The passing of celebrated fashion journalist Hilary Alexander this week on her 77th birthday has brought back many memories, though this musing is not about me, it’s about Hilary who I was fortunate enough to meet on several occasions throughout my 11-year tenure writing about fashion for The Dominion Post.
You can read the last interview I did with her here.
I first met Hilary at the inaugural New Zealand Fashion Week launch party in 2001, and she kindly agreed to give me an interview. We met later that week in a café on Queen Street and I not only left with a story but was buoyed by the knowledge that this was indeed an exciting and inspiring industry to be in.
What I remember most about Hilary was her innate enthusiasm for fashion. Always front row, smiling, nodding or tapping her feet to the music. She was not afraid to show that she was clearly enjoying herself.
When New Zealand fashion label Insidious Fix ended their show that year with a live sheep-shearing demonstration for the finalé, Hilary thought that was fantastic and was backstage after the show in a flash. The same happened at Sabatini from which she emerged wearing a pair of sheepskin Ugg boots, and let’s face it, she needed some shoes, as her luggage had gone AWOL somewhere between London and Auckland. Zambesi also came to the rescue and dressed her for the opening night party and provided her with an emergency wardrobe.
Hilary was kind, too. She was the first person backstage after designer Claire Kingan-Jones’s beautiful but disastrous showing of her Russian-inspired collection for RJC—disastrous because as the show progressed, the fairy-tale snow special effects turned the runway into a perilous soapy ice rink of sorts. The models, walking in high heels, were terrified and it was equally terrifying to watch as model after model slipped and fell, hitting the runway so hard I was sure one would break a leg.
Kingan-Jones was in floods of tears backstage. I know this, because I was hot on the heels of Hilary, following her lead. Kingan-Jones was distraught, but Hilary was there with soothing words, praising her collection and assuring her that everything would be OK.
I’ll also never forget Hilary’s kindness helping a young New Zealand fashion journalist—me—on my own journey.
At Vivienne Westwood in Paris, she helped point out celebrities of interest ‘that I should go and talk to and photograph’, including Dita von Teese.
At Milan Fashion Week 2002, I spotted Hilary on the street outside a show and approached her. She was clearly in a hurry as she was on her way to another show but remembering me, she gave me a hot tip that I needed to see Graeme Black who at that time was creative director for Salvatore Ferragamo. It turned out his autumn–winter 2003 collection was entirely inspired by an exhibition of Goldie paintings of Māori portraits that he’d seen at Auckland Museum on a visit to New Zealand to visit an old buddy, designer Kate Sylvester.
Back then I couldn’t afford a roaming mobile phone and was relying on internet cafés to file my stories and send emails. Google Maps weren’t a thing and the closest thing to a smart phone was a Blackberry. Hilary said she’d send an email introducing me to Ferragamo’s PR and set up an interview for me. I just had to turn up in a certain place at a certain time and say that Hilary had sent me.
Armed with a paper map, I navigated my way there and followed her instructions, and sure enough, true to her word, they let me in, and I had a one-on-one interview with Black who preceded to show me through the entire collection just hours before it was presented to the rest of the press on the runway.
The PR kept telling me, ‘You’re very lucky to be here, you know. You are very lucky.’
Thank you, Hilary.
Carolyn Enting is editor-in-chief of Good magazine.