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Brigid Brock

image Courtesy NZ Fashion Museum

Renowned for her rapport with leather, Brigid Brock’s name is synonymous with 1980s’ high fashion. Her highly individualised pieces sometimes come up for sale, but not often. They were so beautifully crafted and so representative of the era, their owners usually opt to keep them.

In Christchurch, Brigid worked from home, making one-off designs which she sold, along with items of vintage clothing, at Mollet Street Market. In 1977, as a step-up from a market situation, and to create a more interesting setting for her clothes, she opened a vintage fashion boutique in Christchurch’s oldest commercial wooden building, a city landmark that she renovated and named Shand’s Emporium after the original land-owner. One of the tenants of the rooms she sub-let as small shops was Dollie Vardin milliner Ailie Miller. Damaged in the 2010/2011 earthquakes, the building has since been moved to a new locale where it is being restored, complete with Brigid’s original gold signage.

After opening a second vintage boutique, in New Regent Street, Brigid then moved to a retail space in the newly opened Shades Shopping Precinct and began making her own designs again.

There were very few hosiery choices in the 1970s – most women wore skin-toned pantyhose – so when her sister returned from London with colourful footless tights, Brigid was quick to spot an opening in the market. Brox Sox, her range of decorative tights, was manufactured by Lane Walker Rudkin and dyed at home by Brigid, initially in a pot on the stove and later in the washing machine. As demand grew, the tights were professionally dyed and the collection expanded to include patterned socks and screen-printed pantyhose. The business moved from a home-based operation to city premises, with 13 staff and 400 stockists in New Zealand and Australia. Brigid sold Brox Sox in 1988.

The opportunity to design leatherwear for Marguerite Leather came about through a chance conversation at a Christchurch dinner-party in 1983. Brigid did several collections for the firm until the head-company replaced the managing director unexpectedly and Brigid chose not to continue the association.

In 1985, the Melbourne leatherware company Bisonte began manufacturing her designs. As she describes it, it was a dream relationship without any restrictions. The skills of a Polish sample machinist and a London-trained pattern-maker were placed at her disposal, and there were no quibbles about her insistence on having the best buttons, zips, linings and shoulder pads.

That same year, the Christchurch leatherwear manufacturer, Marcol Manufacturing, approached Brigid to create collections for the New Zealand market. With initial reservations about the standard of the factory’s work, she agreed, with the proviso that she could retrain the machinists and staff to produce the high quality garments that defined her brand. Her “brilliant Melbourne pattern-maker” continued to make her patterns. Brigid did her own garment sketches, working drawings from which the patterns were made. It was during this time that she developed the distinctive screen-prints that became her signature.

Still residing in Australia, Brigid Brock is presently involved in various property projects, but her passion is working as an art consultant, often connecting with young, upcoming artists and following their career trajectories. When time allows, she takes small groups of art collectors to New Zealand on five-day art/gallery/studio tours.

Examples of her own artistry, leather garments she designed in the 1980s and 1990s, are held in the clothing collections of the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Text by Cecilie Geary. (NZ Fashion Museum)


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