Denise L'Estrange-Corbet Isn’t Afraid to Make a Statement

The newly honoured Denise L'Estrange-Corbet of World talks titles and embracing individual attitude

Denise L'Estrange-Corbet has recently been honoured with her damehood. Picture / Supplied

Dame Denise L'Estrange-Corbet can come across aristocratically arch when it suits her, but she’s not really given to airs and graces. She just likes to bring a touch of theatre to the everyday. Both in how she dresses and how she designs, Denise isn’t afraid to make a statement.

She also respects tradition and believes in giving back. It’s those attitudes that have always seen her and World co-founder Francis Hooper stand a little separate from the fashion pack.

For nearly three decades, Denise has been a passionate and at times outspoken force in local fashion. Less well-known, but recognised in the New Year Honours List 2018, is her work supporting charities.

In being made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, it was for both services to fashion and community.

Among groups World supports are the Starship Foundation, the Mental Health Foundation, the IHC Art Awards, the Diabetes Foundation, the Leukaemia & Blood Cancer Foundation, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

READ: World's Collaboration with Eat My Lunch

She has also talked about suffering from depression and told her story in the 2008 autobiography All That Glitters about growing up tough in London to finding her place in the world. “I was a ‘have not’ and my childhood was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons,” she said.

“I could never have imagined ever being a Dame, what a dream, but with the support and encouragement of a few people who did not even realise the impact they were having on me at the time, my life took another direction. It is amazing what you can achieve.”

Now with her damehood, Denise has a new platform from which to dispense her signature mix of compassion and common sense and to continue to display her colourful sense of individual style.

The Name Game
"The title Dame always conjures up an appearance of someone very regal, sitting on a throne, orb in hand, frightfully elegant, with an air of disdain, a bit like the Queen, but, I don’t think I will be doing that anytime soon.

The day after my Damehood was announced, I had to attend my god-daughter’s 4th birthday party, and told her mother, jokingly, that I would be arriving in a crown, and expected the red carpet to be laid down, to which she replied

Don’t you dare upstage a 4-year-old’s party. Seriously Denise, I am warning you . . . ’ so no, there will be no ‘new’ look coming, that one-second ego was brought down to earth with an almighty bang."

Honoured For Sure
"The honour means an awful lot to me. Being born here, but brought up in London, I know how seriously these honours are respected and taken there. However, in New Zealand, we are a bit more casual about that sort of thing. I will absolutely use the title, it would be dishonourable not to now I have it. I am very proud to have made the grade, for creativity and community."

Personal Style
"I think everybody’s individual style evolves as they grow, but fundamentally, whereas my clothes/hairstyle has changed, the idea of how I dress has not. I have always believed in quality over quantity, and that less is more.

My first pair of shoes when I started work at 17 cost me two weeks wages. I buy only things that I fall in love with, and a lot of what I buy is because of the colour, I am totally hypnotised by colour. I have never followed trends, it’s classic all the way.

I remember at school, my friend Margaret Marsh had this ridiculous bomber jacket made of really long, brown porcupine quill fun fur with white tips, seriously, the ugliest thing you have ever seen, and she desperately wanted to swap it for my amazing, new, bright yellow shoes.

I unwittingly did this, and whereas she walked around in my stunning yellow shoes, which everyone admired, I was stuck with the dumb jacket that I never, ever wore and regretted it every day. See, even 44 years later I am still talking about it..."

SHOP: Comfortable But Fancy Sneakers

Hair to There
"My mother never let me cut my hair, much to my chagrin. It was to my waist, and always worn in two long plaits, and at age 14 I had had enough. I went to a hairdresser’s after school, asked to see the woman’s haircutting certificates (can you believe that?) and told her to lop them off to my shoulders.

She asked if I had permission from my mother and I lied. I emerged with the most amazing pageboy bob haircut ever, it transformed my life, and when my mother came home from work, I handed her my two plaits in a plastic bag, and told her as she loved them so much she could keep them forever!

From that day on, I have had my hair trimmed and thinned every 7 weeks, even when growing it out. After that, I discovered makeup.

Nothing or no one has ever influenced my appearance since my late teenage years, I just am who I am, and have never wanted to be or look like anyone else."

Look to Love
“My most successful look is always the one I have at the moment, as that is the most relevant. My worst would be the very short time I was a punk rocker, when I had the bob shaved at a men’s barbers into a number 1. My mother nearly died of shock and I got sick of wearing itchy, scratchy mohair jumpers from the Oxfam shop, so being a punk was shortlived."

Looks to Forget
Most memorable 'beauty' experience was when I was 11 and decided I wanted a blonde streak in my hair. Now, I had waist length dark hair, all the women in my family have what we call 'horse hair' thick, thick and thick. So, each day I applied pure 30 per cent proof hydrogen peroxide that I bought from the chemist, straight onto the left side of my hair, all the way down. 

Nothing happened at first, then it went bright orange, and then bright blonde, and spread across half my scalp! My forehead had big white blisters and my hair turned to elastic, and when washed, bunched up, and when pulled would stretch. It was horrific and took years to grow out. That was not a good moment in my life... how it didn't just fall out must be down to genes!

On Ageing
“At 17 I asked a lady I worked with, Hazel, ‘what it was like being 32?’ She was appalled and said ‘You will find out when you get there’, and I said, ‘Oh god, I don’t ever want to be that old!’ Fast forward and I have surpassed that.

Now I have no problem with ageing, it is just a part of life as you pass through. I have never had any work done, no fillers, Botox or anything, I am not in that ‘tribe’, it just does not appeal to me.

You can have all that work done to your face, but you are getting old, and your walk, stance and ability will always give your age away. I wish more people would just embrace it, there is nothing wrong with it, and having all that work done does not make you live any longer."

READ: The Path to Ageing Gracefully

On Going Grey
“Seventeen years ago I decided to let the grey grow through — my hair is truly organic. My hairdresser was appalled but my theory was that I could not fight nature, it had won, grey hairs are like weeds, there is always another one when you open your eyes.

It does not mean you are wearing tartan slippers, a dressing gown with a cord belt and rollers in your hair, I still style it. I am often asked where I “get it coloured“, which is hilarious, as this never happened when I did colour it."

READ: How the Hair Industry is Moving Towards Sustainability

Perfect Match
“Beauty and fashion go hand in hand as it is all about the look. It is a moment captured in time, when you can look back and the picture tells you what was happening at that time, in terms of so many issues. You cannot have one without the other, and shows are about giving the viewer the opportunity to see how the designer thinks. It is about the creator’s imagination and creativity being used to the fullest.

Garments coming down a catwalk with a slither of blush and hair that looks like nothing has been done to it, bores the life out of me, I would rather watch my toenails grow.

Daily Routine
My morning and evening beauty routine is the same. I shower a minimum of twice a day, and I have always washed my face with soap as opposed to cleansers. I use the Santa Maria Novella range, which was founded in 1221, and which we [at World beauty stores] stock.

I wash my face and body with their mint soap, follow up with SMN skin tonic, then face and neck cream. In the evening I use cleansing milk on my face before I get in the shower. Having a beauty store, I also personally try all the products sent to us from all over the world, that want to be stocked in the World stores, so they have to pass my test. If it doesn’t do what it states, we won’t stock it — and most don’t.

I use an exfoliant once a week, but otherwise, that is it. I never use sunblock or SPF products, which people may gasp at, but there you are. I firmly believe in keeping the skin as clean as possible all over.

Some of Denise's favourite beauty products. Picture / Supplied

Favourite Products
• Cabochard by Gres is my favourite perfume. My mum was given a bottle for Christmas 1974, and she hated it. I loved it, and have worn it ever since. It is very hard to get now, but we do stock it at World.
• My red lipstick. Of course I am not going to disclose as it is my signature and secret.
• Denman heavyweight, nine-row nylon hairbrush. Nothing else goes through my hair.
• Marvis toothpaste. From Florence in mint for the old pearlers.
• Wet Wipes. I am never without them. I am such a clean freak, and wipe my hands, plus the trays on aeroplanes, and the supermarket trolley handle. In fact, I wipe down everything in my path.

Dietary Foibles
Apart from showering, I do not have any special treatments or wellbeing products. I have been a vegetarian for 45 years, no meat, fish or animal by-products in food. I have never eaten any fruit whatsoever since being born, seriously, the smell makes me heave, not one piece. And I don't like drinking water, it is boring, I much prefer Chardonnay or Champagne. So really, it is amazing I am still standing!

Beauty Defined
Beauty to me is what you do, and how you conduct yourself, not how you look, looks are deceiving...

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