Dempsey Stewart backstage at Karen Walker. Photos: Katherine Lowe
Karen Walker is New Zealand’s sole designer to consistently show her collections on a catwalk beyond the Pacific Rim, and her international fan base loves her for it. But there was no pastoral Aotearoa inspiration for Fall 2011: The kids of famed Northern soul disco Wigan Casino formed the basis; manual-labourers who dropped their tools at the whistle and escaped their blue collar realities by dancing all night long.
That sense of rough and ready teens came through in fisherman’s sweaters, or a blazer paired with layered tee shirts and drawstring pants. A shift dress was tarted up with vinyl panels and sleeves, and a woollen coat had double reinforced leather shoulders – perfect for a backspin on the dirty dance floor.
The Wigan Castle uniform was a combination of workwear, sportswear and Sunday-best, a mashup that Walker translated literally on the catwalk: A crisp white tee shirt tucked into suit pants or a singlet with a floaty white skirt, or a pretty floral dress with white socks and men’s leather shoes.
Little known fact: those Northerners had a thing for Girl Guides and their patches. “Every time they’d do an all-nighter they’d sew one on as a badge of honour,” said Walker after the show. In a self-referential twist, Walker’s badges were tee shirt prints from her own previous seasons – the smoking cat, the fly, the owl and the Runaway girl’s boots. “When you’ve been around this long you have a certain amount of iconography you can dip into,” she said. And one can only imagine how many all-nighters have been pulled in the process.