St Clair Design

Table setting by Venetia from Designa Weddings

Recovering, recovering, recovered!!!

I popped in to see Dallas three weeks ago and she suggested I might like to organise a few people to come up to St Clair Design for an evening’s shopping, nibbling, nattering and …….. we had a brilliant evening. Forty friends, friends of friends, workmates and people who responded to a quick mail-drop turned up on Wednesday 18th. It was everything Dallas promised, and more. A friendly, bubbly, relaxed evening with people catching up on friends, sipping wine, dipping into the clothes racks, having a bite to eat and dashing in and out of changing rooms.

On Friday I called in to see Dallas to collect the answers to the interview questions and she casually mentioned perhaps I might be keen on organising another evening. Sure, I replied, I’d be happy to. This time next year would probably work – another winter gathering to chase away the blues. Oh, said Dallas, I was thinking like  before the end of the year. And my runaway mouth left me breathless as I tried to catch up with it.  I heard myself offering to organise another evening late November/early December.

I know, I know. Our When North meets South exhibition is on November 4 – 26, but that’s during the day so I can manage both! The exhibition is open afternoons so I’ll work mornings only (thanks to my boss Julie!!) before I trip out to Macandrew Bay to keep an eye on the exhibition each afternoon and maybe even get the chance to relax outside the gallery and put poems to paper! Well that’s my plan!

Floral Arrangement by Donna from Simply Flowers

Anyway sometime late October I’ll post info about the next St Clair evening – you won’t want to miss it. Donna from Simply Flowers, Venetia from Designa Weddings, and Chris from Unique Jewellery are all keen to take part again. PLUS I’ve got some ideas to introduce at least two more craftspeople/artists to the evening.

Chris Bates’  Unique Jewellery attracted a lot of attention

The days are so busy at the studio it was easier for me to drop the interview questions in and let Dallas and Lana answer them in their own time. So here goes:

WNMS – Dallas there can’t be too many people who go into business with their former teacher. Tell me how you met up again once your school days were over?

Dallas I was working at Sew Hoys as Assistant Fashion co-ordinator with Jennie Sew Hoy and Lana sometimes came in to buy trims and fabrics for her business. Then after having my third child I met Lana at a party and she offered me part-time work.
Lana I kept following Dallas’s progress in the rag trade. Little stories in newspapers about Dallas at Sew Hoys, and going to Ireland. We later met up at a house-warming and I said about time you got back to work.

WNMS –  Lana you started the children’s label Ruff’n Tumble and the retail chain “Brothers & Sisters”. I remember the range as exciting, affordable, funky, and hard-wearing.  How tough was it to reach the decision to close the business?

Lana Really, really difficult. The government took tariffs off kidswear so our product was too expensive and too well made! We were forced out! I mourned for months over that.

WNMS –  Dallas you spent a year at The Grafton Academy, Ireland’s centre for ‘Design, Pattern Drafting & Garment Assembly’. How pivotal was your time there in terms of where you are now?

Dallas When I was at Sew Hoys, although I loved it, I still wanted to make the patterns so off we went to Dublin where I did a private course which began my pattern making skills. It was very much a technical skills based college, not particularly encouraging the creative side – that was left up to the student.

And they call this the ‘rag’ trade!?!


WNMS –  17 years – that’s quite an achievement in the fashion industry. You’ve done well creating an unfloodable niche. Where do you get your ideas from – are they middle of the night ideas. Or do you read, see, hear something,…. that starts the process?

Dallas Ideas come from all these places. Middle of the night moments, seeing someone wearing something that I take an idea from and run with it, magazines, movies etc and a lot evolve from previous season’s best sellers.

WNMS –  Do you keep a close eye on European fashions?
Dallas I’m always on the lookout but not especially.

WNMS –  Hallelujah is a distinctive name for a label, how did that come about?
Dallas We were finishing Ruff’n Tumble and this was the start of something new, hence Hallelujah.
Lana   Dallas liked the L’s , J and H’s in the word. A friend of hers did the amazing card with ribbon and needle on it.

The label

WNMS –  The team at St Clair Design has been around for years – that’s meant in the nicest possible way! Is there a special ingredient that makes working at St Clair Design so attractive, or is it a combination of factors?
Dallas We work together as a team and try to support each other through any difficult parts of the job. We brain storm a lot.

WNMS –  I guess you have your loyal followers. How important is location to your business?
Dallas A lot, also word of mouth –particularly when we began. So location and loyalty really.

So, where is St Clair Design?

WNMS – Do you have one season, which is busier than the others? Christmas, Melbourne Cup, Formal season?
Dallas The lead up to Christmas from Labour Weekend is the busiest. That starts with weddings, then on to the Melbourne Cup, the Christchurch Cup week, then Christmas ‘dos’, more January weddings.

WNMS –  There seem to be continuous graduation ceremonies in Dunedin. Do they offer many sales opportunities?
Dallas Yes some, but not as many as there used to be –online buying is quite popular.

WNMS –  And your hats? Are they mainly for bridal/ Melbourne Cup events?
Dallas We buy in hats but make the fascinators to match outfits, they’re unique, often made with dress fabrics . They’re mainly mother of the bride and also racing days.

WNMS –  Which season do you prefer designing for?
Dallas I love designing dresses for all seasons. Also jackets/coats are a challenge each year.

Colourful, quirky, and unique

WNMS –  How did the style of shop come about – as in a combined workroom and retail space?
Lana   I was already in Bond St for many years so invited Dallas to start a business together. We loved the space so worked out a use for it.
Dallas – We set about having a unique space where people could actually see the process and feel part of it by having input into their garment, as in choosing fabric/trim etc or adapting the style.

WNMS –  Do you always design with sale in mind?
Dallas I design with a wearer in mind. I want my clothes to be worn and loved, not hung in a wardrobe. I love seeing a woman wearing my garments down the street.

WNMS –  How does place – Otago –influence your work?
Dallas Mainly just by climate. A lot of our clothes can be worn here all year. They lend themselves to having a merino layer underneath.

Decisions! Decisions!

WNMS –  Silence or music while you work and if music what are you listening to?
Dallas I love to have music going. All kinds – a bit of rock, world music, and solo women artists. I love something a bit different.
Lana – Music softens the atmosphere when selling so its good to have for the customers

WNMS – Can you recall any especially  ‘fun’  selling experiences?
Dallas We have had so many experiences with our customers over the years. We’ve heard many secrets –seen a lot of skin and had many imperfections (real or imagined) pointed out to us. We joke sometimes that we need counselling skills as women, generally, are never happy with their body. I would like to think that we’ve made a lot of people’s dreams come true with their clothing choices and helped women be more confident in their skin.

WNMS –  What are your interests outside of the shop?
Dallas I enjoy being near or in the water. I do stand up paddle boarding, water ski a little. We spend time in Central at our holiday home and love to ride our Harley.

WNMS –  In the summer time I regularly scatter rose petals on our front porch –an idea I filched directly from St Clair Design’s Bond St days. What an intriguing and inviting way to entice people up the stairs! Where did the idea come from?

Lana I started it many years ago out of desperation at the mess the 12 students (they lived upstairs in the flats above us) made on the stairs.

I keep meaning to ask Dallas whether she’s started on her ‘haiku’ garment but I’m afraid to pop up those stairs in case I find myself volunteering to organise another evening. That particular question can just wait for a few weeks!


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