Noelle McCarthy: Heart of darkness


Who knew there were seasonal variations in monochrome? L to R: Zambesi, Maaike, Nom*d.

I have three friends who dress monochrome. They wear Zambesi mostly, some NOM*d and Rick Owens. A bit of Ann Demeulemeester. Clever labels that specialise in sophisticated, dramatic clothes.

They're that well put together, these three, it doesn't often strike me that I see them only in black. They'll do white but not much of it - just a flash of a snowy T-shirt to leaven the hue. I was with them last weekend in Wellington, and I noticed one of them had charcoal nail polish on her toes. "Grey, darling, for summer," she said. Who knew there were seasonal variations in monochrome?

My black-clad friends looked right in Wellington. It's been a while since that "dark and moody" aesthetic was the only story in New Zealand fashion, thankfully. Set against a cultural backdrop of windswept Jane Campion films and spooky Chills' songs, that look worked, but it doesn't do to get pigeon-holed.

Good on Karen Walker, Stolen Girlfriends Club, World and all the rest for showing that we can also do bright and bold.

But black remains stubbornly rooted in the national psyche, and so long as a certain group of fellas keep playing in it, will probably continue to do so.

If there is a ground zero for dark and moody dressing, I would designate Wellington. Dunedin may be the spiritual home of the New Zealand punk scene, and the headquarters of NOM*d, our darkest, coolest label, but it's Wellington with its wild wind and storm-tossed harbour that calls for the drama of an all-black ensemble.

"I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside," sang Morrissey famously. I don't know how gloomy they were feeling in the capital last week, but I walked along the waterfront to the Museum Art Hotel in the sunshine, and all the women I saw were dressed for a Nick Cave gig, if not an actual funeral. Red lips, black dresses, lots of thick black stockings and more than a few hats and scarves. It was all very cute, and smart, but not exactly seasonal.

Then again, they do have the weather to contend with. It was filthy when we landed, so much so that the first thing I did was go out in the driving rain to get a pair of gloves. A bargain at $6 in Paper Bag Princess on Cuba St, but that's beside the point. Who needs gloves in October? Wellingtonians, that's who.

Three chilly days in the capital and I get the dress code: black is the colour of choice because it's so easy to layer it. An inky cashmere cardi over a black skivvy or turtleneck and you're sorted. Who cares about looking a bit emo, so long as you're warm enough?

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