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Why Helen Cherry won't be at NZ Fashion Week
Source: nzherald.co.nz   |   August 26, 2017   |  123 Views

Hilary Stichbury meets the powerhouse behind one of New Zealand's best-known brands.

Helen Cherry's first brush with fashion was at 6 years old, with a deep rose baby-cord dress her mother made her for a wedding. "It had a white lace Peter Pan collar and cuffs," she says. "I had white Beatle boots to go with it. I loved that dress." Helen's mother owned a hair salon near their home in Avondale, and she designed and made salon uniforms for all her staff. "Purple hotpants, matching vests with printed pussy-bow blouses and high boots," Helen laughs, her voice low and buttery. "Fashion was just part of our life, as limited as it was, being in the suburbs. For me that was where it started."

She knew early on what she wanted to do with her life and in a school profile, at 10 years old, beside the word "Ambition" she wrote: "Fashion Designer".

From there things moved fast. Within the next decade she graduated from fashion school and landed a position at Zambesi, where she stayed for four years.

One afternoon she went with her boyfriend to visit Workshop, where she met the owner Chris Cherry, designer of the Workshop brand.

"I didn't realise they were an item at the time," says Chris. "He kept trying to shoo me away from Helen. He wanted to talk business, and I was more interested in this young fashion graduate with the masses of wild, curly hair."

Several years later, Helen and Chris became a couple. Soon after, Helen went to work for Workshop designing womenswear brand Streetlife, which she did for eleven years. Over time her sensibility sharpened and veered away from Streetlife's casual one, and Chris suggested she put her own name on the brand. "It took me three years to convince her," says Chris. "She wouldn't do it."

"I enjoyed the anonymity I had with Streetlife. I'm very private," Helen admits, her eyes fixed on a single point to her right as she speaks. She is considering every word. "For me it's about the craft of making clothes. It's not about seeing my name in lights." More a quiet achiever than a fashion rockstar, she would rather let her clothes speak for her.

Next month, it will be 20 years since her eponymous brand was launched, at the newly opened Workshop store in Vulcan Lane.

The collection hung, soft, blow-away silk pieces beside sharply tailored separates in finely woven wools, its sophisticated-girl meets rock-chic ethos offering wearers a way to show they were fashion fluent, but not fashion led.

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