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Gimme shelter

6 November 2023

Fashion industry aficionado Vicki Taylor talks three decades in the trade, finding inspiration from the Otago Rail Trail, and her stunning new store in Dunedin.
Words Josie Steenhart

“I think we managed to remove the last of the paint pots at 4:30pm on the day we opened for our launch party, so it certainly was a race to the finish line,” laughs renowned fashion maven Vicki Taylor as she recalls the final throes before throwing open the uber cool and stylish doors of her newest enterprise, The Shelter by taylor, on Dunedin’s Filleul Street.

Vicki, who has worked in the New Zealand fashion industry for more than three decades, started her eponymously named label taylor in a 35m2 space on Jervois Road in Auckland’s Ponsonby, “making my pieces out the back of the store and living upstairs”.

“We had three employees by the end of my first year there, and now 24 years later I have three brands, five stores and almost 30 employees.

“Taylor was founded in 1999 in that small retail space. I paced myself opening stores in between becoming a mother. In 2014 I started The Shelter – a designer concept store to showcase a curated selection of international artisanal brands alongside some of New Zealand’s best established and emerging labels.”

After being asked “many times” while buying internationally for The Shelter why she wasn’t selling the taylor range in Europe, Vicki launched a northern hemisphere-specific brand, Symetria Concept.

“Symetria sits in some of my favourite stores worldwide and I am humbled to say it has been in Selfridges in London in Designer Gallery 1 since 2019,” she says.

“Here our New Zealand-designed and manufactured brand sits amongst the leading international designers who I’ve idolised my whole design career – Yohji Yamamoto, Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens – and we sit right beside Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe.”

But back to the South Island, and the immensity of the final days before opening was further exacerbated by Vicki having committed to being a judge at the celebrated Hokonui Fashion Design Awards (won by young Dunedin designer Molly Marsh), which saw her spending the week prior in Gore – but the passionate fashionista clearly has no regrets about her extra busy schedule.

“The Hokonuis were a special time for me. It provided a quick escape from the construction and realities of opening the new store – I got to put the paint scraper away, dress up for a black tie event and celebrate people’s incredible talents.

“The awards were amazing, and becoming part of the Hokonui team who run it, who are all volunteers, was what made the event so much fun. The designers in the show certainly displayed amazing talents and I was really blown away by the level of talent and construction.

“I’m really passionate about supporting emerging designers – I’m such an advocate for supporting the younger generation as they start their own labels. Seeing the level of design, especially coming through at high school level, really inspired me. I certainly could not have achieved that when I was at high school!”

Like many of Dunedin’s central city retailers, Vicki has set up shop in an historic building – a former garment factory no less – which comes with equal parts character and challenges.

She says initially it was the wraparound windows and “beautiful natural light that flowed in” to the space that really captured her – “those who have been to The Shelter in Auckland will understand my attraction to natural daylight”.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops.

“The Dunedin space had just gone through earthquake strengthening, so we had many facilities that were still not connected, such as electricity, hot water, heat, flooring etc.”

Undeterred, Vicki set about transforming things according to her enviable aesthetic vision.

“The rawness of this space meant I could just apply my design brain to a blank canvas,” she explains.

“My Dunedin manager Sarah laughs, as after the first time we went through the very raw space I had a rough sketch of the bones of the store and how we wanted it to feel and work within half an hour.

“Three months later, she’s now working in the spaces we sketched up on that first day. It’s at times like this you just have to say the space spoke to me.

“Like any construction zone, we encountered unexpected hurdles, but my amazing building team worked night and day to ensure we finished on time.”

And liberally applying a taylor/The Shelter/Dunedin fashion signature hue didn’t hurt.

“By painting everything inside matte black, it enhances the mood and enables people to enjoy finding their personal zones of interest within the space,” says Vicki.

So why Dunners for this latest project?

“Dunedin has a fabulous creativity and as a city it celebrates individualism – it seeps through every aspect of the city,” says Vicki.

“So to me, it was to be the perfect location for our second Shelter store.

“Dunedin has a strong and long-standing fashion and design identity, and I hope to add to this and be part of making Dunedin a design hub for the South Island. Our own building at 41 Filleul Street was once an old garment factory, so it’s fitting to bring the building back to its roots, housing New Zealand design.”

And despite launching something new and arguably a bit different into an industry Vicki describes as having always been a tough one (“fashion has a glamorous exterior yet a very hard and crunchy inside”), and in a particularly rough economic period, she’s delighted by the city’s reaction and remains optimistic about the local industry as a whole.

“We’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the response to the store.

“We really wanted this space to be more about the experience, the stories of the designers and their brand identities rather than just being about selling things.”

Vicki says the unique creativity of New Zealand design “is nurtured by our ability to think outside of the square and our remoteness to those big commercial fashion hubs”.

“Our uniqueness is supported by our fabulous population who celebrate individuality – this is one reason why we hold and support emerging New Zealand designers at The Shelter. It really is an honour to discover and showcase the talents of the young designers, and hopefully we can help build their business base and ensure they have the building blocks to reach international markets like we have.”

In turn, Vicki has found plenty of personal inspiration during her extended time in the south.

“My family and I recently did the Otago Rail Trail, which was a huge highlight for me. Our new collection ‘Interrupted Perfection’ brings together all the inspirations from that trip!

“But please ask me this again in another six months once I have more visits under my belt, and my Dunedin training wheels taken off. I really look forward to discovering some of the great places in the area, and now I no longer have my paintbrush in hand!”

Click here to read this story in our digital issue of 03.

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