Kate Sylvester has always been a New Zealand designer that I've had a lot of respect for. What I really appreciate about Kate is her obvious intelligence, finding inspiration in the pages of books, art and hidden in the lyrics of music. With each season she gently progresses, not reinventing the wheel and creating dramatically different collections, but tweaking and improving on the past, growing with her customer and refining with time. All of the pieces I own of Kate's are pieces that survive even my most brutal wardrobe cull - they last not only because of their quality, but because of her impeccable style, not swayed by trend.
The Spring/ Summer 16 collection pays tribute to Lee Miller, an American photographer, fashion model and war correspondent for Vogue during World War Two. As with each new Kate Sylvester collection it is my favourite so far (if only my wallet could be more accommodating), and these four pieces are my picks from the collection. With each outfit change I felt like a feminine adventurer, particularly American in the white Colette Dungaree and comfortable and confident in them all, how cute is the Edie Mini Dress !
I decided to chat to Kate about her work her inspirations and what it takes to be one of New Zealand's most successful designers.
Kelly .You initially studied at Massey University (then Polytech), but left to pursue design independently, you were later awarded an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts. Many of my readers and their mothers often ask me my thoughts about the relevance of tertiary study for design, would you care to share your thoughts on this?
Kate: I am totally pro-study. I think it’s a very valuable time for self development as well as learning the building blocks of our craft. People can learn on the job but in that case you have to be prepared to start at the bottom- learn to walk before you can run.
Kelly: As a high school student you were told that fashion design jobs didn't exist in New Zealand, you sure proved them wrong! Do you think the education system should place less focus on becoming an employee and more focus on building your own business? What advice do you have for young people wanting to forge their own path?
Kate: Building your own business is incredibly hard and risky. I think a bit of resistance is actually a positive thing- the first test to see if an individual has the drive and determination to succeed against the odds.
Kelly: With every season your collections are inspired by writers, books, musicians and artists, do you actively seek this inspiration when working on a collection or is is constantly popping up around you? Do you keep a notebook of ideas?
Kate: These are all the things I love and fill my life with. I don’t have a note book, I just stuff ideas “up my sleeve” until the time is right.
Kelly: Do you have any favourite websites, podcasts, books, music or locations you like to visit, listen to or read for inspiration?
Kate: Instagram! I screen-grab images that capture my attention and trawl through them regularly.
Kelly: Many people I know feel that the creative process doesn't get enough breathing time due to modern deadlines and day to day life. With a well established brand and many people to manage how do you make time for the important mental process and ensure you stay creative?
Kate: Every now and again I do a very late night on my own. Pour a glass of wine, turn up the music loud and draw and draw and draw. I love it.
Kelly: Do you ever experience creative block, and what do you do to work through it if you do?
Kate: Experience has taught me to work through creative blocks, deadlines don’t wait! I look through all my collected reference images and just start sketching details until something clicks.
Kelly: Outside of designing for fashion do you have any hobbies or other creative endeavours?
Kate: My job satisfies my creativity. I collect vinyl and books and I love cooking- actually that’s creative too.
Kelly: Is there anything important you wish you had known earlier about business or life that you would like to share with people starting out?
Kate: Keep it simple! I have the confidence now not to over think things. I wish I’d trusted my instincts more.
Kelly: As a company or brand grows it can be easy to lose sight of your original intentions or aesthetic goals. Throughout the life of your brand you appear (from the outside, correct me if I'm wrong! ) to have remained very true to your look and branding direction. Is this something you have to constantly revisit and remind yourself of, or is it ingrained and just naturally this way?
Kate: I think it’s natural because I’m a classicist rather than trend driven but I am always looking back through old lookbooks - and luckily they make me proud!
Wearing from top to bottom - Kate Sylvester Kirsten Dress / vintage red bag & vintage jewellery / Oroton scarf / Ellery x Specsavers glasses
Kate Sylvester Colette Dungaree / vintage accessories
Kate Sylvester Inez dress / vintage jewellery and pants