Designer Spotlight: Natalie Chan

NatalieChan Natalie Chan, the fabulous designer for her eponymous line, talks to Kelly Jin of Designer Direction. Natalie gives a refreshingly frank 411 on fashion design and what it takes to make it in the beloved but fiercely competitive industry of fashion.

She’s one of the hottest designers on the block and her name is Natalie Chan. If you haven’t heard of her, it’s about time you got acquainted. Situated in the heart of Parnell, Natalie’s boutique is a sumptuous treat and heaven incarnate for that girly girl in every woman. One look at her creations can transpose an ordinary kiwi gal to the1930s French Riviera or even perhaps a glamorous nightclub in 1920s Berlin.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what motivated you to get into the rather cutthroat industry of fashion.
I was born in New Zealand. I lived over in Taiwan for eight years and went to an American school and moved back to New Zealand when I was about twelve. I have always wanted to do fashion since I was seven. It helped that my parents were supportive. I was always encouraged to do whatever I wanted so long as it made me happy and fashion did just that. So I went to study for a certificate in patternmaking and garment construction at AUT and then I worked in the textile industry for about three years. I also worked for Trelise Cooper at the same time for approximately two years. After that, I got an opportunity to start my label and create a range for a store in Parnell and from there on I haven’t looked back!

You are known for your absolutely delicious one-off pieces. Tell us what inspires you and how the Natalie Chan range reflects that.
What I am inspired by is simply life. I travel on a yearly basis to be inspired by new things. I adore romantic things. The vintage times between the 1920s to the romantic 1950s are themes that run through my collections. I pick an era and then all it takes is inspiration from either a person I meet or a store or just going somewhere and experiencing something.

What is the main thing you would like women to get out of your clothing?
To gain confidence. When you listen to other people comment on what you’re wearing it gives you a huge amount of confidence and pride. That’s I want customers to get out of my clothing.

Natalie's StoreTell us about some obstacles you encountered while establishing your line and how you managed to overcome them.
A substantial one that I remember is due to the fact that I entered the industry when I was quite young. Age was a huge thing. I also looked a lot younger than I was so I had a lot to prove and some big shoes to fill. That was probably my biggest obstacle. You know, it’s taken me a good seven years to get where I am now and I respect those who have been able to maintain their part in the industry because so many people just come and go.

Do you have any advice for people who are interested in starting up their own label? Are there any prevalently held misconceptions about fashion designing or fashion designers, which you would like to address?
My advice is that you have to really love it and want it. There are times where it’s absolutely amazing and times when it’s just not. Therefore, you have to be prepared for both the good and the bad. Owning a business is a huge thing and you really need to have an eye for it. Designing and drawing pictures is not everything. It’s survival of the fittest. You have to be keyed in on not just the fashion part of it all but also study up on the business side.

What are three personal traits you have found most useful in this line of work?
Common sense, a mature outlook on things and motivation.

Describe a somewhat normal day for you.
No day is ever the same. Normally I wake up at quarter to seven and I get to work at around eightish. I look through my emails and run through my job sheets. I do a lot of things for personal clients as well so I need to put them first. In between, if I can, I slot in a couple of designs and then when my girls come in I let them know what needs to be done. I give a heads up to my manager in the retail store just to let her know what’s happening and if I have any appointments. The workroom girls and I all share the jobs upstairs which consists of working on outfits for the range and client work. That pretty much consumes the whole day and I could finish at any time from five thirty to eight thirty or later depending on the workload.

Your fave fashion spots in New Zealand?
I think Mangawhai Heads is amazing. They have a beautiful chocolatier there – Bennett’s chocolates. I love the beach over there. Also, markets. I love La Cigale. I adore the people and the very concept of it because it reminds me of a cute little village in Provence. My mum’s store, Cartier Flowers. I find the colours, the flowers blooming and the scents inspirational. Everything is so romantic and dreamy.

At the moment, the economy is looking pretty morbid. As a fashion insider, do you have any tips for those who want to tighten their belts on spending?
I think trying to buy Kiwi made products, while they are a tad bit more expensive, is a good idea because then you’re keeping all the jobs in New Zealand. Also, make sure you love what you buy and buy things that are versatile and durable.

What are your plans for the future?
Actually, you can now purchase items from the Natalie Chan range online. I see this as a vital step towards becoming international.

Visit the Natalie Chan website for store information and her latest collections –

Image credits: Kelly Jin


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