Roxanna Zamani

By Roshannah Bagley

INVERCARGILL, New Zealand:: Haute Couture’s comeback as a major force in mainstream fashion is upon us. Originally disregarded in the sixties by the fashion industry, a new take on “high sewing” has appeared – ready to wear designer Erdem Moralioglu for instance has been hailed as “London’s answer to Christian Lacroix.” This resurgence has now reached the southern island of New Zealand – Roxanna Zamani’s impressive collection, “Incongruous”, features elaborate pleated detailing enough to make any Parisian couturier gasp.

“The garments are layered and light from a viewer’s perspective and are supported by boxy shoulders in the dresses and the capes. Yet, the shoulders of the dress are not structurally solid. Instead, the opaque organza reveals the wearer beneath. This is a contrast to the cape, where the wearer is concealed in a harsh-looking shell. The cape like shapes conceals the face and torso, whereas the dresses reveal the upper or lower body through the placement of densely-layered silk organza. This interplay of concealing and revealing continues with the relationship between opposites and has become a social comment on difference and the way that we view this opposition.” Press release for Roxanna Zamani.

Whilst studying textiles and subsequently fashion at Otago Polytechnic, Zamani furthered her skills at New York favourite Karen Walker and at Milan’s Instituto Europeo di Design (IED). Citing inspiration in the beauty of opposites and from her love of silk – “I love the way that it can pretty much transform into anything; its light, transparent and can be draped to heavy and stiff, that maintains shape and holds structure. Its ability to do so much is so intriguing, being able to push its boundaries and defy its gravity, is quite a fun experiment” Zamani’s soon to be renowned collection has since been chosen as a finalist in the ID Dunedin Emerging Designer Awards. Due to take place next week, it was the very same awards that propelled fellow Kiwi Nadeesha Godamunne (another FAULT favourite) last year into the public domain. This year the judging panel includes the radical Zandra Rhodes and FAULT predicts Zamani will take home one of the coveted prizes. The high level of expertise and craftsmanship shown in “Incongruous” is extraordinary for a first-timer, if these creations are anything to go by, expect to see much much more of Roxanna Zamani. FAULT presents the young Iranian New Zealand perfectionist as she prepares for the annual fashion competition.

FAULT:: Prior to studying fashion at Otago Polytechnic, you had already completed an arts degree specializing in textiles. What made you return to university for a second time?

Roxanna:: While I was completing my degree in textiles I took lots of classes over in the fashion department, I thought that these complemented my textiles degree and was an outlet for my interest in fashion, spurred by watching my mum sew all her own clothes and most of mine and my sisters. I found the classes challenged the way I worked and the more I did the more I wanted to do – it seemed to combine all that I was trying to find ‘creatively’ in some weird way.

Fashion and working with cloth has always been one of those things that had followed me around in all that I did and finally I recognised it, so I guess that it was inevitable that I would go on to study fashion.

FAULT:: Your graduate collection “Incongruous” displayed an incredible knowledge and utilization of silk. How did you achieve such ornate detailing by hand?

Roxanna:: Being influenced my textiles and learning about what they can do has allowed me to discover how to best use each fabric – this means that I learnt what they can and can’t do. Art school challenged me to go beyond this idea of textiles as craft and move forward – this I believe has helped me to see fashion, textiles and art as one; turning fabric it into a living three dimensional work.

Fabric choice was so important in executing the look that I wanted, and after experimenting with various fabrics, paper and silk paper, a silk fabric seemed to be the logical choice – I wanted something that was transparent and light but was also strong enough to hold form – a contradiction in itself, with being told various times that this fabric didn’t exist I was eager to prove them wrong. After weeks of searching for that ‘perfect’ silk fabric I found an extremely high count organza. I initially ordered 46 or so meters thinking that it would be plenty but soon realised that I was way out as this was only enough for one skirt. I ended up buying all that was stocked (over 200 meters) with the hope that he had more, sadly he acquired the fabric while on a buying trip and had had it sitting there for a few years. So I guess this was just wonderful luck.

Every piece of silk was cut by hand and then hand edged with a special adhesive that helped the fraying. Because I wanted really clean sharp lines I didn’t want to bag each folded section so the adhesive allowed me to cut the fabric and seal it so it didn’t look messy with frayed edges. This was really a labour of love, as it involved hours and hours spent with a little make up tip going along each individual edge. After each piece is sealed the symmetrical shapes are either folded or two pieces get sewn together on the inside. These are then sewn onto the base garments. Each pleat is measured and precisely applied so that they would be even and the garments symmetrical. Handing all the fabric in the sewing machine was a challenge in itself – if one pleat wasn’t applied perfectly straight it was noticeable, so unpicking and double checking measurements was a part of the process. Handing the fabric became an art too, juggling it all in the sewing machine lead to balancing it on chairs and using my legs to control the weight. I apparently looked pretty funny at times. I soon realised that the insides (because the stitch lines were all so perfectly distanced) were just as beautiful as the outside and I tried to make this a feature through stitch detailing on the leather.

FAULT:: What was your inspiration for this collection?

Roxanna:: The bulk of the collection stands on the comparison and paring of opposites – architecture, nature, new, old, hard, soft, strength and beauty. This collection “Incongruous” has taken things that ort not to go together, but all the while I have done so.  But what comes of this comparison and pairing – the similarities of each component ‘Opposites Reconciled’.  Antique china tea cups, for example, illustrate the tension and resolution between the hardness of the china and the delicacy of their shape and decoration, also ‘The Rasin Building’ by Frank Gehry which shows quite physically two becoming one – different styles blended and entwined – but not out of sorts. And the hard but delicately curved metal sculpture ‘The Matter of Time’ by Richard Serra is again a pure example of a contraction of material within form.

This idea of opposites conjures various notions of all the things that don’t belong together and this is what I have tried to undo – splitting things isn’t always the best way to resolve things. Understanding each element allows me as a designer to put things back together – knowing that difference ‘can’ stand side by side and ‘work’. The body and wearer play a huge role in how this is achieved through what is shown to the viewer and that that the wearer conceals. For me coming from a culturally diverse family has allowed me to articulate this difference, the blending of two different/opposite cultures to make one, allowing them to stand side by side and together – this idea is the heart of this collection – a reunited front. Difference; blended into something new – Opposites Reconciled.

FAULT:: Your creative approach is fairly unusual for a New Zealand fashion designer – a great deal of the industry promotes casual wear. Where did this love for couture originate from?

Roxanna:: Couture……maybe I am just a traditionalist. I’m not even sure if I can describe my love for it, there is just something about couture. Its pure craftsmanship, time, energy, history and the power that it commands is just breathtaking. Fashion is not only clothes and a ‘spectacle’ but art work – for all to enjoy. This becoming evident in the 1971 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘Fashion: An Anthology’.

I think that this way of working found me, I have come from an art background specialising in textiles but I also love printmaking and ceramics and I have learnt to be very hands on. Allowing the materials to move within themselves I learnt how to push them, trying to get the best that I can out of them. This physical hands on approach has allowed me to get involved and I like connecting with my work not only on an intellectual level but in a hands on emotional level.

I am a hard worker and don’t shy away easily so perfectionism comes with that, looking to all the details, no matter how small they seem. I strive to present a garment or anything that I do to the best that I can, so if that means spending hours cutting and meticulously sealing edges and hovering over a sewing machine then that’s what I have to do – the garment leads me there it’s not premeditated. Hand stitching and tailoring the garment to a specific person is all a part of moulding a flat piece of fabric to the body; a three dimensional object. This personal approach I like, it somehow resonates within me.

FAULT:: How does it feel to be a finalist in this year’s ID Dunedin Emerging Designer Awards?

Roxanna:: It is a great privilege and I feel honoured to be a part of the awards, with the amount of people that applied it is quite humbling. Having the opportunity to compete and show alongside designers from all over the world is a brilliant opportunity for me as a young designer. Especially on an international level is what I believe, just the beginning – not only for me but everyone. It’s exciting and I am eagerly looking forward to meeting all the other designers and seeing their collections.

FAULT:: Are there any plans to continue your studies?

Roxanna:: I would love to do an internship at a couture house in Europe, get some hands on experience and work behind some of the most revered designers in history. I love hard work and learning and am excited about all that there is out there. I would also really like to complete my Masters in Fashion maybe take some extra classes in business sometime and would love to do this in Europe. But other than that I’m not sure. I have studied for six years so far so I am taking things as they come and seeing what opportunities arise.

FAULT:: What are you working on at the moment?

Roxanna:: I am constantly sketching and planning collections, I have thousands of ideas running around in my head – focusing and editing them is the hard part. The project that I am currently working on at the moment is looking into similar ideas that I was working on for ‘Incongruous’. This idea of contractions and opposites becoming one and public and private space; it is quite a bit more sculptural but has a few more wearable pieces in it. Accentuating and distorting the body all the while maintaining a feminine quality with raw architectural lines. I am blending traditional tailoring techniques with a contemporary outlook on crafting styles and fabric manipulation. It is incorporating my love for antiques, art and craft techniques and is a definite play on illusion. Through the opposition of form and material translating into public and private space, hidden and revealed so that only the wearer may distinguish both elements.


Photographer:: Inge Flint

Models:: Elza Jenkins, Nellie Jenkins and Nicole Clulee @ Ali McD Models

Jewellery:: Claire Rewa

Designer:: Roxanna Zamani