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Meet Olivia Cashmore: The up-and-coming designer on everyone’s lips

Just months after the launch of her debut collection, Olivia Cashmore is already fielding high praise. With longevity at the core of the designer’s ethos, it is a praise that is likely to stick. 

On the day that I speak with Olivia Cashmore, she’s celebrating the one-month anniversary of the launch of her eponymous label. It’s a proud moment for the 27-year-old designer, though one that began with a decent dose of inner turmoil. “There are obviously so many brands out there and so much product, it was quite conflicting to even decide to start something. I thought, ‘What could I bring to the table that [is] going to be new and exciting?’ I don’t want to make things that people don’t want to buy.”

A quick scroll of her website proves she had nothing to worry about. Her debut collection, consisting of two curated capsules – a trio of slouchy leisurewear staples and a selection of elegantly tailored made-to-order statement pieces – has already started selling out. “Of course, it’s a big relief. Especially as a creative, you’re putting your ideas out there and people will either like them or they won’t. People have been supportive so far, which is amazing. That’s exciting. It’s just the start, really.”

Her thoughtful approach to fashion is unsurprising considering she got her start in the industry at friend Maggie Hewitt’s sustainable label Maggie Marilyn. “She hired me as soon as I graduated. [It] was really cool to work alongside my friend, but also to help her build her dream and her business. I worked there for four years. We were quite a small team, getting a taste of everything and doing every kind of job. It was incredible to get that experience.”

But during last year’s lockdown, Cashmore found the dream of having her own fashion label bubbling to the surface. “I was actually going to take three months off to have a bit of a break from the fashion industry. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just started playing with designs and having fun – it literally stemmed from that. It felt like the right time to give it a go.”

The collection is a reflection of Cashmore’s personal style, deftly dancing between the laid-back and the elevated, the casual masculine and refined feminine – always cool, considered, approachable. “I love to mix casual and formal, colour and print with something more tailored and classic. The casual side of my style is the menswear; a slightly baggy and tomboyish fit. Then the tailored more formal pieces reveal my shape and add that touch of femininity that I like.”

Parts of the collection read like a love letter to the designer’s childhood, imbued with nostalgic nods. The ‘Again and Again’ jumper with its contrasted fleece and water-resistant panelling is a loving homage to her dad’s old Kathmandu fleece. “There is this special, homely feeling wearing something of your dad’s when you’re just hanging around at home. It’s a comforting thing to wear something from someone you love. It’s like wearing a part of them in a funny kind of way. I love the idea of having pieces that my kids can wear again.”

This idea of creating clothing with longevity is a pillar of Cashmore’s ethos – not just clothing that lasts, but that gets better with age. “A big part is the construction and how the garment is made, what kinds of fabrics you’re using to stand the test of time.

“It’s also about changing people’s mindsets. I don’t like the idea of buying something you wear to one event and get rid of. It’s seeing the value in something and cherishing it so then your daughter might want to borrow it from you. Your clothing is such a huge part of your personality and who you are,” she says, pointing to her decision to use her parents as models in the campaign.

“The world tells you that you can’t age, you can’t get wrinkles, but that’s actually the beautiful part of life. I used my parents to show that our clothes have the ability to be cherished and looked after – and still look good – in 20, 30 years time.

Photography by Rachel Soh

Contemporary yet classic, Fable Dunedin is a five-star charmer

Throughout its almost 160-year history, Dunedin’s iconic Wains Hotel has had many tales told about it. Built in 1862 by Job Wain during the height of the Otago gold rush, the building stood out on Princes Street with its elaborate, Italianate-style architecture. At one point, it was said to have housed a secret bar, the owners flicking on a light to tell patrons when it was safe to enter.

Though they are blocked now, a network of tunnels is connected to the building, once used to run gold from the former bank down to the waterfront. There are even ghost stories circling around, though I can gladly say I didn’t come across any spectral encounters during my stay.

Re-opened in late 2020, the property is now the five-star boutique hotel Fable Dunedin, and this luxury accommodation option marks a new chapter in the building’s storied life. The refurbishment, which was led by luxury design house Y-6, took almost three years to complete.

The goal was to bring the building into the modern age without losing its Victorian-era elements, according to Y-6 director Suzanne Lear. “We wanted to preserve as many of the beautiful ceiling details, the scotias, the facade and the stairs. The beautiful windows were preserved and we did replace one in the balcony room on level one. This was replaced as closely as possible to the original in timber, and locally made. The building was such a beautiful blank canvas, hiding beneath layers of beige.”

One of the most striking features is the building’s black and white facade. The original ‘Wains Hotel’ is etched across the first floor, with gold accents dotted about, a nod to the gold-mining history. Look closer and you’ll find curious carvings – Neptune with his wife and children, an American eagle and the Prince of Wales feathers, inscribed with ‘qui va la’ (who goes there).

As you step through the glass doors, you’re kindly greeted by a well-dressed concierge attendant and handed a welcome refreshment. The lobby is an elegant blend of classic and contemporary, with modern artwork and lighting fixtures alongside carefully preserved heritage elements, such as the grand staircase.

“Wains Hotel has history intertwined into its very walls. The original lift still runs from the lobby to the Princes Street building,” says Lear. “The past is everywhere in the building.” Bringing this “grand old dame” into the 21st century was incredibly challenging.

“The historic buildings in New Zealand weren’t built with a modern building code in mind. We had many challenges to overcome before we started to paint the picture that is what we now see as Fable Dunedin,” Lear explains. “Nothing is straight. There is a staircase that leads up to what were once the staff quarters in the attic that is on a distinct lean. It has been made perfectly safe and sound, but the lean will always be there!”

The 50 guest rooms and suites are luxuriously appointed, with moulded panelling on the walls and muted tones inviting you to slow down and retreat. Tartan blankets, commissioned from Warwick Fabrics, are a nod to Dunedin’s Scottish roots.

“The concept originally conceived for the hotel was that of the Englishman, Irishman and Scotswoman: Job Wain, who started Wains; Thomas Bracken, who formed The Press Club, and Catherine Wain, Job’s wife,” explains Lear. “We brought in a layer of textiles to represent the three nationalities – the tartan blanket was one of these layers. There is also linen [Irish] and a houndstooth tweed [English].”

Downstairs you’ll find a restaurant and bar that continues the Wains Hotel story. Named after the city’s first literary club, which was formed in the hotel in the 1870s, The Press Club is a sophisticated homage to the famous literary haunt.

The original club was founded by acclaimed poet and author Bracken (who is credited for writing the national anthem), and would host the city’s writers, journalists and publishers for lively debates and discussions. Today, guests can taste dishes inspired by the deep south from acclaimed chef Jinu Abraham, along with an extensive whisky menu and a decadent high tea experience, served daily.

A HISTORICAL TOUR OF DUNEDIN

Located in the heart of the city, FableDunedin is the ideal jumping-off point for exploring historical architecture.

  • Olveston Historic Home transports you back to the early half of the 20th century. The lovingly preserved Edwardian home gives visitors a look at life in a different time.
  • Take a drive up the scenic Otago peninsula to the only historic castle in New Zealand. Learn about Larnach Castle’s rich history, dating back to 1871.
  • Departing Dunedin Railway Station, oneof NZ’s most significant examples ofEdwardian architecture, the historic train winds through the remarkable Taieri Gorge.