Models on the O'Connell St runway during Ingrid Starne's 2017 show (Photo: Duncan Innes).

Taking high fashion to the streets of downtown Auckland

To mark 4 Days of Fashion in the City, four of downtown Auckland’s fashion personalities are sharing their experiences of the industry. Today, Simon Pound of Ingrid Starnes writes about putting fashion on the street and the community it takes to make it happen.

Last year, on a late March night, with dusk landing just in time, we sent 20 looks on fashion models down the middle of a closed-to-traffic O’Connell St. Later this month we will do our second fashion show down O’Connell St, and we feel very lucky to be able to again do something a bit special in this lovely little corner of the city.

This beautiful street seems almost an oversight in Auckland, like someone somehow forgot to bowl it down. It’s almost alone in having maintained its entire row of characterful buildings. This leaves a forgotten air, a slower pace and less urgency than many city streets. And it’s for this that local businesses supported us with such kindness. They are forward-looking city folk, businesses up and down the street that fought to have the street pedestrianised at all times, to make use of the facility that their businesses were disrupted for for so long. But it’s not being done yet and exists as a kind of in-between space, half for pedestrians, half for cars with no-one really feeling at home. As with so much of Auckland, there’s hope around the corner with plans for Linear Park to make more of the city walkable and drive out the cars.

It can seem a long corner sometimes, being a business owner. Every wonderful public work comes with a private business price tag. Roadworks and interminable construction that make a better place for us all make it hard for the local businesses. So in a city of orange cones it’s so important to have organisations like Heart of the City working to create interest and excitement as Auckland grows around us.

And that’s why we’ve joined with Heart of the City to do these fashion shows. To show that fashion still lives on these streets by having it walk down those very streets. Although there are changes in the retail mix and you find the odd pop-up that perhaps didn’t mean to be so fleeting, there are still magic spots of independent retail as good as any you’ll find in any great city. The magical Unity books, Crane Brothers, Jason’s Books, Checks… and into this area and an inviting empty frontage, we came.

It all makes sense on paper. We had Newmarket and Ponsonby going well. Ponsonby with the audience of creative professionals who care about the same kind of things we do. We run into a lot of our customers and friends from there at art events and favourite food places. Newmarket we’d been in six years, and would still be now if a fire hadn’t taken it out in early January. It took a few years to find our feet there – but in the end we met lots of people that cared about cut, drape, knowing the impact of their decisions, and liked that we were making things locally to the best quality and standards we can. Lots of people who understood and appreciated the work that goes in to make the garments special. People who travel and have choices and are lucky and are mindful of it all.

And then there is Vulcan Lane. A beautiful little store we opened to be closer to our growing audience of city professionals, the thousands of women that flow in and out of the towers of design agencies, professional services firms and corporate headquarters in the city, and wear clothes as armour and standard bearer for their daily battles.

And there are more and more women in the city who seem to be interested in the same things we are. Who want to arm themselves with something creative, independent, considered and beautifully made: both in construction and all the rest of the impact fashion production can have – to know their environmental and social impact where they can. Our made to measure service is a welcome new option for many professional women who need 30 different outfits on rotate, as opposed to the men in their offices maybe getting away with a couple of suits and a handful of shirts and ties.

And we opened the store as we loved the location. Our slice of Vulcan Lane is a little piece of a city out of time and place; the cobbles, storefronts, spires and shadows have been the same for 100 years. Not many pockets of Auckland do that. So for the show we walked from our store to the lane to the street, working with our great friends at Ryder and MAC who have supported every show we’ve done, from when we were tiny and green opening Fashion Week in 2011, through to now where we’re a little bigger but have to act as big as a Prada to make a dent in a city.

And so the models walk out of our store, decked out in in-season looks, things that can be bought online later that very night if people love them, collapsing the space between show and sales that has made traditional trade fairs less relevant at a time when the direct to consumer online channel matters so much and everyone is always shopping.

Photo: Duncan Innes

The models walk up past the cafes who kindly supported the disruption, past the hundreds of guests, and down the middle of the closed street, past the front row. A front row half made up of the influencers and media and the people at the heart of the fashion industry. But also half made up of our customers, who support us day in day out and we want to say thank you to, they are the A-list for any business, really.

And the models walk down the long street, delicately accentuated by pops of light from unobtrusive stands to throw the buildings and models into relief, and down to the end past the taped-down cord running from Wine Chambers, where owner Martine has kindly run out power from her downstairs bar window to help make it happen – wanting nothing else but to support activity in a street she loves.

The models walk by our old friends and new friends in the city, people that have come to the free event, customers, and VIPs. There were also, that night last year, great piles of rubbish – they are always out for collection on a Friday in pink-bagged clumps along the street. They were funny to have in this display of considered elegant clothing, but also they’re part of the life of any city and that is a little of what these clothes are all about: armour for a day out in all of this.

The models gather for more shots at the end of the show, taken by Duncan Innes, another great friend who has been along the journey with us for years. The shots are great – looking out of any time, but with the young women with more agency and confidence and directness. Or at least that’s what we’ve tried for.

It goes about as well as we could hope for with no rain on this one day in a cyclone-prone city, and we open up the store for a little party afterwards and talk into the night with our long-time friends and supporters who all come together to keep this dream going. With drinks from Admir from Peroni – who often treats us to the kind of fancy events that people might associate with fashion, but only really happen on someone else’s promotional schedule, and Rod and Jo from Te Awanga Wines. They, like Admir, are part of what we love about the business, making friends with people all wanting to do good things in the right way and with good people.

And then it’s Saturday morning again. The city is busiest for us during the week and the weekend starts are leisurely in the Lane. Maybe a quick spot of street cleaning to clear a surprise left by a reveller from the night before. Some chats with the local cafe workers, some bleary early visitors to the city. The city is relaxed on the weekends, and each store has its own rhythm, Ponsonby with sports hats and brisk walks, Newmarket with families shopping together for an upcoming occasion.

Ah, Newmarket. How we loved that little corner of the city too. We were on Teed St, opposite Bambina and backing onto the food-court complex in the middle of that little alley with the fruit store, Chinese medicine supplies and fish shop. I loved the juxtaposition of our perfume coming out of the store and into this vibrant, smelly alley.

We loved a couple of the food places in there too, and it’s sad that it was from one of these a fire spread, up through the extraction vats packed full of fat and into a fireball at the back of our store.

It was a setback, 350 pieces of stock lost, all made with so much care by our team, our local machinists, so many trips to our printers in Otara, our dyers on the North Shore, our pressers, the trims delivered and counted, the grades picked up, the cuts, the buttonholes – hundreds of touches and every one with local fair wages adding up to be part of the energy and industry of the city. And 350 of those pieces gone, but us still in business to keep trying to make more, so it’ll all work out hopefully, making things here.

The Ingrid Starnes Newmarket store after the fire (Photo: supplied).

And that’s why we set up in Vulcan Lane too. I worked for years at Crane Brothers and Fabric and Working style, all in and around High St in the heyday. Where these small stands of unashamedly fashionable and confident people would gather and smoke and gossip and drink coffee and it was all very vital. The city has changed, but our little store now is 250 meters from Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton – almost unimaginable 15 years ago. We are also 250m away from some lower-falutin souvenir and vape and chain stores selling concerningly made disposable things, but also that’s our chance to be there and offer an alternative.

The city store is almost like a billboard for us. Many of the women of the city are busy, so busy in their days that they run through, look at the made to measure samples, the new prints, the lovely wool skirting and decide to schedule in a time to meet us for an appointment. A coveted spot for us to have in in-demand diaries. We get lots of orders bought online and then picked up in-store, sometimes an assistant swinging by. People are always telling us they love the store, with the little niche inset with flowers, the over the top big candle, the ever-changing windows.

The Ingrid Starnes Vulcan Lane store (Photo: Duncan Innes).

We’ve loved growing our little community there, a community we are inviting to join us for the show and a celebration, Friday the 23rd of March. Get there for a place from 6.30pm with the walking starting at 7pm, and perhaps a drink to be had afterwards in our little store, spilling out into the cobbles with all our friends and feeling like we could be anywhere at any time in the world, doing our little thing in the life of the city.


This content is brought to you buy Heart of the City. Ingrid Starnes presents the AW18 collection, Harmonies No. 18, right down the middle of beautiful cobbled O’Connell Street, on Friday 23 March.


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