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Person to Know: A Nonconformist New Zealand Designer

By Merrell Hambleton

Ben Morris
 
 

 

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Ben Morris
 
 

 

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Ben Morris
 
 

 

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Ben Morris
 
 

 

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Ben Morris
 
 

 

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Bristling on the back of an oversize coat, circling the sleeves of knits, bursting from the shoulders of a sweatshirt: Ruffles show up where you least expect them in Maggie Marilyn Hewitt’s latest collection. “It’s not too frilly or pretty,” says the New Zealand-based designer, who pairs the typically girlish detail with slouchy track pants and sporty rib-knit cuffs. The effect is almost punk — exaggerated, impolite, bold.

That’s just how Hewitt, 23, wants it. “Rule Breaker,” “Revolution” and “Change the Rules” are cheeky names for garments in the collection, but they could also be earnest taglines for Maggie Marilyn, the eponymous line that Hewitt launched last September. “There’s a freeness and playfulness in the clothes,” she says. “The feeling that you’re not conformed or constricted by anything.”

Hewitt executes her own nonconformities — cinched sleeves on a “board roomy” men’s shirt; a flouncy dress cut from power-suit pinstripes — with such confidence that it’s easy to forget how young she is. Less than a year out of Auckland’s Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design, her first season debuted at last year’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, where it was immediately snapped up by Net-a-Porter. This summer, she was shortlisted for the 2017 LVMH Prize by a panel of judges including Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs and Phoebe Philo.

Though Hewitt calls herself “very ambitious,” she admits that “the pace that everything has moved at is quite incredible.” For a newcomer and relative outsider (she’s the first New Zealander to be an LVMH nominee), such enthusiastic reception from the fashion world came as something of a surprise. “Being creative can be quite solitary,” Hewitt says. “You don’t know how the rest of the world is going to perceive your work.”

Rather than decamp to Paris or London, Hewitt continues to work out of Auckland and seeks solitude at her family’s Bay of Islands home when she’s designing. “I’m not a big city girl at all,” she says. She describes the North Island town where she grew up as idyllic but also “pretty rural,” with a population of about 7,000. “The outdoors was a big part of my upbringing because there’s not a lot to do — we didn’t even have a movie theatre.”

A childhood spent climbing trees and jumping off jetties informs Maggie Marilyn’s third collection, available at Net-a-Porter, Saks and others, which is punctuated by generous cuts, raw edges and “utilitarian” materials like cotton and denim. “You can eat in the clothes, you can run in them,” Hewitt says. “They’re not too precious.”

Hewitt may not care how people wear her designs, but she has strong ideas about how they’re made. Even with this year’s rapid scale-up in production, everything — other than the Italian-made knits — is still made in New Zealand. “I know exactly who made each of our garments and our factories are a 10- or 15-minute drive from our studio,” she says. “I love the humanness of it.”

Though Hewitt can be self-effacing in conversation — she’s quick to qualify a statement about integrity as “cheesy” and chides herself for overusing the word “empowering” — her garment names, like her clothes, are direct and unapologetic. One look from the fall/winter ’17 collection neatly summarises her philosophy and ambitions: a “Hold Your Own” knit worn over a deceptively simple slip dress called — what else? — “Don’t Underestimate Me.”