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The godmothers

28 May 2021
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NOM*d’s Margi Robertson (right) has been named as one of five godmothers of the Dunedin fashion industry. iD Dunedin Fashion’s co-chair and creative director Dr Margo Barton (far left) stands applauding. Photo: Supplied

Nurturing Dunedin’s fashion industry are five well-known designers. Meet the godmothers of iD Fashion. 

 It feels like rather unfortunate timing to call Dr Margo Barton. The iD Dunedin Fashion co-chair is busy collating a list of results from judges to whittle down the finalists for the International Emerging Designer Awards in her office at Otago Polytechnic.  

But Margo brushes off the concern in a gentle manner that seems to immediately envelope you in warmth.  

“Oh gosh, no, don’t worry,” she says, gently chortling down the line. 

With a long history of nurturing young designers in her role at the polytechnic and at iD Fashion, it feels that she, too, could have been named as one of the ‘godmothers’ of iD, though she is quick to deflect such a suggestion. 

The godmothers are iconic designers who continue to nurture Dunedin’s fashion industry. They are: Margi (Margarita) Robertson of NOM*d, Tanya Carlson of Carlson, Donna Tulloch of Mild Red, Charmaine Reveley of Charmaine Reveley and Sara Munro of Company of Strangers.  

The concept emerged while Margo was working on the Fashion Forward > Disruption Through Design exhibition, which is scheduled to be shown at Otago Museum next year. 

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Dr Margo Barton helped put together the exhibition to be shown at Otago Museum next year. PHOTO: Supplied

Included in the display will be an iconic garment selected by each designer. 

The ‘godmother’ name was only meant to be a placeholder, but it quickly stuck, says Margo. 

Not only are the godmothers generous with their time, but their accessibility to students and other designers ensures Dunedin’s fashion industry thrives, she says. 

“Nom*d, Mild Red and Carlson most definitely, in my mind, are so important to the Dunedin fashion scene. And it is like Charmaine and Sarah are our god-mothers-in-waiting. It’s like they mentor each other through, and it is so lovely to see,” she says.  

And will the godmothers be wearing matching taffeta-like outfits at the opening of the exhibition next year?  

“Oh, I think that’s a great idea, we’ll have to do that,” laughs Margo down the line.  

Oh dear. 

* * *

Godmother Tanya Carlson is navigating Piha Road, when she answers the phone. It seems like awful timing, once again. But it’s actually perfect, she says. 

“It’s because I’m in the car and I don’t have 50 people – no actually I don’t have 50 people – but you know, I can focus,” she calls down the line while car static beams through.  

She is straight-talking, knowledgeable and only uses the odd swear word, none of which are offensive as she is so entertaining with it all. In short, a wonderful godmother indeed. Exactly what you’d expect from a child of the ’70s who grew up on the Otago Peninsula, surfs and has survived 22 years in the industry. 

“It [The industry] takes no prisoners and spits out a lot of people on the way. I think if you have an obsession about fashion and are not worried about money, you’ll get there. I was out surfing last night and that’s my thing, because some days it is like, ‘Wow, what are we doing?’ ” 

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Tanya Carlson gives back to the fashion industry by nurturing young designers. PHOTO: Supplied

She is a long-standing iD Fashion board member and adjudicator on the judging panel for the emerging designer awards. She was also one of the founding designers of iD Fashion. 

It was when Tanya returned from Australia in her early-20s that she came across her own fashion godmother – a name synonymous with Dunedin fashion; Diane Waugh of Waughs.   

“She was extraordinary. She had lived all over the world and she was really great at introducing me to New Zealand labels and designers. It was the connection with someone who spoke my language. I could speak to her a couple of times a day if I needed to,” she says. 

“She had amazing books; I was able to constantly troll her books like [The Andy] Warhol Diaries,” she says.  

And because Tanya knows what it is like to be a young designer, she gives back as much as she can.  

“I know how hard it is; it’s a tough business. I feel like it is my part of supporting Dunedin and giving back to the industry,” she says. 

*This article was written before the Convid-19 lockdown

The Outfits

Next year, Otago Museum’s Fashion Forward >> Disruption Through Design will showcase the quintessential work of Dunedin’s fashion grandmothers. Here are the iconic outfits selected by the designers. Words and photos courtesy of Otago Museum. 

Margi Robertson, NOM*d 

Nomd Promo

The look represents NOM*d in timeless fashion. Masculinity is merged with femininity. The uniform is always present. Traditional but re-invented. T-shirts are forever and genderless. 

The jacket, created in 2002, represented our venture into sustainability, at a time when it might not even have been a genre. We collected men’s dinner jackets, unpicked them down the centre back and joined two mismatched ones together, then feminised them by adorning them with pretty jet-like buttons. 

The kilt references uniform and a gentle nod to the Scottish heritage of Dunedin, but presented in black – very NOM*d.  

And, of course, the stencilled T-shirt – iconic and part of the NOM*d look since 2001. 


Tanya Carlson, Carlson 

Carlson Promo

The Piwakawaka (Fantail) dress was created for the hero image for iD Dunedin Fashion Week 2016. We wanted to capture the Gothic essence of Dunedin; its greyness, its beauty, and I think it does that. It’s a romantic view and brings together my memories of growing up on the Otago Peninsula and references a history of Gothic literature and architecture.  

I wanted to play with gender in the piece too, by using a traditionally male fabric and colour and creating something empowering and truly feminine in its shape.  

The pleating in the piece works with the wind and the movement that is created is incredible. I think it’s a strong piece and it was fantastic to see it chosen by our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to wear to last year’s Vodafone Music Awards. 

Sara Munro, Company of Strangers 

Company Of Strangers Promo

Our look for this exhibition captured our holistic view of Company of Strangers’ collaborative design process. It has a combination of my all-time favourite pieces made with friends – they each bring a different viewpoint to design. 

Anne-Mieke Ytsma made a show necklace for us for the New Zealand Fashion Week show in 2014. My collaboration with her was the first and is still ongoing to this day. We co-design our jewellery together and then it is made in Dunedin. 

Harley Jones drew graffiti on our flouro leather goods for the Pop Collection in 2013. We went on to design a textile print together for the next season and this design has been incorporated into our store packaging. 

This outfit really brings out what I love about Dunedin – the ability to meet and work with friends in an organic and vibrant way. 

Donna Tulloch, Mild Red 

Mild Red Promo

Design to me is a very personal thing. Inspiration for my designs and collections derives from personal interests, experiences and relationships. This outfit is for my family, my father. 

My father was a shearer and musterer and this outfit is a celebration of his dedication to being precise and hardworking; values installed in me. Nothing comes easy. If you want it, you work hard for it. It is old-school ethics. 

This black wool dress is made from layers of hard work; singlets of life. Upside-down half singlets, elongated singlets and a backpack of yarn. It represents both wool and the stories or ‘yarns’ about days gone by. Desires, dreams and hard realities. The backpack of life. 

Charmaine Reveley, Charmaine Reveley 

Charmaine Reveley Promo

This is one of our current season frocks. It’s simple, classic and effortlessly cool and my favourite dress to wear right now. I think I follow somewhat more of an untraditional Dunedin aesthetic – I love uncomplicated, less layered, more simplistic design. 

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