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Exclusive interview: Viviana Pannell

We caught up with Viviana Pannell, designer and director of Basquesse clothing after her show to find out what life is like being a fashion designer from Europe and living in Wellington.  Do you draw upon your European background for inspiration? 

Viviana:  I do, but not on purpose.  I suppose it is "in the blood".  There have been very strong women in my family, amongst whom the principal influences came from my two grandmothers, Ines and Stella.  They mentored me in everything and both loved to dress and were involved in all forms of art.  Your show featured a number of hats - are they a favourite of yours?   

Viviana:  I absolutely love hats and I think they not only constitute to the finishing touch to an outfit but are flattering and add beauty to most faces.  I particularly love the work of Wellington based milliner, Liza Foreman, whose hats were a big feature in my recent ANZFW show. 

She is a milliner after my own heart who would, most of the time, prefer to do something really bold, different and beautiful rather than something safe.  She is New Zealand's response to Phillip Treacey's work and I wish her every success and recognition because she very much deserves it.  What are Kiwi woman doing right and wrong when it comes to fashion?

Viviana:  Some women seem to have an innate sense of what suits them and I also feel, in general, most people are decently dressed here most of the time.  In Texas (where I lived for a long time), people will dress up when they have the opportunity (and there is plenty there - lunch being an opportunity) but you see shabbily dressed crowds in the malls and the streets when they are just shopping or hanging around.

What is wrong?  A number of things need to change.  We get a great number of women who need the opinion of the entire extended family before they decide to buy a garment.  This may indicate a lack of self confidence or self knowledge as I've had a  few people tell me that what we do is "too beautiful"  and they don't deserve it!

Many want to wear items with no differentiation so they can blend into the background viewing a beautiful jacket as a special occasion item only.  In contrast, me or my Expat clients (many diplomats and Sydney execs who come here) will wear an ornate brocade jacket with jeans for lunch.  It seems too often that the phrase, "same, same but different" is what is preferred and is quite frustrating not to see more of the individual shining through.  Are shoulder wraps the new thing in season?

Viviana:  They are and I think many designers here (myself included) have jumped into the trend by the looks of it.  A wrap is an inexpensive, easy to wear accessory that can dress up any item whilst providing warmth and the mandatory arm coverage that many are after.  If you weren't a fashion designer, what would you have chosen to do instead? 

Viviana:  My first choice would have been following in David Attenborough's steps and becoming a naturalist spreading knowledge about Mother Nature.  I love to explore and whilst I often stay at resorts and quality accommodation, I will not shy away from jungle explorations with all the risks and discomfort that it may include.

My second choice would have been architecture.  It became one of my passions since I helped my father when I was 8 to design the layout of his new house,  the one that he still keeps and refuses to get rid off.  It's a multi split level, whimsical but flowing, affair which has sunken terraces and mid-flight libraries.  What's your greatest achievement?

Viviana:  My daughters are the summit of all that I have set out to achieve.  My greatest achievement is the fact I plucked up enough courage to leave my country completely alone and armed only with knowledge to make a life out of nothing.  

I left Peru fed up of being several times a near miss target of the then very influential Shining Path (they hated relatively affluent, educated people).  I only had US $200 to my name but I had lots of ideas which allowed me to map out a plan that allowed me to move forward.  What's your best bargain buy?

Viviana:  I bought these boots in Windsor, England about 7 or 8 years ago, which I still wear all the time.  They were reduced by 75% to 100 pounds and they have been my battle boots since.  They resist everything, are comfortable and look good.  What advice would you give to someone starting out in the fashion business today? 

Viviana:  My main advice is that they have to be prepared to work "for the love of the art" for some time and have a second successful income on the side to provide the real money.  It is a marathon, not a sprint race, and those who are good at the game will be seen running, albeit at a less meteoric pace, for many years on.

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NZ Fashion Week 2010 

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