Laura Macfehin looks ‘Behind the Seams’ at iconic Wellington brand de Vol!
I well remember my first de Vol garment– it was a black Jeanie dress my husband bought for me and which miraculously fitted like a glove. It quickly became my go-to dress because it was so comfortable and easy to wear and was super flattering.
Over the years I have bought many garments from de Vol and I can say in all honesty they have been the most flattering and most loved modern clothes I have owned. Their aesthetic continues to evolve, but they remain reliably consistent in their commitment to craftsmanship and high quality, locally produced clothing. So I was excited to find out more about these Cuba Street stalwarts!
Who are the folks behind de Vol?
There is just the two of us; my partner in crime Brendan and me, Stacey
You’ve been selling clothes for almost twenty-five years now- how did you get started?
If you counted my stall at Calf and Lamb day at primary school and the Barbie clothes I sold to friends and family you could say it’s been a little more! De Vol started when I studied fashion and Design at Bay of Plenty polytech in the mid 1990s. In my last year we had to make up a clothing label and produce a range.
When I finished tech I sold most of my work over that summer and I just never stopped. Brendan was trying to get a streetwear label together doing screen-printed tees and denim but he couldn’t find any shops to take it on. So I guess his ideas came over to de Vol (de Vol is named after Frank de Vol who composed the music for the Brady Bunch, a show we both loved as children).
How did you learn to design clothes? Were you a home sewer or did you have training?
Well I have always been interested in sewing. Way before I could sew I would get mum to sew scraps together and wear them until they fell off or mum would hide them from me. When I was nine I got my first machine and started making my own clothes. Aunties would give me fabric or I would cut up old things.
I wasn’t very popular when I made Madonna gloves from mum’s wedding dress.
Brendan’s mum was a factory machinist and had machines at home; when Brendan was a teen he would cut up old suits and make punk tees and hoodies.
We met at a sewing factory in our late teens, and when the factory closed down I decided to follow my childhood dream and study fashion.
What is your process like– do you start with a fabric or a garment in mind? Where do you work?
Jeepers my process is very random. Sometimes it is a design idea, which may just be something like a sleeve shape to a dress silhouette, other times it could be something I would like to wear. There can be problems with this method is finding the right fabric which speaks to you, and says hey make me into…
Our work room is attached to the end of our house. It was built as a billiards hall by a previous owner, and has the best axminster carpet. Its definitely our dream work room with space for an office, a three metre long cutting tables, six machines and twenty years of patterns.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
That’s a hard one… it has definitely changed over the years. There has always been a retro vein in our designs. I think what I am going for at the moment is late 1970s librarian who has just come back from a trip to Japan. We would like to think our clothing is versatile, easy to wear and care for. We don’t go for fussy fabrics, and try to pick fabrics which will last.
Where do you get your design inspiration from?
I really enjoy reading and learning about new things. Inspiration could be from traditional costumes, different periods in time, or reading a biography about an interesting character.
In the last few years I have been influencing current inspiration especially Japanese and South Korean work. It also helps that the Japanese do the most beautiful fabrics.
How has the process changed for you over the years?
I leave less doodles around the house these days, especially now that ceramics take up any spare time I have. I use to work on de Vol seven days a week (actually some weeks at peak times we still do), just not all year round.
The clothing industry in New Zealand has changed a huge amount in my time. Firstly tariffs were lifted off imported clothing in the 1990s, the internet came along, and a disposable culture has come along… being such a small business we really need the bigger local designers to stay in the game, but they are closing their doors and that affects suppliers.
So the situation now is that is more difficult to find fabric, machinery, mechanics and more. All of these factors affect our process, we now produce more designs in lesser numbers than we did in the late 1990s/early 2000.
Were you always creative/crafty?
Yes totally! Being sick as a child meant staying in bed knitting and drawing. My great-gran, my grandmother and my mother were all sewers/knitters.
Brendan’s grandfather was a saddle maker and his mum is a sewer and he made his own wooden toys as a child. So we have both been around makers since we can remember.
What has been the highlights for de Vol and you over the years?
I think having clients like Anna Paquin, The Pointer Sister and Nico Case is pretty awesome for such a small label like us.
You know the best thing in the world though is when someone takes the time to let you know how much they love whatever it is that you have made them.
What do you spend your time doing when you are not creating fashion?
I started making ceramics about five years ago, and have become an addict! I love the freedom of being able to make something that is what it is and I don’t have to think about how it fits, who will suit it etc.
Ceramics for me is a great stress relief and I feel very lucky to have people want to buy it. I sell my vases and planter pots (as the tailors wife) at Yvette Edwards floral studio in Wellington and Frutti stock my porcelain necklaces and earrings. Also I have been getting back into dying fabrics, especially linen, I used to do a bit in the 1990s dying muslin.
I notice you are including knitteds in your range now– what other developments do you have in mind for de Vol in the future?
I have been toying with the idea of an on-lone store for my ceramics. I’m not sure how it would work along side our clothing or whether it should be its own separate thing. Something to look into for sure. I love making both ceramics and clothing so it would be great to have them together.
de Vol clothing can be found online and at the Cuba Street store Frutti and they are very kindly offering our readers a discount from their webstore! Just enter promo code ELLBLOG10
This code is valid until the end of July!
Frutti, 180 Cuba Street, Wellington.