Fashion with Kate Sylvester

Top New Zealand fashion designer Kate Sylvester was in Christchurch this month to launch her Gloria Gloria Autumn Winter 24 collection. Metropol Editor Lynda Papesch talks with her about trends, tailoring, and telling a tale with textiles.

Surrounded by a sea of teal and orange, denim blues, plum, and cherry red, fashion icon Kate Sylvester has a tale to tell. A tale of two women who provided the inspiration for her latest collection, named in their honour.

Her narrative is actually a tale of three women, herself included in the trio as part of divulging her insight into why she chose Gloria and Gloria as her most recent muses. The Autumn Winter 24 collection, now on show in Merivale and Cashel Street boutiques, imagines an unlikely friendship between American artist, designer and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, and feminist activist and journalist, Gloria Steinem.

The collection evokes an independent spirit, bringing together two women who epitomise what was the glorious, gritty glamour of 1970s New York, before Rudy Giuliani cleaned it up. Tailored coats, jackets, skirts and pants collaborate with slinky feminine dresses in a bright array of colours, patterns and textures, and let’s not forget that hallmark of the 70s, denim.

Named one of New Zealand’s top five fashion designers, Kate is well known for combining sportswear, lingerie and traditional tailoring; her designs often influenced by books, art, music, times gone by, and her own imagination.

Her fertile mind is always looking out for new ideas, inspiration for future collections, and themes which Kate then develops into collections. “I look all over the place,” she laughs. “The themes can vary from Victorian times inspired by Jane Eyre, to Mia Wallace in the film Pulp Fiction, and the two Glorias from the 1970s.” Sometimes movies are her inspiration, other times it is books, art and artists, or just something that captures her interest. “Books are a resource I come back to again and again. I’m an avid reader, and as I’m reading, I imagine what the characters are wearing; I’m dressing them in my mind, and that will in turn spark a collection.”

Kate’s designs always have a backbone of tailoring, and a more feminine side. “I absolutely love suiting, so I design a lot of tailored suits, balancing them with softer dress weights and effortless pieces,” she explains. Her designs reflect her own style in fashion, yet also looking to what others will feel comfortable wearing. “I definitely design for myself, yet I believe it is incredibly important (I think about this a lot) to design clothes for women to love living in. It’s important that I design for as many women as I can. I think about their different shapes, heights, ages, and create collections as broad as possible so they will work for as many women as possible; clothes that make women feel fantastic.”

Most important, she says, is that when women put on a fashion garment they feel confident in it, beautiful, and that it achieves what it is meant to. No more age appropriateness with fashion. That seems an outdated concept to her.

“What matters is that when women put clothes on, they feel good in them, and love what they wear. That’s the most important guide. Remember rules are made to be broken.”And her advice for those wanting a career in fashion design?

“It looks very glamourous, and much of the time aspects of it are. It can be incredible fun, yet also really hard work, and a hard career to sustain. The key thing is wanting to do it, then it is essential to study, and to do your time in the industry. “It has to be an absolute passion, not just a want. All the successful designers I know live for fashion,” she laughs.

Kate’s top fashion must-haves:

  • A beautifully cut suit
  • A dress that you can wear anywhere, such as from the office to dinner
  • A piece of knitwear that you can put on and it feels like a hug
  • A fabulous handbag that you can take anywhere

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