Growing up in the Otago Peninsula, designer Tanya Carlson recalls a childhood with an element of romanticism, her imagination fuelled by the area’s windswept landscapes and playing dress-ups with vintage satin ball gowns.
These romantic influences can still be seen in the flowing gowns and opulent fabrics of her more recent collections. It is perhaps these historical references and classical elements that ensure Carlson’s designs transcend 'fast fashion' and become treasured items worn season after season, yet never seeming out of style.
Tanya’s natural eye for colour and detail was further developed studying Fine Arts at what is now the National Art School, after which she completed a Diploma in Fashion Design from the renowned East Sydney TAFE. Returning home to Dunedin Tanya honed her tailoring and finishing skills designing made to measure garments in the early years of her career, before moving on to launch her eponymous label in 1997. In the course of her career, Tanya has designed over 200 custom wedding gowns – most recently for broadcaster and writer Kerre Woodham, and Olympic medal-winning cyclist Alison Shanks. Renowned for her beautiful cut and the perfect fit of these custom made garments, Tanya believes this time in her career gave her a real insight into how to create styles that flatter and enhance the wearer’s form.
After showing at the inaugural L’Oreal NZ Fashion Week in 2001, Carlson soon caught the eye of Australian department store David Jones. The six year, eleven collection relationship served to boost Carlson’s profile both here and abroad. After a decade of wholesaling to boutiques around NZ, Carlson decided to pull back and focus on building her core retail business. In doing so, she was able to be more creative, designing limited edition pieces in exclusive fabrics; ensuring there is always something new in store in the Ponsonby and Dunedin Carlson boutiques. Now come full circle, wholesaling is again part of the business, with prestigious Wellington department store Kirkcaldie & Stains one of the major Carlson stockists.
Outside of nurturing her own label, Tanya has collaborated with renowned choreographer Daniel Belton, designing costumes for nine of his productions. In 2001, Douglas Wright commissioned Carlson to design the costumes for his production Inland, which debuted at the 2002 NZ Festival of the Arts.
Since its inception in 1999, Carlson has featured on the catwalk of iD Dunedin fashion week. In recent years Tanya has taken on the role of board member, and judge of the iD International Emerging Designer Awards. For her, it is important to support NZ fashion and young designers, and her long association with this fashion incubator is the perfect way to do so.
Tanya's wedding dresses featured in the Not all White exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 2014. The wedding dresses featured in the exhibition were drawn from the last 15 years – to celebrate the 15th anniversary of iD Dunedin Fashion Week, and Tanya’s role in its development.
Text courtesy of Tanya Carlson. Banner image © Chris Sullivan.
Last published July 2017.