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Dressing for Christmas with Zambesi

An interview with Elisabeth Findlay

Words: Ella James

After escaping the London rat race last January, I’m soon to be experiencing my first warm Christmas here in New Zealand. I’ll be exchanging sleet, log fires, dark nights and more sleet, for sun, beaches and baches. It all sounds most dreamy, and I simply can’t wait to get some vitamin D for Christmas.

For years gone by, my Christmas wardrobe staples have been comprised of a faux fur leopard print coat that my mother let me wear ‘just the once’ many, many years ago, sturdy, sleet-busting ankle boots and a thick red scarf; a nod to the big guy with the beard. So as you can see, an issue has arisen. Just what does one wear during the festive season as temperatures soar?

I needed help and I knew that only one person could provide the answer, most luckily for me, Elisabeth Findlay, the founder of Zambesi was coming to Christchurch to showcase the latest collection. The show itself served up some large servings of inspiration, but once the models had been applauded, I headed back stage to speak to Elisabeth.

Whilst you can easily recognise Elisabeth by her effortlessly cool style and perfectly undone hair, you can also pinpoint Zambesi’s leading woman by her personality. I’ve been in the presence of many fashion designers, models and celebrities in a backstage environment, but until that night, I’d never seen anyone so involved with the after-show chaos. Elisabeth was busy hanging all of the garments back up as well as tidying the area, which was from my experience, a job solely reserved for underpaid interns. Humble, hardworking and hands on came to mind.

Elisabeth looked ready and excited to talk, so whilst she picked up the remaining garments and congratulated the models for a great show, I began to ask her questions about dressing for the festive season…

I kicked things off by asking what Elisabeth had planned for Christmas this year. Her initial response was one of shock. How could it possibly be Christmas time so soon? The founder exclaimed that it had just snuck up so very fast this year. Having worked out how many weeks it was until the big day, Elisabeth said one word, ‘family’. It would be a time to relax with family, and with a sister like hers (Margarita Robertson from NOM*d if you didn’t know), we just can’t imagine a more stylish Christmas. Christmas day in the household always starts with pancakes for breakfast; a tradition that they can remember since they were young. At this point of the interview, Margarita walks backstage to congratulate her sister on a stellar show. The sisters, two peas in a very well dressed pod, look at each other most fondly. ‘Oh yes and those potatoes, every year without fail’, Margarita adds. Whilst Christmas is very much a family affair, the two sisters both concur in saying that their dream guest would have been Leonard Cohen, for his sheer wit.

I wasted no time in asking what outfit she would be wearing on the big day and if she had any tips that I could take on board. ‘It really does depend on the weather’ she exclaimed. She went on to explain that looking good and feeling good were of equal importance; both factors I was sure could be achieved as a result of wearing the natural linen Zambesi suit that Elisabeth was currently rocking. Said suit was plastered in an eye catching gothic font that spelt out ‘Zambesi’, a print that the brand had used on their wrapping paper just last year.

One of my questions planned for further down the line was whether Elisabeth championed overdressing or understating during party season. But before I reached said question, Elisabeth unknowingly answered in saying ‘it’s about being comfortable by underdressing but in clothes that still make a statement’. Talk about hitting the nail on the head, right? And already, my Christmas wardrobe is beginning to take some statement making shape.

Dressing for an office Christmas party is near impossible, so I quizzed Elisabeth on what she would be wearing to the Zambesi celebrations. The founder quickly looked up from the garment that she was oh so carefully hanging back up. ‘We were just talking about that! It really all depends on how I’m feeling on the day. I always have a few options in mind’. So that’s that! Next time I’m torn between purchasing two dresses, its better off to get both, for options sake…

What I’ve taken from the interview was much less derived from the verbal answers but more from the woman who stood in front of me, unstifled by uncomfortable clothes or shoes. A strong, impressive female with a penchant for dressing for nobody but herself. Whilst dressed to the nines in statement making attire, Elisabeth is visibly comfortable and at ease; something that I had noted as I watched her prepare for the fashion show earlier that evening.

I had one last question that I was burning to ask a woman who sports edgy monochrome garments a vast majority of the time. The timing was perfect, as she had just finished hanging up the collection and would soon be jumping in a taxi back to her hotel to relax, and deservedly so. I was expecting a negative response to my question but her reply only reinforced the notion that one should dress for themselves, regardless of what other people think or say. ‘What’s your stance on Christmas jumpers? You know, the really tacky ones.’ ‘Darling, if you love them, absolutely wear them, all year round’. So whist I won’t be asking my parents to fetch mine down from the attic and ship them over to New Zealand any time soon, I’ll certainly be taking Elisabeth’s pearl of wisdom on board.

So for Christmas this year, I’m going to go about dressing as Elisabeth does. I’ll be dressing for myself, regardless of trends and fads because that’s what makes style as timeless as Zambesi, after all.

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