Invercargill is home to two designers chosen as finalists for the 2012 Brancott Estate World of Wearable Art Awards. Gwyneth Hyndman talks to first-time finalist Denise Laurie about turning her profession back into a passion with Lunar Duo.
It's a busy winter morning for first-time Brancott Estate World of Wearable Art Award finalist Denise Laurie, who in a frosty glass workroom off a Lorneville farmhouse is surrounded by industrial sewing machines, a giant cutter, measuring tape, hundreds of metres of school uniform fabric in all colours, and in the corner, leftover bits of very familiar animal fur.
A finalist in the "Bizarre Bra" category, Laurie will watch the front-end of two controversial pests that her husband is fond of hunting march down a Wellington runway next month, claws out, towards the judges.
It might stretch "bizarre" to its limit, but for the Fairfax native, Lunar Duo is a perfect entry from a Southland farm girl.
"I wanted to make something very New Zealand-oriented," she explains, holding up the pictures of her entry in the section category that resembles the prow of a ship - one that boosts a face hated by conservationists and motorists everywhere. "And I sort of stepped out of the square for this. It was a tribute to the poor old possum . . . but then I thought, well, why not use the whole possum?"
Why not indeed.
It was a vision that led to Laurie's first ambling into taxidermy, which she describes as a gross, but totally necessary, sidetrip down one of fashion's back alleyways: "It was the most revolting thing I've ever sewn."
The thickness of the possum fur and skin rendered even an industrial sewing machine useless. The bra had to be hand-sewn, which her husband and two daughters, ages 8 and 10, found quite funny as she sat by the fire in the evening, with a super-strength needle and thread.
"Nights, nights, and more nights," she says, referring to the nearly 80 hours that have gone into the dreaming up, designing and execution of the bra, that is now fit to hang below a stag head.
As an award finalist, Laurie can't give too much away about her masterpiece, but she says the bra strap is held on with a piece of tyre in the back, a humorous last touch to Lunar Duo.
The imaginative entry - claws and all - was part of the edginess and fresh approach to material that has impressed competition director Heather Palmer.
Laurie's bra is one of 164 garments that have been picked out for the famed awards show season, now in its 24th year.
It had been "an exceptionally high standard of designs from New Zealand and international designers" that confirmed WOW's place as a world-leading awards show, she said, with a use of materials and construction techniques across the board that was quite incredible. Along with Laurie's taxidermist masterpiece, designs for 2012 incorporated human hair, electronics and wood, plus "almost every fabric and textile you can imagine".
Laurie says just being in the audience for the WOW awards show has long been on the bucket list.
It's a bit of a thrill to show up as a designer instead, with a few girlfriends coming along for support.
Entering the WOW awards was something she decided to do for the fun of it, she says. It was a different kind of time commitment from her usual tasks with the sewing machine. Poppet, the design company she runs from her home, supplies school uniforms to five Southland schools and does kidswear clothing by order from her website poppetclothing.co.nz.
Her degree in fashion design from Dunedin may not have gotten the mileage she envisioned years ago, but it has definitely come in handy this winter.
"You could say I stepped out of high fashion," she says. It's an adventure to now return to the design forefront "purely for fun" though for now, Paris, Milan, New York aren't calling her name.
While the runway beckons in the spring, she remains firm in her loyalty to Southland designs.
"I think Southlanders really support Southlanders," she says. "I know my friends are really excited for me. And I've spent time and lived in other places. This is home." Next week: Sally Davies and Chris Nutter, who collaborated on their entry Korowai.
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