WORLD was established in Auckland in 1989 by Dame Denise L'Estrange-Corbet and Francis Hooper. Fuelled by their energy and passion, their vision and work has seen their label develop from a cupboard at the back of an arcade, to one of the leading fashion houses in New Zealand.
Certainly WORLD is this country's fashion house that is most widely regarded as being "avant-garde". Dr.Peter Shand, Art History Curator.
Both designers returned to New Zealand in the 1980's from London. Born here, L'Estrange-Corbet was a graduate of the London College of Fashion, having specialised in women's tailoring, Hong Kong born Hooper had worked for the then unknown John Galliano, as well as Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons), Michiko Koshino and Kansai Yamamoto.
They were both working in retail in Auckland, and bored out of their minds, the initial idea for WORLD was hatched at a bus stop late one night. In 1989 they leased a tiny space at the back of Century Arcade in High Street. WORLD's stock showed a degree of colour and irreverence more in line with the gay club they were next door to than the neighbouring retailers of the time.
By 1990 they had moved to a larger shop at 18a High Street. Here they extended their own work into coloured denim separates and T-shirts printed with funky and amusing designs. These were supplemented by curios, especially those with a quirky and/or nostalgic edge to them. At this time the business was extremely precarious but they managed to stretch their finances and increase their work to move into increasingly individualistic garments. These consistently flouted existing expectations of what was acceptable in New Zealand fashion, whether in their use of intense, often clashing colour combinations or eccentric fabrics such as plastic table cloths or kitsch brushed cotton wall hangings. At the same time, they were garments that increasingly exhibited a unique degree of flair and inventiveness in silhouette as the designer's work matured. All of these characteristics have become hallmarks of WORLD's practice.
Until 1995 WORLD was mostly known and admired by fashion cognoscenti, artistic types and other people willing to engage with experimental clothes design. They entered the public consciousness overnight when they won the Avant-Garde section of the 1995 Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards with their 21st Century Origami Dress. This dramatically simple garment cut from two pieces of card remains one of the most compelling, starkly original and beautifully executed garments shown in that competition. The outfit was purchased by the Auckland Museum shortly after, and was designed as a one off collectable miniature for Mattels 'Barbie'.
WORLD was invited to present their Autumn/Winter 2000 Collection at London Fashion Week in February 1999. Championed on the selection panel by Angela Quaintrell of Liberty of London, the runway show by WORLD was successful beyond anyone's expectations. They were immediately picked up by Selfridges and Liberty's of London. They followed another runway show in August. Since 1997 WORLD has also shown at similar events in Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, New Zealand and Paris. Their garments have been stocked in Hong Kong, Australia, Beirut, Britain, Ireland, Italy, United States, Russia, Japan and China.
Their take-it or leave-it attitude is an important part of WORLD's philosophy. Such a polarising supply of new ideas that, in turn, consign each previous season to sales racks, backs of wardrobes or the bin in what can seem like a ceaseless presentation of garments, an endless cycle of obsolescence and renewal. As designers, their raison d'etre is to act as conceptual leaders, constantly striving to give form to new approaches to fashion, and to fulfill an educative role, reflecting that the mainstays of any creative industry are ideas and experimentation. The media's reception of their work has been mixed, with both the public and fashion reporters polarised by their work.
One of their most important supporters has been the incredibly influential Anna Piaggi, Creative Director of Italian Vogue. It was she who, at the 1997 Australian Fashion Week singled WORLD out for attention, expressing approval for the originality and sense of risk. She asked for a meeting with them after the show, and had a private visit to their store in Auckland. They have also been praised internationally by the likes of Colin McDowell, fashion historian and Fashion Editor of Britain's Sunday Times; Hilary Alexander, Fashion Editor of the Daily Telegraph; Elsa Klensch, on her eponymous Style with.... programme for CNN, former Sex in the City stylist Rebecca Weinberg, and English Fashion Designers Zandra Rhodes and John Rocha.
Perhaps the remark from the international press that best captures the individuality of WORLD's design philosophy came when Michael Fitzgerald, Fashion Editor for Time Magazine, expressed admiration for WORLD's "witty effrontery".
WORLD is by no means an anti-fashion brand nor is it solely about laughs, irony and taking the mickey. They are seditionists to an extent, undermining the puffed-up presumptions or the death faced seriousness of the industry, but you cannot merely be a comical brand and enjoy the sort of public and critical success that they have, Rather, they enjoy and celebrate the panoply of possibilities fashion has to offer designers who are prepared to buck trends or go it alone in pursuit of their unique way of seeing.
In 2004 they were the first New Zealand Fashion brand to have a major 4 month retrospective of their work from 1989-2005 at the Auckland Museum entitled "We fought fashion - and lost!" • In 2002 Denise was the first female New Zealand Fashion Designer to be awarded the title of MNZM (previously MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for her contribution to the New Zealand Fashion Industry. The establishment had at last come around to WORLD's way of thinking!