Ingrid Starnes is a New Zealand designer whose clothing, skincare and scent range is generating buzz in New Zealand and internationally with products stocked by high end retailers in London, Paris and Tokyo. She talks to Insight about how it all began, dressing New Zealand’s newly-elected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and why fashion may come and go, but style lasts.
You started your label while still at AUT, how did that come about?
I have always worked on my own clothes in some way, during my time at AUT I made all my own clothing and often made clothes for friends. Towards the end of my degree I started to work on my own label and had a couple of pieces in Rip Shit and Bust, a clothing store that used to be on Auckland’s Karangahape Road.
What I loved about AUT was that what I was learning was immediately put into use. Things I learnt there are still part of my every day. I also appreciated the approach to teach about the industry and accounting and management and PR elements are all things that I’ve built from over the years.
What’s your design philosophy?
As a label we believe in beautiful wellmade clothing from the fabrics through to fit, form and function. We dye our own silks and cottons to specific colourways and print exclusive prints to maintain individuality. We try to make beautiful things that people will love for years to come in ways we can be proud of.
For instance, for our ceramic candles we tracked down the last mould-maker from Crown Lynn, and worked with him to make a beautiful beaker with a floral relief. The idea is that the ceramic could have a second life as a vessel, and be collected and loved, perhaps sitting on sideboards and window sills fifty years from now.
Tell us about the high-profile New Zealanders you dress - it was wonderful to see Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wearing your designs for the Leaders’ Debates.
We are very lucky to be dressing some very strong individual intelligent women who are at the top of their industries. It’s always a thrill when a woman who is breaking new ground, advancing ideas and representing things that matter chooses to support local design and production. Many have become friends and it has been cool to be along in a small part on their journeys. It’s always a great honour when someone chooses something you have made, or made for them specially, for a big day in their lives or careers.
Who would you like to dress?
I'm inspired by strong women who are creatively individual and have a strong sense of style- which describes the women we dress now. There are too many to name but if pushed I would say Aldous Harding (New Zealand folk singer), Solange and Bjork.
Is New Zealand developing its own style and feel when it comes to clothes and design?
We don't really think of ourselves as a New Zealand label, we’re just trying to make things we love. These days the whole world is part of every designer’s thinking I think. In saying that, it’s been really exciting to have our products stocked in overseas stores like Monocle magazine’s boutiques, and Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford. We make things we think are beautiful, and it’s wonderful that our overseas markets share our aesthetic.
That global view is something that lifts quality and is part of why we have such great designers and customers that support design here. We dress artists, lawyers, doctors, mothers, TV presenters, professionals, students and all of them have made a choice to buy something that is made of beautiful fabric, made here, made with details and cut and shape and ideas, and that is so cool.
As our market gets bigger and more of the fast fashion arrives here I think that just keeps getting more important. People are making the choice to know as much about the clothes they wear, and the conditions and ideas behind them, as they already do about freerange food, or culture or art. That connection is important and some choices will be local and some will be international.
"It's always a thrill when a woman who is breaking new ground, advancing ideas and representing things that matter chooses to support local design and production."
Who or what inspires you?
I design collections around current conditions and experiences that have sparked a feeling or thought. Whether it be a special place we've travelled to like Tokyo, a book I'm reading, a recent art show or a photograph. I also love collaborations with other creatives that inspire something new.