#842 Zambesi – the enigma

Dayne Johnston making final adjustments to PC’s outfit

About twenty photographers stand on the edge of the stage at Skycity Theatre shooting the run-through. Models walk the catwalk as smoke machines shoot fog into the air. Spotlights cast giant shadows onto the projection wall at stage rear. Three models hit the catwalk at once, their walks slow, the music eerie. I see Elisabeth Findlay, Dayne Johnston and Marissa Findlay step onto the set. “Dayne!” I call. “I have some questions to ask you.” “I have to check on the hair!” he replies, and scurries off down a set of stairs. I scurry after him.

Madness backstage

In the models’ lounge it’s like a primary school playground. Girls on one side, boys on the other. Never the twain shall meet. The boys eat pretzels and chat about business ventures (brand management and web design), the girls pluck grapes and talk on cell phones. I see Dayne and call out to him again. “You want to have a talk now?” I ask. “No, not really,” he laughs, and walks out. I turn to two of the boys, Felix and PC, both from Red11. It’s their first time walking for Zambesi. “What does it mean to you to be in the Zambesi show?” I ask. “Zambesi is the pinnacle of New Zealand fashion,” says PC. “It’s the one show you always want to get. It’s the elusive one.” “How are you feeling?” I ask Felix. “Are you nervous?” “Na,” he says, “I don’t do nervous.”

Derya Parlak, PC and Georgia Fowler

Dayne finally arrives. “Are you stressed?” I ask. “No, not really. I’m just tired.” He’s been working seven day weeks for the past few weeks. “I think I need to go brief the dressers,” he says. And he’s off. A few minutes later he’s back. I ask him about five rapid-fire questions to keep him there. Does the collection have a name? Is the menswear different from usual? What can we expect to see? Colours/shapes etc..? “It’s called Enigma. We were trying to define it today.” “Pretty difficult to define an enigma, isn’t it?” I ask. “It’s like a mystery or an unexpectedness,” he tells me. “Zambesi is a dress or a pair of pants or a jacket and it can be enigmatic. Each season melds into the next.”

Bruce Raubenheimer, Karla Devine and Hal Cheshire

“The menswear is quite strong this season. We’ve concentrated on new shapes and colours – maroons, greys, browns and forest greens. The sillhouettes are still lean and elongated but we’ve added textural interest with fur and wool and tweedy knitwear. It’s kinda collegiate, reminiscent of a school uniform. But gentlemanly dressing too. And there’s a very strong sportswear element with a baseball jacket with leather sleeves.”

Jeremy B, Felix Terpstra, Hal Cheshire and Bruce Raubenheimer

“Do you have a favourite piece? A favourite model?” I ask. “It’s very hard to answer the question about a favourite piece or outfit because I like all of it. For the models, I really like Jeremy B. He’s a model we wouldn’t usually use but he fit the look of the collection. He gives a foreign flavour to the collection – like the Belgian models who work with the designers I’m fond of. (Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Raf Simons.)” Dayne pauses. “He’s my muse!” he screams.

Veronica Crockford Pound and Derya Parlak

And he’s off again to put the boys into first looks. I follow him back up onto the stage, wait till the models are dressed, snap a few photos then take my seat out the front for the show.

Jeremy B

The boys’ outfits are like he said – collegiate, classic gentlemanly tailoring and sportswear inspired. There are striped sweaters and knitted ties paired with extra-cropped, cuffed and pleated pants for the schoolboy. Sublimely tailored camel overcoats for the gentleman. Baseball jackets and sweatpants for the sportsman. But then comes a set of vinyl pieces – coats and pants – which wouldn’t look amiss on the set of The Matrix. It’s an incongruous addition to the lineup and doesn’t quite fit with everything else. Then again, it’s all a bit incongruous.

Pull the collection apart though, and the individual pieces are amazing. Club collar shirts and extreme-wide-striped sweaters. Super-cropped pants. Knitted ties. And those camel overcoats – perfect. But put it back together again and that juxtaposition of genres – schoolboy, gentleman, sportsman (and Neyo?) is confusing. It’s an enigma. Do I understand it? Not entirely, but maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe that’s the enigma. Dayne said it himself – Zambesi is a pair of pants, or a jacket or a dress. It’s hard to define, it’s a mystery. I must say I agree.

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