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A world of colour

Words Juliet Speedy

Talking to Jane Daniels makes you want to immediately jump on a plane to go on a round-the-world trip. The Britain-born fashion designer has a distinct passion for the world and its beauty and you can see this clearly in her collections. It is travel that helps define her and the fashion label she created back in 1986.

Jane Daniels

Jane travelled back to London at 20 years old to study design, pattern making and tailoring and now travels extensively every year. There’s no question that Jane’s designs are hand-curated depictions of the places she goes. “Anything can inspire me. A detail on a building, a costume in a museum, a colour combination in a painting.” She moves about the world inhaling the sights, smells and colours all around. “Like in Egypt, the indigo water against the chartreuse reeds on the Nile.” Add to this the lapis, turquois and carnelian stones in Tutankhamen’s jewellery and she has herself an exciting collection.

Jane says her philosophy is to design ‘want-to-have’ rather than ‘need-to-have’ garments. Every one of her collections is a careful curation of contemporary, versatile, easy-to-wear pieces that range from casual to corporate to cocktail. Her starting point for all her ranges is the creation of her own colour palette. She then has her European fabrics bespoke-dyed in Europe. Her designs, she says, have a backbone of good tailoring with elegant simple lines. “I like to incorporate innovative and unusual detailing, bending the rules somewhat for the more imaginative pieces.”

The Auckland-based designer has become well known for always using high-quality fabrics. She heads to the Paris textile fair twice a year to get the latest prints, textures and technical fabrics, most often from Italy. Because of the seasonal differences she can have them in store in New Zealand before Europe and America. Her travels have taken her to Europe mostly for her fashion inspiration but more recently to more exotic destinations as brand ambassador for the Christchurch-based Innovative Travel Company. She’s been to Egypt, Iran, India, Oman, Morocco and Sri Lanka. It’s this exposure to new places, new cultures and new colours that inspires her ideas.

One of her favourite destinations for work has been the Silk Roads in Uzbekistan. “What will always remain with me is being surrounded by walls of intricate tiles of brilliant blue, turquoise and saffron in the Shah-i-Zinda (sacred street) in Samarkand.” She also loved India for its vibrancy, Kyoto for is serenity and Inner Mongolia for its unique and natural landforms.

Her upcoming summer collection is inspired by the tropical island locations in the Caribbean, with fresh white linens and ice. “Cream pastels and a palette of strong tropical colours – red-orange, Galliano yellow, spring green, turquoise and hot pink linens.”

If Jane could choose any country in the world to live in, after New Zealand it would be Italy. She loves the food, the history recorded in the architecture and arts and the fascinating regionalism. “Every town in Italy seems to have a specialty in terms of food or an artisan tradition that has been maintained.” She’s made leather-bound books under a master bookbinder in Fabriano, a town famous for paper for over 1000 years.
“And furthermore, France is just across the border, I adore France and love its wine!”

She also loves Italian food. Once in Bologna she found a little restaurant, De Cesar, which opened in 1955. “I love their dish of ravioli pumpkin, butter and crispy sage.” But her favourite was a hole in the wall in Florence – Vini E Vecci Sapori. “A Mama-, Papa- and son-operation with the best zucchini flower pasta.” But, Jane says, a New Zealand pinot noir or an outdoor summer lunch with a dry rosé is rather unbeatable, too.

Jane sees the biggest challenge of the fashion industry as waste. This is compounded by the fixation of the world to share their lives online and having a visible status. “A narcissistic cult of celebrity-by-degree exists. Ultimately the result is an accelerating need that pressures the fashion industry to produce ‘the new’ more often.” Jane says this model is not sustainable for the planet. “Every few months a news story breaks about millions of dollars of new unsold clothing being incinerated or going into landfills to protect a brand.”

But the Jane Daniels label is proudly New Zealand made and has its own high standards. They pay fair wages and the construction costs are well governed by New Zealand labour laws and the company’s own ethical standards. “We know the people who make our garments and have good first-name friendships with our sewers and cutters.”
The same they can say for their clients. Jane says they’re fashion-forward and discerning and know that the high quality, mostly natural European fabrics and quality tailoring means they’re not inexpensive. “I think most importantly they are engaged, in that they tell me how much they enjoy the back story and travel/history research that I bring to my collections.” Two of her clients loved the brand so much that a few years ago, they joined the Jane Daniels team.

Jane loves the Japanese simple yet detailed aesthetic citing her favourite designer as Yohji Yamamoto. “His draping, asymmetrical cutting, origami folding and architectural detailing.” Early on she was influenced by the sleek, tailored looks of the Italian designers like Giorgio Armani and also Donna Karan. But she says now there’s a much greater demand for less rigid clothing and for fabrics that stretch and move with you. Her original collections were built around suiting as there was always a strong delineation between work attire and leisure. But that’s no longer the way. “There is an ever-increasing demand for trans-seasonal and travel-friendly clothing. This is how my collections have evolved.”

Never sitting still long, Jane is about to head off to Greece. One of her colleagues in the Christchurch store is getting married on Santorini and, much to Jane’s delight, has invited the boss. She’s going to head to Meteora to see the clifftop monasteries, to Athens and to some of the islands she’s researched. “I hope to do some painting and to gather some ideas for jewellery design.” She advises this for anyone travelling. Jane takes hundreds of photos but also travels with a pen, a watercolour notebook and a bijou paint box to record what she sees. “It makes you observe more closely and a just a few coloured marks on a page can be a fabulous souvenir of your trip.”

While her trips are all busy soaking up the sights, smells and sounds Jane also recommends a pool day every so often. “A chance to reflect on what you have done so far and perhaps edit your photos and write a few postcards.”

When Jane’s not designing garments or travelling the world, you’ll find her on the beach, or at home with their four cats reading a historical novel or a biography on a pioneering woman. She also loves to paint. “I love the looseness of what I would call happy accidents that watercolour can provide.”

Drawing inspiration from an ever-changing world ensures Jane Daniels, the person and the brand, stays very on trend.

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