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Sisterhood: Nom*D’s Margi Robertson on Zambesi's Liz Findlay

  • In association with Westpac
  • November 3, 2016
  • Sarah Dunn
Sisterhood: Nom*D’s Margi Robertson on Zambesi's Liz Findlay

When Liz, the elder sister, moved up to Auckland to work in the fashion industry, she wasn’t the only one to be informed and inspired by the upmarket boutiques and exciting designers. Princess Margarita was right behind her.

“When I used to go up and visit her, we would go around all the boutiques of the time,” Margi says.

Her favourites included The Case Is Altered and Jennifer Dean.

Having experienced these stores, Margi began to feel that there wasn’t anything which was “the real epitome of what a boutique should be” in Dunedin at the time. It was this sense of opportunity which led her to establish her own store on Dunedin’s Moray Pl in 1975.

Like Liz’s first boutique, Margi’s sported a kitschy moniker: Hangups Boutique.

“Awful name, but it was the 70s.”

This name lives on in Hub, the company name Plume is registered under.

Hangups Boutique’s main asset was its location – and the rent of $13 per week didn’t hurt either. The site was essentially a garage, but it was on the octagon and directly accessible from “the department store of the time,” the D.I.C.

“We thought, ‘Well, you can’t really go wrong.’”

Margi’s husband Chris was then working as a merchandiser for Lion Breweries. He drove an MG at the time, and when he was instead given a company car, the couple were able to fund Hangups Boutique’s first purchase of stock by selling the MG.

Always having the support of her husband has been invaluable, Margi says.

The Robertsons moved Hangups Boutique several times during the 1970s. Throughout this period, Margi had admired a shop owned by baker Ernest Adams which sold Queen Anne chocolates. With its leadlight windows and old-fashioned attention to detail, it epitomised her love of antiques and architecture. She later found out it was an exact copy of a chocolate shop in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1979, the Robertsons launched Plume in this dream shop, simultaneously opening Hangups Boutique in the Golden Centre Mall. A few years afterwards they closed Hangups and retained Plume as their sole boutique. A second Plume outlet was opened in Christchurch in 1992.

In 1986, Margi established Nom*d. The label is distinct from Plume, which has always been a multibrand store: “We’ve been there for so long, people tend to get confused.”

The impetus for Nom*D was found when knitwear label Caroline Sills began to supply its stock to other stores. Exclusivity was important to Margi, so the prospect of controlling the distribution of her own label was appealing.

Knitwear was a logical specialisation due to the proximity of the Roslyn Wooollen Mill in Mosgiel. Nom*d was a knitwear label until 1998, when it was invited to show alongside Zambesi, Karen Walker and World at London Fashion Week the year after. Margi says she wanted the label to have its own identity on the international stage.

“That was our next development, I suppose.”

Margi says Nom*d doesn’t compete with Zambesi as she and Liz’s taste is very similar. She describes it as having gone down a “utilitarian” track with its womenswear, referencing uniforms. One of its early lines was waterproof rainwear inspired by the overskirts that female bowlers used to wear.

Liz’s label is “more feminine”, Margi says.

The pair don’t consult one another much about ideas these days, but the buying trips to Paris Liz mentioned are a highlight for Margis too, and they still have similar tastes.

“It’s always been a collaboration, I have to say.”

Margi has always worked with people she admires – stylists, art directors – and son Sam produces Nom*d’s stencilled t-shirts. It’s important to take advice from those around you, Margi says, and also to recognise that staff members have their own lives outside the label.

“Even though I’m at the helm of the ship, I don’t steer it solo,” she says. “There’s always lots of people who make Nom*d what it is.”

“If you rely on yourself all the time, you become a bit one-eyed.”

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 745 August/September 2016

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