From cleaning toilets to fashion star

Rebecca Taylor's eponymous label was bought by Kellwood, a leading clothing manufacturer
Rebecca Taylor's eponymous label was bought by Kellwood, a leading clothing manufacturer

Once upon a time she was cleaning toilets at a Wellington hotel, now she's got celebrities falling over themselves to wear her designs - and a major American clothing company has just bought her brand.

Life is looking pretty sweet for former Wellington fashion designer Rebecca Taylor.

The 41-year-old's eponymous label was bought by Kellwood, a leading clothing manufacturer, in January. The acquisition, reported in American apparel bible WWD (Women's Wear Daily) and the New York Post, gave rise to much speculation about how much Kellwood (which also owns labels Vince, Baby Phat and XOXO) paid, but Taylor's keeping mum.

"People have made wild guesses but it's not anything near where you think it might be. It's not $100 million," she says.

"We don't want it published, but we are happy and it's taken some pressure off us, which is the main thing. It's like having a big brother looking after you.

"It's been rough here. When the recession hit we had 60 mouths to feed. It's not something I'd relish going through again. It's nice to have people on board with us."

Taylor might be living the dream of every fashion designer now, but there's been plenty of hard slog in this Cinderella story.

After attending St Catherine's College she did a stint cleaning toilets at the Plaza Hotel (now Amora Hotel, formerly The Duxton), then trained in fashion design at the Bowerman School of Design and Wellington Polytechnic (now Massey University) before leaving for New York with just $400 in her pocket.

There, she lived a fairly hand- to-mouth existence before scoring a job with designer Cynthia Rowley.

Taylor stayed at the company for five years before launching her own line with business partner Elizabeth Bugdaycay in 1996.

Her designs, once described as "whimsical and easy-to-wear", have since been worn by prominent celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Reese Witherspoon, Dakota Fanning, Cameron Diaz, Carmen Electra and Taylor Swift. Glee actress Jenna Ushkowitz chose a Rebecca Taylor dress for the recent Golden Globes.

Taylor has maintained a continuous presence at New York Fashion Week since being nominated for the prestigious Perry Ellis Young Designer Award in 2000 and she's showing again this Friday at the official Fashion Week village at the Lincoln Center.

The brand is distributed throughout 40 countries and 250 cities, with flagship stores in New York and Hong Kong, and found in prestigious department stores including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks 5th Avenue, Lane Crawford and Selfridges.

Back home in Wellington, Massey University has inducted Taylor into its Hall of Fame.

So why sell? And is Taylor bowing out? Is it an exit strategy for the mum of three (four-year- old twins Isabel and Zoe, two-year- old Charlie)?

The Dominion Post