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A bit flash

4 March 2022
This 1971 Kevin Berkahn dress with attached poncho cape, is made of synthetic organza, acetate lining and feathers. It’s part of the Eden Hore Central Otago collection.
This 1971 Kevin Berkahn dress with attached poncho cape, is made of synthetic organza, acetate lining and feathers. It’s part of the Eden Hore Central Otago collection.

Maniototo farmer turned fashion collector, Eden Hore was a man with a vision. His captivating story of daring to be different in the 1970s is just as entertaining and inspiring now. Words Anna Wallace Photos Derek Henderson.

Unusual. Exclusive. Eye-catching. That’s how a newspaper journalist in the mid-‘70s described the collection of high-fashion womenswear – mostly contemporary gowns – owned by sheep-and-cattle man Eden Hore. How did a one-time shepherd become an entrepreneurial haute couture collector of renown?

Like other farmers, his financial success was born of early mornings and hard work, with a healthy dose of can-do. But Eden had a collector’s passion for things and relished in the fantastical, so what began as a one-off foray into the fashion world in the early ‘70s soon became a full-blown hobby.

By 1975, his acquisition of unique garments, mostly flamboyant eveningwear from New Zealand designers, numbered in the hundreds. That year, 4000 people visited the display at Eden’s Glenshee farm in the Maniototo. It was considered the largest such collection in the Southern Hemisphere at the time; a major tourist drawcard for Central Otago.

Claire Regnault, senior curator of New Zealand culture and history at Te Papa, credits Eden for ensuring the longevity of such exquisite finery from the 1970s and ‘80s.

“If he hadn’t collected these garments, they probably wouldn’t have survived,” she says. “In the ‘70s, not many museums were collecting high fashion, that trend didn’t begin until the ‘90s.”

Entrée into the fashion world

Eden’s pivot from cattle run to runway began via his housekeeper, a part-time model. Interested by her glamorous gowns, one night he accompanied her to a fashion event. Though embarrassed, perhaps because he was often the only man, he was captivated by the beauty of what he saw. He noticed that many garments were made of wool, suede or leather – the very materials he, as a farmer, worked with. The first item he bought was a Pauline Kingston gown made of merino and lurex (a material with glittering metallic thread).

Claire describes how one of Eden’s good friends, Joe Brown, ran the Miss New Zealand pageant and Eden started helping backstage. Soon, he was attending Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards and flying over to Sydney, for designer store openings and special occasions, such as a fashion parade held to raise money for the opening of the Sydney Opera House.

“At this point in the ‘70s he’d had a successful career farming and had a lot of money,” Claire explains.

Famous Kiwi designers that caught Eden’s eye included Vinka Lucas and Kevin Berkahn, both of whom used lavish fabrics and were commissioned to design dresses for the Miss New Zealand franchise. One Berkahn that Eden owned went all the way to the Miss World pageant in 1974. The collector also sought out award-winners like Australian Gown of the Year; he would purchase from up-and-coming designers too.

Statement pieces were the focus for Eden. His collection contained sleeveless jumpsuits, culottes and space-age capes, lurex knits, patented sequins, printed velvets, huge hems, snakeskin pattern and feather trims.

Putting Glenshee on the map

Outgrowing the wardrobe space in his 10-bedroom homestead, Eden converted the tractor shed into a fashion museum to house his unique treasures. It featured carpet, a mannequin parade area, glass display cases, music, lighting, easy chairs and chandeliers. Eden liked things a bit flash. As a child he dreamed of living in a big, elegant house with chandeliers.

What started as something for the wives of visiting farmers to peruse, had, by the mid-70s become a renowned attraction.

If you were of a certain age in the 1970s (even through to the ‘90s), you may recall hearing of him. On one hand, contemporaries remember Eden as introverted and quietly spoken. Yet there was a showman side too. His cattle drives appeared on two national television programmes. He would take ads out in the paper. Claire describes one black-and-white television segment in the late ‘70s that featured the female reporter wearing a different gown in every shot! The entrepreneur would then have signs saying, ‘fashion museum – as seen on TV’.

With more time on his hands, and no longer interested in ‘ordinary’ animals, Eden created a wild animal park, which included bison, Angora goats, llamas and miniature horses, an ornamental garden that boasted 400 roses, along with a floodlit fountain with 21 jets. His enthusiasm for collecting stretched to vehicles and even Jim Beam bottles.

Upon entering the museum, visitors would be greeted by taxidermy creatures. The innovator saw the set-up as an entertainment destination – he wanted to attract people to Central Otago. Buses would convoy people to the 8000-hectare property located between Naseby and the Dansey Pass.

The gowns, valued at over $100,000 in 1975 terms, remained the biggest attraction.

Community spirit

Eden was notable among collectors for his belief that the attire was something to be worn. He organised garden parties where locals would model the garments.

This exposure expanded to road shows and fashion events held in Southland and Otago – and around the country in the 1970s and ‘80s. Often, the events were ticketed fundraisers for local charities, such as Plunket.

Printed chiffon dress from the ‘One Only’ label by Pat Hewitt, early 1970s. Eden Hore collaborated with the Alexandra designer, often getting Pat to design and make dresses from fabric he’d bought. Eden Hore Collection.
Printed chiffon dress from the ‘One Only’ label by Pat Hewitt, early 1970s. Eden Hore collaborated with the Alexandra designer, often getting Pat to design and make dresses from fabric he’d bought.


Though Eden passed away in 1997, the almost 300-piece collection remains intact. The Central Otago District Council purchased it from his nephew John Steele and wife Margaret in 2013, and today it’s regarded as the largest and most important collection of New Zealand fashion from the ‘70s and ‘80s eras.

“It’s an idiosyncratic collection. Eden once described it as ‘high-end and exotic’. But he was outward-looking, he ultimately brought the world to Otago,” Claire says.

Thankfully, in the 1980s, Eden enlisted the guidance of Dr Jane Malthus, honorable curator for the dress collection at Otago Museum, who advised how to preserve the garments, which were already showing signs of wear and tear.

In 2019, the Eden Hore steering group breathed new life into the items by commissioning celebrated New Zealand photographer Derek Henderson to do a photo shoot in dramatic Central Otago locations. Styled by expat Kiwi (and current editor of Vogue India) Megha Kapoor, the result is a stunning suite of photos.

“Megha didn’t know the designers,” says Claire. “She responded to the garments as is. Having a contemporary stylist really shook the dust off the collection.”

The items are housed in the Central Otago District Museum in Alexandra. The steering group hopes photos and exhibitions ensure the collection isn’t forgotten.

Claire is co-curator of the latest exhibition, Eden Hore: High Fashion / High Country (the first outside the South Island) and says that the Eden Hore story is such a big part of the collection’s allure to modern audiences.

“His is an inspirational story of someone who dared to be different,” she says. “For me, it’s a very joyful exhibition – the garments project a myriad of ambitions, hopes and dreams.”

See a selection of garments, stories and photographs at The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt
until March 20, as part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of Art.

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