tried to branch out into navy, but the girls have me on about it.
What’s the biggest fashion crime being committed at the moment?
It’s so diverse, I mean, what is fashion anymore? It’s a weird word. I think cheap, poor-quality mass-produced garments being called fashion.
Can you give us a hint of what might be in your autumn/winter line?
More black! We have got some beautiful tailored garments, we’re sort of looking more at tailoring but still produced in an offbeat way, there’s some great stuff. The cool thing as far as new brands coming into our store is Dries van Noten – it’s a great brand to have for us.
Plume, corner Tuam Street and Cotters Lane, www.nomdstore.com