Wednesday, February 17, 2010

i heart Company of Strangers "Misery loves Company"

Strangers on a catwalk

By Tom McKinlay

It's not a bags to riches story just yet for Dunedin designer Sara Aspinall, but the iD Dunedin Fashion Show first-timer is beginning to make her mark.

From her Crawford St workroom, Aspinall (32) has put together her first full winter collection, "Misery loves Company", which will join the iD parade along the Dunedin Railway Station platform next month.

It has been the usual long hours and hard graft putting the collection together, especially as Aspinall's line also includes bags and jewellery accessories.

But it is coming together.

She has now sourced the 15 pairs of shoes she needs for her models.

Not that that is the end of the process in Dunedin-born Aspinall's world.

"We are going to do a bit of a cover up on them.

"We're going to make them into boots."

Which is a fair example of the approach the designer takes for her three-year-old Company of Strangers label.

"You can always turn something into something else.

"Give it another life," she says.

"When I started the business, I started making bags out of leather jackets, sourcing them from wherever - the uglier the leather jackets the better," she explains.

Now, after three years, Company of Strangers has expanded to the point where it is offering a full range of "multiple personality, motorcycle and bogan culture"-inspired gear.

"The winter season I am showing includes some bags and jewellery in there as well.

"It is only the second season of clothing," she says.

The first was a small collection of spring clothing, which has been on sale in Dunedin exclusively at Plume.

Company of Strangers is in another nine stores around the country, one in Australia and recently picked up two Hong Kong outlets after a Paris outing for the line.

Aspinall's burgeoning career had its start at Otago Polytechnic, where she completed a fashion diploma in 1997 before finding work at Margi Robertson's Nom*D label for six years.

In 2007, she returned to the polytechnic to upgrade her qualification to a degree.

The time at Nom*D was invaluable, Aspinall says.

"I was working really closely with Margi and had a lot of responsibility," she says.

That experience made the transition to her own business that much easier.

"It has been hard work, but it has been easier to set up my own business and get ahead a little bit faster as well."

The approach of breathing new life into old materials has remained, with jeans recycled into bags and shorts, or remodelled in combination with other fabrics.

Pieces of vintage leather have been reborn as waistcoats.

"Even if I am not using recycled materials, I am kind of recycling old ideas as well."

The winter collection continues the approach of giving clothing new life.

For example, one piece, a jacket, started life as a second-hand plaid shirt and some old leather from the op shop.

The next step in the design story was to introduce new fabrics - "with more drape" - and some wool crepe.

By the end of the process the short jacket had a leather tuxedo look from the front, was a shirt from behind and had the added flexibility of morphing into a tailed jacket by pulling the bottom half of the front back behind the wearer.

The collection for iD features jewellery made in collaboration with Dunedin jeweller Anne Mieke Ytsma.

"We have a lot of similar ideas in terms of the way in which we look at things," Aspinall says, explaining the genesis of the collaboration.

Not that it is a case of misery liking company.

Aspinall says the name for her collection is more ironic than literal.

She's reshaping a new use from an old saying.

Credit: Otago Daily Times

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