Mā pango, mā whero, ka oti ai te mahi - Through our collective efforts, we can achieve

Sandra Simpson talks to Doris de Pont about marking a milestone while in lockdown.

A museum marking its tenth birthday during a national lockdown when public buildings are closed and gatherings banned would be all about uneaten cake, uncorked Champagne and limp balloons, right?

Well, wrong for if your museum happens to exist only in cyberspace the celebrations – and exhibitions – can continue as planned. Welcome to the NZ Fashion Museum, where the doors are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year.

Doris de Pont was a fashion designer of 40 years’ experience when she decided to close her business in 2008 and start afresh.

“When I had the business, I was always reviewing what we were doing and how we were doing it,” she says. “I’d been working with New Zealand artists who created original fabric designs for fabric with everything manufactured in New Zealand.

“But it became uneconomic to produce that way and I didn’t want to change. It was an uncompromising decision because it ended the business but it was the only one I could make.”

As that door closed, the portals of Auckland University opened and Doris went on to gain a BA (Honours) in Museums and Cultural Heritage.

“I’ve always been interested in how clothing speaks about who we are and how we want to be seen, how it can be an expression of our identity. Which is the clothing that speaks of us being a New Zealander in this place at this time?”

Knowing that many museums have wonderful collections of textiles which are generally not on display, Doris started to look for a way to share collections and information.

“I was inspired by a 2005 exhibition of garments made when Marilyn Sainty was retiring. Photographer Deborah Smith asked Marilyn’s customers for a garment that was loved or held a story. It was a physical exhibition and also a photographic exhibition, and that started me thinking about showing garments online.

“Taking care of textiles is a very expensive function and specialised work and my aim was always to share more than a physical museum could ever do.”

That germ of an idea resulted in the 2010 opening of the NZ Fashion Museum, featuring a series of exhibitions, a photographic collection, and an events listing.

Occasionally this virtual museum mounts a physical exhibition in collaboration with a bricks and mortar museum. “For those we borrow clothes from owners, from private collections, from institutions,” Doris says.

“What’s in people’s wardrobes is a wonderful source of history. If something’s kept it has been given significance. Clothes in museums can be ordinary by comparison – there aren’t any stains or tears and the hems haven’t been taken up or let down.”

  • While you’re visiting the museum don’t miss this show about Tauranga’s own Expozay (1976-1996), which in 1981 became the first New Zealand swimwear brand in the North American market.

Parisian Ties have been made in central Auckland for 100 years.