Fairy lights twinkle in the branches of the kowhai tree beside the deck in fashion designer Kylie Tate’s garden. On the table, pots of white flowering kalanchoe glow in the evening light and the air is filled with the tropical fragrance of star jasmine from the courtyard below. It’s a stylish garden with a slightly funky touch – a description you could apply to the designer herself, and to her label Redhead Clothing. “We design clothes for women aged 30 to the grave: women who enjoy who they are and want to look fashionable but don’t want to wear high-end fashion,” Kylie says.
Tiny, slim and elegantly clad, she greets us at the front door of the townhouse she shares with daughter Molly, 13, partner Paul Shadbolt and their two frisky Brussels griffon dogs, Digger and George. A towering sculpture of three perspex and stone columns stands like a space-age sentinel beside the front porch. Inside, almost every wall is covered in contemporary artworks.
“Whenever I finish a collection I buy a painting or two,” Kylie says. “I never do anything once. I always bake six cakes, not just one. And I always buy several pairs of shoes.”
Although she was always passionate about fashion, Australian-born Kylie originally intended to make music her career and studied the subject at Melbourne University. “But I wasn’t dedicated enough,” she admits. “My parents suggested I become a retail buyer, which would allow me to travel and buy clothes. So I did a two-year course at Myer and when I moved to New Zealand in 1986 I was a buyer for Kmart.”
She was pregnant with Molly and working from home when she started Redhead Clothing 14 years ago. “I moved [the business] out of home because I had a baby and an ironing board. Then Tina Garratt, our designer, came on board. There are seven of us now and we sell clothes to around 100 boutiques in New Zealand and another 100 in Australia.” Kylie moved into her inner-city Auckland home in 2003, after living in a warehouse for several years. “I wanted a home for Molly where were she could grow up and we wouldn’t be in each other’s faces.”
Running a demanding business means time out is precious, and one of Kylie’s favourite ways to relax is to escape into her garden. When she first bought the two level townhouse it had virtually no indoor-outdoor flow. A small deck from the main living space on the top floor was so tiny, “two people were a crowd”. And the courtyard, accessed through the downstairs media room, was covered in thick concrete.
Because the land around the courtyard had been excavated to create the lower level of the house, it was surrounded by high retaining walls. More retaining walls were built around the base of the kowhai tree that had been planted at the original ground level high above the courtyard. The tree was protected as part of the resource consent for the house’s construction. “In winter the courtyard was cold and dark because of all the high walls, so we wanted to make it more user-friendly. We kept thinking ‘one day we’ll get to the garden’, but we were always busy doing other things. In the middle of last year we finally decided to go for it.”
To provide more outdoor space upstairs close to the kitchen/dining area, Kylie and Paul commissioned Space Landscape to design a floating deck that cantilevered off the house, bridging the gap between the building and the retaining wall around the kowhai. “We thought there must be some way to connect the house to the boxed-in tree,” Kylie recalls. “It’s a lovely tree. I’m glad the developers had to save it because if they hadn’t, we would not have been able to do the deck this way.” Downstairs the couple removed seven skips of concrete and replaced it with cream-coloured square stone pavers interplanted with baby mondo grass in a chequerboard effect. Although they had initially hoped to build a ‘greenwall’ type of vertical garden in the courtyard, they eventually decided on a more cost-effective option: two large perforated steel panels on either side of the space. These will eventually be covered in the evergreen climber creeping fig (Ficus pumila), adding a soft counterbalance to the glass, stone and concrete.
Around the edge of the courtyard, raised planters with built-in hardwood seats make it a great place for Molly’s friends to hang out. The new deck is also the ideal spot for Kylie to work on the beautiful floral tapestries she creates in her spare time. “Whenever I have time and there’s good light, which you need because of the subtle colour gradations, I get out onto the deck with my tapestry.”
Her admiration for the floral patterns used in her tapestry got her thinking about how she could use flower imagery in her clothing design. When she visited the studio of photographic artist Sally Tagg in 2004, the idea really began to take shape. Sally was wearing a one-off T-shirt printed with one of her own botanical images, and Kylie instantly saw the possibilities of producing a range of garments on a larger scale. After seven years of research into commercially viable patterns, colourfast and washable inks as well as a cost-effective digital printing process, she has just finished a range of T-shirts printed with Sally’s botanical artworks for her summer collection.
The new direction in her work obviously excites this entrepreneurial designer. “Normally I buy existing fabrics for my clothing: this is the first time I’ve managed the whole process. Initially we’re only making T-shirts but I am looking at developing tunic dresses too using more of Sally’s amazing botanical images.”
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