Te Waha Nui meets the rising stars of Auckland’s arts and culture scene. In the second of a four-part series, SARAH KRIEG and CARMEL TOLHURST talk to fashion designer Celine Chapman.
Celine Chapman is delicate. In her boutique of fabric samples, cut patterns and finished works, a candle scents the room, and flowers and a sitting area make it home.
The 25-year-old started her fashion line, Celine Rita, after graduating from AUT University in 2008. After years of hard work, Chapman’s summer 2012 jumpsuit has made it onto the cover of Fashion Quarterly.
“The cover of FQ has always been a dream of mine,” says Chapman.
“I don’t know how the clever people at FQ put together their pages. Obviously they liked the jumpsuit.”
But the Celine Rita label came from humble beginnings.
“I would hold little fashion shows for family and friends, take orders and set about making them on my own.
“After I put the little range onto Facebook I became so busy I had to get a machinist to help keep up with orders. And so Celine Rita was officially launched.”
Chapman started designing and selling her clothes straight out of university, and says her inexperience kept her enthusiastic.
“I was so naïve, I didn’t really think about it. I just did it.”
Avid determination, along with a magnificent vision, led to a spot in the New Generation show at New Zealand Fashion Week 2010, where she took out the New Generation Award.
Then, at the 2011 event, she had her debut solo show which received an extremely encouraging response. A hype of media attention followed and she was dubbed “one to watch”.
Chapman now has business mentors to help her along the way. She thanks them for the success of her latest collection.
“Eighty per cent of it is business. There’s no point in designing if you’re not making any money off it.”
Her personal relationship with each customer helps make the choosing and purchasing process seamless.
Chapman works with bridal parties to make bridesmaid dresses for their special day, she hosts “Wine O’Clock” on the last Friday of every month for customers to come and catch up, and says her boutique is ideal for small get-togethers and girlie functions.
She says her summer 2012 collection is her favourite so far, and is helping her know “who the Celine Rita girl is”.
“I’m really starting to find my feet as a designer.”
Industrial sewing machine at the ready, vision board hanging on the wall, and Flo – a shih tzu-poodle cross who she calls her baby – at her feet, Chapman says her work space is where the magic happens.
“My customers love that they come in and can see what I’m working on. The work space itself is very practical with the cutting table, sewing machines, desk, and all the tools I need.
“I also have a massive black board and inspiration board so I can keep all my ideas and thoughts in a good, visual spot.”
One of her biggest inspirations is her mother, who she says has supported her throughout her design process.
“I always turn to her to ramble on about things and bounce ideas off her. She never lacks enthusiasm or words of wisdom, especially when they are needed most.”
She says one of the biggest lessons she has learnt is moving on when things don’t work.
“And that applies to all sorts of things, not just business.”
She describes her design process as “a kind of evolution”.
“I design by starting where I finished off last season and let it take me whereever. I like to push myself each season and make sure every new collection is my best yet.”
During a recent trip to Paris she decided to embark on making coats for next winter in order for her collection to be substantial for the freezing weather.
“Paris was like a dream. I got so much inspiration from travelling. When I got to Europe I thought ‘ooh, I can’t wear my winter things over here’.”
As well as in her boutique, the Celine Rita clothing line is stocked in two other stores around New Zealand, and in Hong Kong.
Chapman is now hoping to start a “proper” retail shop in Auckland, before taking over the world. As well as growing Celine Rita around New Zealand, I want to have an international presence, including all the fashion capitals.”
She also has advice for budding fashion designers.
“Get workroom experience with a variety of designers, even if it’s only a week here and a week there. It gives you a feel of what you want to do.”
Chapman has big dreams in the competitive world of fashion in New Zealand. But for now, she will continue to remain modest about her great success, and continue to work in her petite workspace, with the help of little Flo.