There is a flexibility to Steve Hall’s approach to design that steers away from the gender normative; rather what he creates are simply beautiful, well-constructed clothes to be worn and cherished by the wearer.
Steve grew up in Te Puke and initially enrolled in a diploma in fashion studies at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic before moving to Wellington in 2011 to complete his studies at Massey University’s College of Creative Arts.
"Wellington offered a totally different way of life than I was used to and slowly I became more comfortable with the way I wanted to dress and express myself," he told Emma Day at Stuff.co.nz in 2015 after winning the iD Dunedin Fashion Week International Emerging Designer Award.
His winning collection Abandon Man had design elements usually associated with the dress of samurai and ninja; loose cropped trousers, long pleated skirts and tunics, utilitarian vests and handmade sandals. Knitted mohair beanies added a contemporary street cred to the collection which drew praise from the judging team for both its conceptualisation and the quality of its execution. "The obvious pleasure the models had wearing these clothes confirms that given the chance men love the freedom of wearing a skirt," judge Doris de Pont said.
Steve too thinks that a man dress, or a 'mess' as he called it for short, has a place in the modern market. Later in the same year Steve also won the Miromoda Annual Fashion Design Competition and showed his collection on the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week.
His follow-up collection, Neo Tokyo, was still heavily inspired by Eastern identities. He told Moana Currents exhibition co-curator Dan Ahwa, "I looked to icons of the geisha and monk communities as opposed to the style of ninjas and samurai. I was also working for a family friend in their Christmas tree farm. Looking back, I think this is how the idea of bows and ruffles became so prevalent in the collection."
The transition from samurai uniforms to one that nods to more whimsical elements of Japanese fashion is not without acknowledging Steve’s own Māori heritage. These are clothes that also draw indirectly on the influences of the korowai and piupiu, such as the emphasis on the wrapped garments adorned with bows instead of tags. "The older I become the more I realise how important my Māori heritage is and it pulls out these desires of learning my culture and who I am as a Māori."
The outfit included in Moana Currents represents Steve's ideas of gender fluidity and androgyny and pushes at standard ideals of clothing.
A third collection was entered in the Hokonui Awards in 2018. Titled Sol Harvest it had elements that referenced a gardener’s lattire and was inspired by a period volunteering in Golden Bay and learning from organic communities about gardening, permaculture and engaging in a more relaxed and slow pace lifestyle.
Steve’s mixed heritage of English, Māori, Scottish and French also allows him to draw upon references that have a global feel. "My interests seem to be more masculine but will always have hints of androgyny and gender bending. Perhaps just in smaller and more subtle doses. Ultimately, high-end streetwear is my main interest – and to be contemporary."
Steve recently returned to Aotearoa after four years of globetrotting.
Text by Dan Ahwa and Doris de Pont. Banner image by FOUREYES, © Steve Hall.
Published March 2021.