Perhaps it was inevitable that the daughter of former fashion model, Stephanie Overton, would go into the same business. But, still, Auckland-born designer Laura Myers has taken a somewhat detoured route to becoming a fashion designer.
Growing up, she had a creative streak and there was a certain amount of fashion in the air. In thinking about how her background lead to her forming her own London-based label, Atea Oceanie, she muses: "My mother modelled in high school and her sister Vicki was also a model and moved offshore. I remember that my mother had some beautiful pictures of her taken by Desmond Williams in a scrapbook. She also worked a lot with Paddy Walker who did fashion shows for Smith and Caughey's."
"I had loved fine art and had considered pursuing a degree. However my parents encouraged me to think about how to apply this artistic interest commercially, and I think that started me thinking about a career in fashion," she says. "I was really encouraged by my father to consider getting a basic undergraduate degree. I did a college tour and fell in love with Brown University. It appealed to me to have a curriculum that was not fixed but offered a chance to play around. I tried a couple of sociology classes."
Whilst Laura was studying for her degree in Sociology at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island in the United States, she interned with several fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton in Paris, and Ralph Rucci in New York. "I had always wanted to do something in fashion but I didn't know how to tackle it," she says. "I wasn't going to study art and didn't want to go to fashion school. I wanted a solid degree but it seemed like a natural step during my summer to try these things. Ralph Rucci was one of the few Americans to show as part of couture week in France. I also worked for a handbag designer Tote Le Monde. My sophomore internship was at Louis Vuitton, and I did a life drawing and fashion history summer course at Parsons."
She stayed on in New York for a couple of years upon graduating. Then, in her mid-twenties, after working in New York for Saatchi & Saatchi, she returned to New Zealand. "I was fortunate to find a position at Trelise Cooper," she says. "I held a few different positions during my time there and found the exposure to many aspects of the fashion business with a strong international focus invaluable. I began in an internship at Trelise. I was going to move to the UK but I loved what I was doing and an opportunity came up to work in the production department so I stayed on and was thrilled. I was there about two-and-a-half-years, until around 2007."
Her confidence had grown and she was ready to head for Europe and to start her own brand. "I knew I wanted to move back to this side of the world and go to the UK because most of my family are here and lots of Kiwis and friends from university," she says. "I was playing around with how to start the business and was not really sure how. I started looking at doing the brand as a lifestyle brand, part of which would be jewellery, and I thought it would be good to develop it in Paris so I was there for about a year in 2008," she recalls.
But it didn't go exactly as planned and she looked for other options which including opening a store in London's Kensington, offering clothing alongside homeware and other pieces sourced from the South Pacific. She has since changed her focus to concentrate on creating a fashion line and e-commerce. Atea Oceanie was launched on her e-commerce site in August 2013 and straight away gained the attention of influential fashion website style.com.
"I have since shut the shop and regrouped and launched online. I got a lot of things wrong. The shop was incredibly beautiful and there was an interesting mix of product, but what I realised was that it was difficult to get traction across a range of product. I realised I could come back to lifestyle later. I wanted to really focus on fashion," she says.
In the short time that Atea Oceanie has been in existence, Laura has grown the business exponentially and has been wholesaling since 2014. "I always had the view that the brand would grow via wholesale but it was important for me to go slowly and ensure that by the time we started selling into other stores, we were operationally able to meet their delivery schedules. In our third season I started selling the collection at wholesale," she says. "We started with one store in New York and two in Japan. We currently have about 16 stockists globally and are finding that the message resonates very clearly with the American market where we are seeing the most growth. Notably the collection was picked up by Barney’s in the US for Fall Winter 2015."
Since launching in 2013, the collection has evolved to include new categories, such as leather and knitwear. The aesthetic, she says, is best described as, "90s minimalism meets modern American sportswear". The Atea Oceanie style has been influenced by her own life and travels, she says. "I created the collection to fill a gap I saw in my own wardrobe. I was traveling a lot at the time and felt the need for wearable modern pieces that I could come back to again and again and wear in many different ways, transitional separates that could be layered, and worn with sneakers or heels. It was important to me that these pieces be at a contemporary price point appropriate for everyday wear," she says.
The brand has also been informed by New Zealand, with the name embodying its values: the word Atea means clear, free from obstruction in the Māori language. "I think that my aesthetic, wanting to be very relaxed, is very much informed by growing up in New Zealand and our approach to life and not being so formal, and moving away from occasion dressing," she says. "Because I have always traveled a lot from here to New Zealand, the idea of clothes that were transitional and trans-seasonal was important to me. That is how New Zealand has informed what I'm doing now. I am a New Zealander having a business overseas."
Text by Liza Foreman. Banner image © Laura Myers.
Last published December 2015.