The Tigermoth boutique in Auckland was a cooperative venture bringing together a diverse group of makers under one banner. The offering was as eclectic as the contributors and collaborators and it had a reputation for its flamboyance both in the clothes and the presentations of them, staging a number of memorable fashion shows.
Tigermoth began with a proposal by French-Canadian-born knitwear designer, Pierrette Viscoe. Pierette designed clothes that were sold at the Trina J boutique in Canterbury Arcade, and also at Brown’s Mill. She commissioned a garment from Daphne Mitten who owned a boutique upstairs from the Mill and pleased with its design, Pierrette returned some weeks later with an idea of a design workshop with several people in it. Daphne joined forces with Pierrette, her artist/sculptor husband Warren Viscoe, their good friends Claire and Murray 'Griff' Griffin, leather maker Bruni (Brunhilde) Tosswill and children’s clothing designer Colleen Rees, to form the Tigermoth Collective.
The collective moved into a basement workshop and store in Swanson Street. Warren fitted out the space - right down to the tubular chrome racks and cut out clothes hangers. He also made an extraordinary shop sign - a tigermoth aeroplane model of pink perspex and chrome that 'flew' cantilevered above Tigermoth’s basement entrance.
From this hub of innovation, the collective produced garments and accessories. There were perspex and cast silver rings, cloisonné butterfly and moth (of course) brooches, and polka-dot screen printed see-through cushions in a range of differing and often flamboyant styles that were the hallmark of 1970s self-expressive fashion. Warren named the Tigermoth collective with wit, referring to the capacity of moths to consume clothing especially woollen clothing, aptly with the avant garde machine knits by Pierette and Claire featuring prominently on the racks.
Pierrette describes the Tigermoth garments as reflecting the "free-wheeling energy" of the times. "Enthusiasm was collectively generated."
The three Tigermoth fashion shows, the first at Swanson Street with the basement as dressing room and friends as models, were the stuff of urban legend. The designers collaborated with artists, rock bands and others from the counter-culture scene to create "way out" events that would make today’s Fashion Week shows seem insipid. Their second parade was held at Mercury Theatre near Karangahape Road, and the final parade, in 1975, was held in the synagogue near the University of Auckland.
Membership of the collective changed. New members included Josephine Rose, Stephanie Chilcott, Gwyneth Phillips, Michael McCarthy and Oriel Hesseltine. Daphne left Tigermoth after a year to travel overseas for 18 months.
In 1974, not long after Daphne’s return, a fire destroyed the Swanson Street building. The collective re-established themselves above McKenzie’s in Queen Street in a glorious old art deco building but the lack of a shared workroom changed the nature of the collective. Daphne and Michael moved into a workshop in Victoria Street and then to a rental studio in Federal Street.
In 1983 Pierrette found new premises in the Stonehouse in Parnell, which was then emerging as a fashionable suburb. For a while there were two Tigermoth boutiques, but eventually they closed the city shop. With new family responsibilities, Daphne decided it was time to leave the collective. Tigermoth in Parnell closed its doors in 1991.
Text by Katherine Findlay. Photo by Ian Baker courtesy of Daphne Mitten.
Last published December 2016.