Media Moment – Zambesi on the Media
September 23, 2009
So – this week being Fashion Week and all – -here is a themed media angle.
I went and talked to Neville Findlay yesterday, who, together with his wife Elisabeth Findlay (the lead-designer of the label) runs Zambesi.
They are commemorating 30 years in the business this year. They have the usual next-winter show that ran Tuesday night, then on Saturday a retrospective show of their 30 years.
I went to ask Neville about the change in the media environment over that time. I suspected that things were very different when they began. And yes, they were.
He told me that 30 years ago there was no chance that designers’ work would be included in the news. He even rang up the news one night as an international supermodel had worn Zambesi – and there response to him was -’who are you? who is Zambesi?’
He singled out the magazine Cha Cha as an exception – although not a mainstream publication it was one of the mainstays of noticing the local creative scene. Might be a story in that for another day I think.
He reckons that it wasn’t until Zambesi showed successfully at the Australian Fashion Week of 1997 that they started to get properly followed in this country. That led to mainstream media taking notice and it has snowballed from there. So for the fist 18 odd years the mainstream media just didn’t want to know, by his telling.
And my, how it has snowballed. From no coverage to the wall-to-wall takeover of the bulletins.
Neville and Elisabeth were true pioneers and if anyone has a right to deserve coverage it is them. So it was interesting that Neville was at pains to say that although they appreciate it, and that is a better situation than not being covered, that maybe there is a little too much at times, maybe it focuses on the shiny rather than the substantial, and maybe that there might even be other stories out there to celebrate.
He said that he wonders if perhaps there aren’t some scientists or other people out there who are doing as much, if not more, to earn the country money and prestige, that might deserve some of the attention that they get as designers. Which is a fascinating point. I’ll bet you could name five NZ designers in a heartbeat – but could you name five NZ scientists?
This is something that we have looked at on Media 7 - like in this panel with Sir Peter Gluckman, if you are interested.
But back to fashion, talking to Neville (who was tremendously calm and cool, especially considering he found time to talk to us on the day of their Tuesday show; he was thoughtful, relaxed and chill – and a total fucking dude) he also wondered if that perhaps instead of focusing on celebrities, celebrities with boobs and models falling off runways that the media could look past the glitz and talk about the clothes – the processes that the designer used, the innovations or new takes, the subtle details, the emotional stories informing the design- there are all these things that media could cover – but instead it is all goody bags and front row seats and famous people and shiny superficiality.
Neville also said that there were upsides to all this – as the good media coverage means that sponsors wish to partner with designers. It is through these partnerships that designers are able to put on the epic kind of shows that they want to. Having been to the show on Tuesday night I can see what he means.
Without sponsors there would be no way that they could have had so many people – the Sky City Theater has a capacity of 700 – and all the people there were drinking for the hour before and the 40 minutes it the show was running late. The sound design, 30 odd models, make-up, hair, styling, lighting design it goes on and on but everything was done exceptionally well and doing things exceptionally costs an eye-watering amount. Neville said that being able to do shows is a very important part of Elisabeth’s creative process – a punctuation point for all the planning, designing and crafting that goes on season to season. Without doing a show it doesn’t have a creative end to the process – and seeing that things like fashion design creativity never really have a finish it is important to segment the ranges by doing shows.
It also creates a quite wonderful sense of drama around the range. The show on Tuesday was epic and romantic and mysterious and compelling in a way that most theatre could only dream of. Not bad for what could have just been a bunch of skinny people walking around in circles.
So, if there is one upside to the endless inane vacuous gushing embarrassing coverage all over all the news shows all week – -it is that, in part, that coverage is helping designers like Elisabeth Findlay realize her creative vision on a scale that NZ just couldn’t support without the sponsors that are drawn by that very stream of silly stories.
The interview with Neville will be running on Media 7 this week, first screening 9 10 on Thursday on TVNZ7, and I will post it up here on Friday.(UPDATE_ it is there now).
And here is a game to play for the rest of the week – -try to see how many of the stories actually talk about the clothes, rather than the rest of the rubbish. Actually, this would make a good drinking game – for every cliche used or superficial angle taken you could have a skull. I reckon your liver would fail before the week was out. If you have any suggestions for making a drinking game – please add them below.