It was a passion for drawing and a dressmaking grandma that sewed the first seeds of a fashion design career in the mind of a young Adrian Hailwood. From the age of five, Adrian drew prolifically, with many sketches featuring an enduring passion - sneakers. Today, along with full fashion and denim collections, the Hailwood brand always includes a shoe or two.
"I was into sneakers from when I was really young," says Adrian. "I looove sneakers. I drew lots of Adidas sneakers but always ended up with velcro Bata Bullets! Because they were cheaper. They were made in Happy Valley in Wellington, I remember going to the factory as a kid on the weekends to buy new shoes."
Adrian was always "into drawing" and studied advertising at design school in Wellington. He worked as an art director on TV commercials in Auckland, as well as illustrating for clients including the magazines Metro, Fashion Quarterly and She. "I got into fashion by mistake, making t-shirts for a car commercial, then all the crew wanted them, wanted to keep them, so I made some more for them and it went from there."
"A shop called Stella Greg was my first stockist, and they sold thousands and thousands of tees. I quickly did loads more prints, there was a flamingo print, a zebra … the most famous one was a girl in a bikini smoking a cigarette - that was the turning point when I did that one, that was when a lot of people took notice. I got stocked in Australia, even in the UK - I stocked in a store called Hoxton Boutique, which is a very cool store, and they were selling for 130 pounds, crazy, but they sold truckloads."
Another turning point was when three of Adrian’s t-shirts featured in pop culture magazine Pavement, selected and styled by fashion editor Jasmine Edgar.
Hailwood’s original screenprinted t-shirts were made by hand by the designer, who learned how to make them working hands-on at a clothing manufacturer Casual Apparel in Auckland’s Mt Albert, chosen at random from the phonebook. "I’d go out there and help this old guy George [Duffy] lay all the t-shirts out, cut them all out," says Adrian. "I learnt how to do patterns with him, how to grade. I learnt everything from just doing it with him. I started experimenting with all the different shapes of the necks and sleeves, asymmetric hems and all that trickery. I did it for years, about six years, and they manufactured for me for about eight years and then they closed up. He had all the knitting machines, made all the ribbing and things like that, but when the machines started to break down he couldn’t fix them any more."
From the t-shirts, Hailwood grew to include denim skirts and knitwear produced locally at long-established Glengyle Knitwear from Adrian’s drawings, using both wool and cashmere, screenprinted with new signature 'Hailwood' prints including New York’s twin towers and New Zealand robins, in graphic black and white or vivid colourways such as lemon, turquoise and pink with charcoal.
The next evolution was to hire a patternmaker to assist with "tailored suiting, dresses and all that stuff," add accessories such as bags and shoes, and a full suite of Hailwood pieces was born.
The first Hailwood store opened on Ponsonby Road in 2001, and in 2002 Hailwood participated in a group fashion show at the Ponsonby Fringe Festival, where local designers showcased their collections in some of Ponsonby’s most popular restaurants. That same year he showed at L’Oreal New Zealand Fashion Week, again as part of a group show. Named 'Pirates', Hailwood’s A/W 03 offering featured graphic prints of parrots, swallows and majestic sailing ships and tones of charcoal and midnight blue popped with acid brights, all punctuated with striking footwear manufactured by Auckland-based Marler Shoes.
The following year he held his first solo show at New Zealand Fashion Week 2003, debuting the A/W 04 'Moroccan' collection. "Adrian Hailwood plundered Greta Garbo's on-holiday-in-Marrakesh wardrobe for his show," declared the New Zealand Herald. "The enthusiastic fashion set were thinking of a jaunt there almost immediately after his show if they got to tour in his beautiful paisley satin, brilliant camel and wallpaper prints on a range of t-shirts, dresses, jeans and cool silver and blue flat domed boots. The clever graphic designer turned fashion designer really proved his star is on the rise."
Hailwood has since showed at every New Zealand Fashion Week since, as well as off-site shows at Australian Fashion Week and a trunk show in Los Angeles. In 2004, he was chosen by designer Karen Walker for a mentorship as part of her prize as winner of the inaugural Air New Zealand Fashion Export Growth Award, which included an assistant role to Karen at London Fashion Weeks in February and September 2005. Two years later he took out the Development category at the NZ Fashion Export Awards 2007, singled out by the judge, CEO of outdoor clothing exporter Icebreaker Jeremy Moon as a "rising star in New Zealand with partnerships within the design industry" and someone who was "building the capability to become a great exporter" (New Zealand Fashion Design, Angela Lassig).
Adrian also cites the opportunity to travel to and work in Sweden for Absolut Vodka as a particularly memorable project, creating garments for the global brand’s ad campaign alongside just nine other designers from around the world including Bora Aksu and Henrik Vibskov.
Growing up, his grandmother ran a dressmaking business from her home, so Adrian found himself surrounded by "wedding frocks and all that stuff, mother of the bride outfits and lots of ball frocks", and has lately begun nurturing his own passion and talent for eveningwear, creating gowns worthy of, and being worn on, red carpets around the world.
A huge leap in that direction came when pop superstar Lorde wore a dazzling sequinned Hailwood gown for her first big international magazine cover for Billboard magazine, which propelled the high-end "glitz and glamour" side of the business even further into the US market. Other celebrities who have chosen to wear Hailwood designs include Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Paloma Faith.
His enduring design philosophy is to "just stick to your knitting, do what you’re good at, master one thing first and then try something else". Inspiration comes strongly from films and pop culture and in recent years has also drawn on his many visits to Asia. "I love Asia, I love Hong Kong, it’s my favourite city," says Adrian. "I do kind of theme the collections a little, so there’s something to write about! I like classic cuts with a bit of a twist, I try not to do trends, I make wearable clothes for women. My demographic has grown with me. I have customers who have been coming in and buying stuff for 15 years, so that’s quite cool. I definitely think about them when I’m designing, I definitely know my customer, what they want. I try to use as much natural fibre as I can - except for the sequins of course!"
Text by Josie Steenhart. Banner image © Adrian Hailwood.
Last published June 2016.