It’s crazy to think now that recent Massey graduate Gemma Cornish nearly didn’t apply to show at iD Fashion Week. The Wellington-raised designer was one of 43 emerging designers from 19 countries selected to present at the prestigious fashion showcase in Dunedin earlier this month. At just 22, Gemma is already stockpiling some serious accolades. Awarded Apparel Magazine’s Most Commercial Collection, a designer spotlight on Vogue Italia’s website, and numerous television features. I recently caught up with Gemma to ask her about the experience and find out what was next for this upcoming designer.
When asked about her graduate collection POP, Gemma described it as a “return to her roots” after a period of exploration and experimentation throughout university—something she recommends for all aspiring designers. The four look collection features neoprene creations in zingy colours. The collection is an homage of sorts to a life-long love of summer and an array of fond beach memories.
Prompted by a call by Massey staff for recent graduates to enter their collections into the fashion showcase, Gemma says she nearly didn’t. This was in one part due to her perceived odds, with the event garnering hundreds of entries annually. Teamed with a computer on the fritz, she frantically got her online application away with just 15 minutes to spare. “I left it to the last day—don’t do that,” she laughed.
Getting into Dunedin on the Tuesday of the fashion week, Gemma had one hectic week ahead of her. There were fellow finalists to mingle with, Newshub stories to film, and judges to meet—all just on the first day of touching down. Wednesday kicked off at 8am with each designer presenting their collection to a panel of judges and answering any questions they had about their garments and concept. This was followed by a garment fitting with the runway models, an opening party with all manner of fashion publicists and journalists, and a private viewing of NOM*d’s latest collection. Thursday was a technical rehearsal, 4pm call time, and at 8pm the first fashion show—which also served as an opportunity for the judges to make their final decisions on the 11 winning collections. By the time the after party on Friday night rolled around (having attended a media lunch, another early call time and another busy fashion show) Gemma recalls lasting about an hour at the party before opting for a good night’s sleep. With the shows out of the way, the last hurdle was a Q&A with the judges and fellow winners. This event presented designers the challenge of having to publicly elaborate on their ideas and processes concisely and in real time. Despite her nerves, Gemma was happy to report that this seminar went off without a hitch.
Likening the experience to a dream, it is apparent Gemma is still a little shocked at just how much momentum the fashion week has created. Her “pinch me” moments included receiving a very positive response from judges and New Zealand designers Maggie Hewitt of Maggie Marilyn and Karen Walker. “I asked [Maggie] for a photo,” she said. “I went to introduce myself and she was like ‘Oh no I already know your name, I love your collection’—I just freaked out, she’s such a hunny, so encouraging! “
So, what’s next for Gemma? The designer is back in Wellington and busy preparing to launch her brand Gemma Lee at the beginning of Spring. “It will be a whole new collection,” she was happy to report. After a lot of struggle to find a manufacturer able to uphold the sustainability and ethics standards that the brand will centre around, she finally found manufacturers on the Gold Coast who fit the bill. They are currently sampling a line of wetsuits created from non-toxic glues and Geoprene - a type of neoprene created from limestone that offers the same fabric properties without the harmful ecological costs. The intention is to start the brand small, specialising in high quality and innovative wetsuits and eventually expanding to include swimwear and perhaps activewear. The brand will focus on the Australian and New Zealand market primarily, with the hopes to reach further abroad in due time.
You can stay up-to-date with Gemma Lee’s impending launch by visiting gemmalee.nz or following the brand on Instagram at @gemmalee_nz