Items from Vita Cochran's vintage collection. Picture / Supplied.

The Conscious Dresser: Vita Cochran

The Sydney-based textile designer explains why vintage is better

Each day this week, in support of Fashion Revolution Day, we are profiling women who dress with intent.

Sydney-based New Zealand artist Vita Cochran hand-makes each of her handbags, necklaces and brooches as if they’re pieces of art — although her works are as practical as they are detailed. As well as using recycled materials for her accessories, Cochran strives to incorporate second-hand treasures into her own wardrobe. Here, she shares some of her favourite opshops and thrifted pieces from over the years.

Do you think it’s important to dress consciously?
Yes. Mass-produced cheap clothing leaves me cold. I like to wear vintage items and clothes given and borrowed and a few special things that I fork out for and keep for years. I love clothes that are beautifully made, lined and eased properly, and it's often easier to find this in clothing made pre-1990s, when most manufacturing happened locally. If you look carefully at a good coat made in the 1950s it is a really amazing thing — the construction and materials and attention to detail — and made at a time when a coat was an investment for a decade or two, not just a season.

Do you often buy second-hand or vintage pieces?
All the time. I own favourite items from the $2 clothing warehouse in Ferrymead Christchurch, and from my local Vinnies in Sydney, and from every opshop in between. I love the serendipity of opshopping and vintage shopping, where there aren't racks and racks of the same item in different colours and sizes (where's the challenge in that?), so if the item speaks to you, and it happens to fit, and the colour is right, it is as if it has chosen you. It's a magic moment.

Who are some of your favourite local designers?
Beth Ellery, whose designs embody the wit and integrity of her mentor Marilyn Sainty, and Sharon Ng, who sells from her eponymous boutique in Christchurch (where I also sell my work). Nom*D and Zambesi are enduring favourites, with their admirable commitment to local manufacturing and top-notch NZ style.

What’s the oldest piece of clothing that you still wear?
The oldest thing in my wardrobe would probably be a 1940s black and green belted dress with bold leaf shapes woven into its satin, bought from Ziggurat in Cuba St when I was 14 in a moment of great sartorial foresight — not much else that I admired then still looks good to me now!

What’s the philosophy behind your work?
I love designing original things and making them by hand. I like to think that the time invested in an object shows in some way — that care and intensity carries in a good object. I draw on traditional techniques and craft and fashion history, but like to make objects which are unique and of this time.

Where do you source your materials?
I often use vintage fabric and components, and have a stash of fabric collected, inherited and hoarded. My recent embroidered handbags (on display at Anna Miles Gallery until May 29) use a delightful material: embroidery wool made by Strand Natural Fibres. It is spun in the Hawkes Bay and dyed in Wellington. It's absolutely beautiful to work with, soft and strong and with a lovely sheen because it contains mohair, and the colours are interesting and slightly variegated. It feels good to use a local material which is also unique and, as far as embroidered wool goes, the best in the world.

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