A Conversation With Margi Robertson

An attentive audience gathered at Toitu last Thursday (28 March) to listen to a captivating question and answer session with Margi Robertson of NOM*d. We learnt about Margi’s mother’s cultural background (Russian but of Greek descent) and how her mother came to be living in Germany making uniforms for soldiers. Lucky for us, the family chose Margi’s birthplace, Central Otago, as a destination. The family moved to Dunedin when she was a baby. Margi was taught to sew ‘properly’ from an early age.

Margi during questions and answers.

Margi during questions and answers.

Margi and her husband Chris are a tight team and have both been there from the beginning of the business. He was sitting behind us at the Toitu talk and enthusiastically added the odd extra comment. We couldn’t resist repeating this photo from a previous post.

iD Designer Sale NOM*d fabric stall.

iD Designer Sale NOM*d fabric stall.

We learnt about the early days of the business, made possible by selling an MG car to raise the necessary capital. The first boutique, Hang-Ups, opened in Moray Place (now Mazagram) back in 1975 when rent was only $13 a week. Lack of space saw Hang-Ups move to The Exchange in 1976 and finally to the newly built Golden Centre (Dunedin’s first shopping mall) in 1978. However, foot traffic, mall-style, wasn’t their bag. In the meantime, the beautiful former Ernest Adams cake shop at 310 George Street came up for lease – a “fringy” part of town at that time. This became the first Plume. For many years the emphasis was on knitwear. However, when NOM*d were invited to London Fashion Week in 1998, they needed more than just knitwear. Being a keen op-shopper, buying up and reworking vintage pieces became the next stage.

Exhibit from the 2008 collection celebrating 21 years of NOM*d. It uses two reworked vintage cocktail dresses (one inside out) with a ‘Rollercoaster’ polo neck jumper and skinny pants underneath.

Exhibit from the 2008 collection celebrating 21 years of NOM*d. It uses two reworked vintage cocktail dresses (one inside out) with a ‘Rollercoaster’ polo neck jumper and skinny pants underneath.

Dress made from deconstructed vintage knitwear ('Stiff Upper Lip' AW07).

Dress made from deconstructed vintage knitwear (‘Stiff Upper Lip’ AW07).

Eventually, the pool of 1950s/60s cocktail dresses and other vintage pieces dried up. The emphasis then had to be on new pieces.

Margi has a fascination with gym slips and uniforms. Not exactly sure about the season – most likely to be from 'C'MON' (AW06).

Margi has a fascination with gym slips and uniforms. Not exactly sure about the season – most likely to be from ‘C’MON’ (AW06).

Margi loves the aesthetics of Japanese style (unashamedly black) and the grey tones of Antwerp in Belgium. Plume’s interior is also influenced by Japanese presentation (minimalistic and well organised).

Plume (March 2013).

Plume (March 2013).

Margi is drawn to tartans (nothing to do with Scotland), checks and ginghams. 'Panel Back Tunic' from 'Danse Macabre' (AW11).

Margi is drawn to tartans (not because of Dunedin’s Scottish heritage), checks and ginghams. ‘Panel Back Tunic’ from ‘Danse Macabre’ (AW11).

Margi talked about her design team whose premises are on Castle Street. The process starts with an idea or a picture and the collection name is generally decided at the end. Due to popular demand, there are far more dresses and far less trousers than in the past. Margi believes designers should stick to what they’re good at, in her case, womenswear rather than menswear or handbags. She doesn’t have a favourite past collection (each new one becomes her favourite).

Many of NOM*d’s fabrics are unique to them. 'Guide Skirt' from 'A Raven's Tale' (SS12/13). Fabric shows NZ icons and the words 'NOM DEALAND'.

Many of NOM*d’s fabrics are unique to them. ‘Guide Skirt’ from ‘A Raven’s Tale’ (SS12/13). Fabric shows NZ icons and the words ‘NOM DEALAND’.

Margi prefers screen printing to digital printing because she likes the imperfections and colour richness. She intends to continue having everything made in New Zealand. Different factories around the country specialize in producing different products, e.g. tees in Palmerston North, knitwear in Christchurch.

Horror Tees from 'Do Not Disturb' (AW12).

Horror Tees from ‘Do Not Disturb’ (AW12).

Thanks so much, Margi, for a fascinating insight into your world.

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