#1270 The secrets of El Jay revealed

You know when you’re driving to the Mexican Cafe in Auckland, and (in the hopes of finding a park) you turn right down Federal Street and go past the Korean poolroom and then right again down that tiny one-way street (Kingston)? You know the one. And you’re parking and getting out of your car and then it’s like, ‘Hey, why does that building say Christian Dior on it?’ That building is El Jay. The House of El Jay. The former New Zealand manufacturer and licensee of Christian Dior Couture, owned by Gus Fisher. If you’re anywhere near my age, you’re probably way too young to remember a time when Christian Dior Couture was sold in New Zealand. I am. However, I did at one point start asking questions about the space. From what I heard – and this is going a few years back – it’s awe-inspiring, still filled with all the old machines and Dior fabrics, but nobody is allowed to go inside. It’s been jealously guarded ever since its closure. Just like Willy Wonka’s factory.

But the time has come. The forbidden fruit must be tasted. The secrets of El Jay will be revealed.

Gus Fisher and Di Martin

Ex-fashion designer Doris de Pont is curating an exhibition about the company, entitled, Looking Terrific: The Story of El Jay. It’s an odd name – all I can assume is that there’s a pun in there that I’m not getting (can anybody help me with that one?) but exciting nonetheless.

From the press release:

“Gus Fisher’s contribution to the development of New Zealand fashion is unique. While the young Queen Elisabeth was the fashion role model for most New Zealand woman of the 1950s Fisher looked to Paris instead. He travelled there every year to see first-hand the new designs and fabrics and to experience the mood and feel of the fashion trends. For his own fashion label, El Jay, he interpreted French Couture and created his own version of uncluttered European elegance making it available to women here. This commitment to experiencing the real thing led to not just a keen awareness of the latest trends but also to the establishment of relationships with the Paris couturiers which in turn led to El Jay becoming the New Zealand licensee for Christian Dior, giving it the exclusive rights to manufacture and sell Christian Dior originals and Christian Dior prêt a porter in the New Zealand market. The quality of the production from the house of El Jay is legendary and Fisher never lost the Dior licence becoming the longest licence holder in the world. El Jay was sold for 50 years in the top department stores and fashion boutiques including his own flagship stores the French Shop in Remuera and the El Jay boutique in the 246 building, the 1960s cutting edge retail development on Queen St in Auckland.”

The exhibition opens in Auckland at 5:30pm on 4 June (that’s this Friday) at Gus Fisher Gallery in Auckland. Public events include lectures, stories from former El Jay employees and a tour of all the garments presented in the show.

My only disappointment is that it’s not being held at the El Jay building. Apparently countless fashion designers have tried to secure it as a show venue over the years but to no avail. Let us in there Mr Fisher!


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  1. Jennie says

    Ah yes, I stumbled across this site a few years ago so had a friend in real estate do an rp data search to find the owners. I had no luck and gave up the grand idea of opening something there. I was confused as to why no one had attempted anything already and thought it was sitting in some family trust with deceased beneficiaries.

  2. Katie-maree Cole says

    Wow that is incredible I had no idea that we had that history with Christian Dior. Thanks for the enlightening.

    Maybe we should have a Golden Ticket draw, a grueling tournament of talents between designers to see who is most worthy to show there judged by Mr Fisher and some long lost cousin of Dior…………

  3. says

    I thought you’d be interested to know I’m doing a story about Gus Fisher and his involvement with El Jay on The Nation, TV3 this Saturday June 5 at 11 am, repeated on Sunday 6 June at 8 am, or pick it up off the TV3 website. It’s on the arts slot right at the end of show. I’m interviewing Gus so promise I’ll try and get behind some of the mystery that’s intriguing your readers…

  4. says

    aha! becky, justine, alexa and i have all attempted our own research into this and were wondering why the dresses had recently been removed from the mannequins. makes sense now.

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