Zambesi co-founders Neville and Elisabeth Findlay, circa 1970. Photo / Supplied

Zambesi Celebrates 40 Years Of New Zealand Fashion With Its Greatest Hits

Zambesi digs deep into the archives for an unmissable retrospective show to celebrate its 40th year

Keep your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds. This is the Zambesi team's recipe for survival during New Zealand Fashion Week, with not one but two epic shows to produce. It's a season of milestones for the brand and it's only fitting that it appears twice on the NZFW schedule.

In recognition of its 40th year in business, Zambesi is kicking off NZ Fashion Weekend with a retrospective show on Friday night. This highlights its most memorable designs from 1979 to 2019.

Open to the public, attendees will get the chance to see iconic looks from a brand that has navigated the social, cultural and political landscape to retain relevance in the sometimes-fickle fashion industry, all the while preserving the rebellious streak it's famous for.

READ: Kate Sylvester Is Opening NZ Fashion Week With A Nod To Past & Present

With four decades' worth of archival looks to choose from, designer Elisabeth Findlay says the selection process for the show was a collaborative effort. With such a vast archive, stored at Zambesi’s workroom in Auckland’s Newton, a team effort was necessary, and a lot of fun.

Members of the "Zamfam", including co-founder Neville Findlay, daughters Marissa and Sophie Findlay, menswear designer and buyer Dayne Johnston, past designer Tulia Wilson and former store manager Terzann Elliot, came together to pore over special pieces from the past.

While the team won't go into specifics about what will make it to the runway — (will it be the vest and lace hoop skirt over pants shown at London Fashion Week in 1999; the Armadillo handbag, or a long shaggy coat?) — they say the show will have a celebratory feel with a few surprises thrown in.

Zambesi is known for its loyal following, including longstanding fan Moana Maniapoto, who is contributing some of her own vintage Zambesi pieces collected over the years. Elisabeth's grandson Bruno will model some of the children's collections. "We'll be highlighting many of our favourite looks from over the years, but they'll be curated and styled in a whole new way," says Elisabeth. "Look out for a few familiar faces on the runway and a live performance."

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Always a highlight of the NZFW schedule, Zambesi will also present its autumn/winter 2020 range on Thursday night. The show at Auckland Central City Library, entitled 'Nineteen Seventy Nine' in homage to its founding year, is special for another reason. "This is our 80th collection and a huge milestone for Zambesi. It's going to be an amazing show," says Elisabeth.

Zambesi's shows are known for being a family affair, and this year is no different, with Marissa the creative and casting director for both shows. Sophie is on graphics and music direction, and Neville is the team's "go-to" for ensuring things run smoothly.

What keeps Zambesi passionate year after year? "We love making clothes," says Elisabeth. "In this industry we strive to do better and improve, so it always feels like a new beginning."

Backstage Snackshot:

What we're snacking on:
Non Solo Pizza

How we keep sane in the lead-up to Fashion Week: We're working on it!

What we're drinking:
1907 water, lots of Espresso Workshop coffee, Scapegrace gin, Invivo wine, and Peroni beer

Song we're listening to on repeat:
The Godfather by Fantomas

• ‘Zambesi since 1979: 40 years of Fashion', runway, Town Hall, 8.30pm, Friday August 30. Tickets from $40 via

• ‘NineteenSeventyNine', Zambesi autumn/winter 2020, Thursday evening, by invitation only, at the Auckland Central City Library

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New Zealand Herald

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