Ten years after her first fashion show in London, Margi Robertson talks to Dazed about her New Zealand based label, Nom*d.
Text by David Hellqvist | Published 23 February 2009
As hordes of designers gather in London for fashion week, Margi Robertson sits at home in New Zealand, celebrating the 10th anniversary of her first fashion show in London. Her NOM*d label was part of the New Zealand Four who took the UK by storm in 1999. Having a similar effect on its home turf as the Antwerp Six had on Belgium in 1988, it launched NOM*d onto the international fashion scene and Robertson hasn’t left since. Here she is in conversation with Dazed Digital...
Dazed Digital: Tell us about your family's background.
Margi Robertson: My father was from Ukraine and my mother was Greek, but born in Russia. They met after WWII and immigrated to New Zealand in 1951 and I was born two years later.
DD: Your mother was a big influence on you, right?
MR: I always give her credit for what I do. She was a sewing machinist working for tailors back home. She encouraged us to make our own clothes as soon as we were old enough. She gave us confidence to change patterns and to recreate ideas and really influenced my personal style later on in life.
DD: Your sister Liz runs a fashion label called Zambesi. How did it start for you both?
MR: Well, we both started in retail. I opened up my store before her, but than she set up her label before I began NOM*d. It started with knitwear because we had mills close to where we lived. Liz went with her direction and I followed my…
DD: …Red thread? Or black thread perhaps? NOM*d is very dark, gothic and moody – was it always like that?
MR: Most early samples, when we started in 1986, just came in black. I just think clothes look best in black. We travelled to Japan a lot in the late 80’s and there were a lot of black and non-colours around. And today, even if I use a bit of red, grey or blue, everything else is quite neutral.
DD: Who’s the NOM*d customer?
MR: Everybody can wear it but I don’t think everybody would like to wear it. It’s for someone who’s individual and confident but doesn’t want to be the centre of attention. A bit like me, that’s why I didn’t use my name but NOM*d, which is the French word for alias.
DD: Was there ever any competition between NOM*d and Zambesi?
MR: Not really, we’re each other’s best customers and she is the more sophisticated designer. And the brands are so different; Zambesi is more about beautiful beaded and sequined fabrics. I’m the little sister so my business is smaller!
DD: These are times of celebration - NOM*d’s 21st anniversary in 2007 and it’s ten years since you first showed in London. How did that happen?
MR: I came over as part of the ‘New Zealand Four’ and that’s when I left knitwear to also work with utilitarian fashion. My first major inspiration for London Fashion Week was women’s bowling skirts in nylon and the second time I showed I worked with heavy work wear fabrics. I was influenced by marshal arts pants with drawstrings so we tried to make uniforms into street wear.
DD: What other brands showed and who decided who went?
MR: It was me, Liz and Zambesi, Karen Walker and World who showed in a group show. The government sent us to promote the wool industry but it was an eye opener for most people that a New Zealand brand could show fashion on an international stage, and not only the clothing that is associated with New Zealand, like merino knitwear and sports clothes. It was such an encouragement that we really haven’t look back since then.
DD: You’ve been labelled the God Mother of New Zealand fashion – why is that?
MR: I suppose because I’ve always been supportive of new designers; given advice or stocked them in our stores. But it’s probably just a reference to my age!
DD: What kind of advice do you give them?
MR: First they should make their brand strong in New Zealand and Australia, or where ever they’re from, and realise that it’s easy to get lots of hype but there is no staying power in those brands.
DD: You’re from, and still live in, a small city called Dunedin. How important is the city to you?
MR: It’s quite small, about 110,000 people, but with lots of art universities and with strong sub-cultures. I suppose it’s pretty dark, gothic and cold but it’s got a strong surfer community, funnily enough.
DD: Do you ever feel like leaving?
MR: No, I enjoy going to Paris, London and New York – I like the big city life but I would never leave Dunedin.
DD: How would you describe NOM*d to people?
MR: I get asked that all the time and I always struggle with the answer. I suppose it’s quite tough and street – in a ‘tough like the streets’ sort of way. We used to call it urban street wear but we have expanded from that. It’s an evolution, now we’re developing menswear for example.
DD: How’s that coming along?
MR: Fine, the foundation is there because many of my women’s collections are based around menswear details. Now I have to fine-tune it. Men are very much into details, like the sleeve length and where the first shirt button sits.
DD: Tell us about NOM*d for Spring Summer 09!
MR: It’s called Insiders – we used what’s normally the inside of garments on the outside. Delicate fabrics like rayon and viscose are used for tuxedo jackets and waistcoats. This collection shows our humour, which is important with NOM*d – it’s an Insider collection for Outsiders.
Go to www.nomd.co.nz for info and stockists.