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Exclusive interview: Trelise Cooper  Is it a mix of creativity, experience and education that constitutes to a good design?

Trelise: I think you definitely have to have creativity and a good idea.  It's not that you necessarily need to be backed by education, because I wasn't, but you have to be able to express it in a way that's accessible.  It has to have a reality to it so that people will buy it.  What part of being in the fashion industry do you enjoy the most? 

Trelise:  I love the idea. I love the creative process.  I love coming up with the idea, developing the fabric or the print and all that process that goes into it.  I love seeing the idea transformed into a garment. What makes your clothes so wearable/accessible? 
Trelise:  While I like the ethereal and the whimsical, there's also a reality about who I am.  I like being inclusive, I like to be friendly and I feel some of that comes through in the clothing.  I have a joy for life and I think that definitely comes through.  What's the biggest compliment someone has paid you and your label?

Trelise:  I think the biggest compliment is knowing that I'm hanging in a store internally alongside international designers, so the buyer has given me that compliment by buying me.  I also love the fact women can choose any label in the world and they choose mine, so that a real compliment. 

There's an agent in the UK who found me in Italy in a store in Rome, and each piece she picked up happened to be mine and that's how we ended up with her as an agent, so that's a great compliment too. 

Also, the other great thing is that women choose my clothes for important occasions or a milestone in their life.  I've had women married in my clothes, buried in my clothes - that's a huge compliment.  If you could pick one pinnacle moment in your career to date, what would be the most memorable? 

Trelise:  I've had so many.  One is appearing live from the red carpet at the Oscars and then appearing live on BBC 1 Breakfast Television.  I was at this amazing party (the year that Lord of the Rings won all the Oscars) and I had been invited to attend a party with them and I was chauffeured down the hill in LA and taken on to the red carpet.  I just remember the smell of the flowers.

Another highlight was when Prince bought an outfit to wear in concert and other stars like Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon and Sharon Stone who have worn my label.  It's a real compliment that the stars have chosen my clothes when they can have anyone in the world!

Another moment was when Miley Cyrus chose our garment to wear at American Idol Gives Back in front of 97 million people.  The dress is now on her figure at Madame Tussauds, London.  I've had lots of really cool things happen but I then have to just get on with it! What's the one item in your wardrobe you couldn't live without? 

Trelise:  A jacket.  I like that it gives structure and makes my feminine clothes less pretty.  Who do you consider to be the most stylish Kiwi?

Trelise:  Bex Roberts.  She has a natural beauty, beautiful flowing red hair, pale skin and has her own style and vibe.  Whether she's channelling retro 50s or Rock Chick 80s, she puts it together in a really great way.  She's got great shoes and handbags, the best in New Zealand I think!  I just like the way she puts it together.  If you could dress one person in history who would it be and why?

Trelise:  Napoleon, because I love a man in uniform and I love anything to do with military. I love the buttons, the braid, the embroidery and the embellishments that come with a military uniform.  What's your favourite period of history in terms of its costume?

Trelise:  The Marie-Antoinette period (late 1700s) because I love the colours, the no-holds-barred approach, the sumptuousness of the silks and the way in which they were detailed.  Please complete the sentence.  If I wasn't a fashion designer I'd be...

Trelise:  A singer.  I used to sing and loved it.  You're going away for the weekend, what three items must you always have in your bag? 

Trelise:  I'd have to say I'd take a dress tunic so that it works as a short dress but also with trousers or leggings. So I'd put in trousers or leggings and the third piece would be a great jacket.  What's the last item of clothing you bought?

Trelise:  A very beaded dress.  In your opinion, what item of clothing is overrated? 

Trelise:  I think jeans are overrated.  I like jeans but I think too many people wear them and see them as a fashion item and they're not; to me they're not.  Unless they are a fashion pair, then that's ok.  It annoys me when people think they're being fashionable with jeans and a top.  That's not fashion, that's getting dressed.  You've taken part in a lot of charity work over the years, how did this happen? Why did you choose the charities you did, and what have you got from it on a personal level? 

Trelise:  I have always 'given back'.  I was a Lifeline counsellor as a teenager, I read to blind people when I was growing up and I've driven cancer patients, so before I got into this business, it was a big part of my life. 

When I didn't work, I worked three days a week on a voluntary basis for Food Bank and Crisis Counselling Place.  I now no longer have that time so I am happy to use my position so that I can continue the deeply held philosophy that came from my family and I believe that I wouldn't be me if I wasn't giving back in some way.  

The charities I've been involved in have usually approached me and I've chosen them because they have resonated with me in some way.  It's an important part of who I am as a person - it's how my husband and I live our lives. 

My husband volunteers four days a week building houses and my father also joins in when necessary, as they both have time.  It is a family thing that's been right through my life and I continue doing it.  I see fashion as an art form, what other forms of art do you enjoy outside of the realms of fashion?  

Trelise:  Well, this is an all-consuming art form!  I love the idea of drawing and painting and I did do classes for a very short time and loved being able to express that, but I just don't get the opportunity to do any of that.  I have a view that when I stop working I'll take up painting and drawing. 

My mother-in-law took up painting when she was 65 and became a great painter, sculpture and travelled the world - she had a great later life with that.  But you need space and time and I don't really get that at the moment.  Let's fast-forward 10 years.  Where is the Trelise Cooper brand? 

Trelise:  I hope to be internationally recognised and to have a chain of stores globally and more line extensions.  I want to be still working and enjoying it and having as much fun and energy as I have now!

Visit Trelise Cooper's official website


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NZ Fashion Week 2010 

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