nymphets is subverting gender, style, and new zealand fashion
For Rose Thomas, there are no restrictions when it comes to fashion. The self-taught designer and founder of Nymphets creates experimental, confrontational clothing with no notion of gender.
Nymphets designs are a lesson in glitzy gossamer, sequins and fake fur, all combining in collections that poke fun at fashion's excess. But while Nymphets clothing can revel in texture, it also cuts a clean silhouette. Shorts and shirts in conservative cuts, shin-length skirts and trim pant suits feature alongside avant-garde sleeves and ruffled collars in neon tulle. And it's all designed for anyone to wear.
Designer Rose Thomas started sewing when she was eight years old. She had already created a clothing line before launching Nymphets in 2012, desiring clothes that were different to what was available in her hometown of Auckland. Now she's creating some of the most daring and original fashion in New Zealand.
Key to the brand is collaboration. With the help of Auckland's thriving underground arts community, Rose stages runway shows, photo shoots and short films. With friends as models and muses, her creations are both faithful interpretations of what youth want to wear, and fantasy creations that ignite the imagination.
You skipped fashion school, was that a conscious decision?
Yes, I prefer to teach myself. I hate being told what to do, so I'd rather make mistakes to figure something out than go to school.
When did you realise you wanted to make clothes for people other than yourself?
When I was 18, I starting selling clothes I made as a way to make a living. I didn't want to get a real job.
How is Nymphets clothing produced?
I make all of the clothing, three of everything. I think it's important to know how much work goes into a garment to understand how much it's worth. I think a lot of people don't understand the time spent on making even the most simple garments.
Many designers create with specific people in mind, but you seem to have taken a deliberate stance opposing this by creating unisex clothes. How important is it to you to experiment with notions of gender in your work?
I want to make clothes for people with a similar outlook as me. I make the clothes genderless because I don't think gender is necessary in clothing and I want an audience that's aware of that. I've always dressed boys in my clothes without thinking about whether they're wearing a dress or pants. I don't think men should be embarrassed to wear feminine clothing. There's no shame in femininity. I want thoughtful, creative people to wear my clothes.
There's a vibrant community around Nymphets that has a strong sense of collaboration. How important is it to you to be involved in a scene like that?
It's really inspiring and exciting. I love working on projects with people I respect. There are so many people in Auckland doing cool shit. Also, I want the people that love Nymphets to be included with how it creates. It needs to be more than just my own ideas to grow.
You use models that often seem to be your friends, not professionals. What's your motivation behind that?
Choosing models is something I try to do with care and respect. I don't want to objectify people or promote stereotypical beauty norms. It's hard to find models who aren't skinny white girls, and I'm sick of seeing only them in the media and being told that's the only form of beauty. My friends are beautiful and they challenge the mainstream standards of beauty. I think the modelling industry needs to change, and I want to do more to promote that change.
Nymphets has been described as aiming to "subvert the tacky flashiness of the fashion world". As someone who has staged some impressive independent runway shows, how interested are you in participating in traditional fashion events, and the fashion industry in general?
I'm interested but wary about joining in. I get really disenchanted by the whole industry. I don't want to participate in the exploitation of people in order to make money, and I feel that's the whole buzz of the industry right now. I want to build Nymphets my own way. Also, the New Zealand fashion scene knows what it likes; I'm not making clothing for middle-aged rich white women.
There's a recurrence throughout Nymphets collections of shiny, iridescent fabrics. Is this part of an effort to convey that "flashy" idea of fashion, or because you like the way it looks?
Both, I love shiny things. I think that if someone is going to spend lots of money on a piece of clothing, it better be extravagant and flashy. Otherwise, what's the point?
What's next for Nymphets?
I'm going to move into and run a store on K Road at 203H for the next few months. I'm also curating shows in the space. Then we're releasing our next collection in early November at Y E S collective.
Text Sarah Gooding