When first observing Tess Norquay’s designs, images of overflowing 80’s and 90’s thrift store artifacts immediately pop into mind: colorful FILA ski jackets, pop art-incorporated tees, and your aunt’s worn-out but otherwise chic harem pants. In spite of these comparisons to eras way back when, Norquay doesn’t merely take inspiration from fluorescent patterns and synth-y pop charts. In iD Fashion, the New Zealand-based designer described her most recent collection, “PLEASE LIKE ME” as “fatigued and irritable” and “bored of waiting” – a none too silent archival collection of “exploring the way in which women are subjected to terms that otherwise apply to products. Norquay “critiques and parodies the patriarchal ideologies of the advertising industry that reduces women to concepts and makes them feel accountable for their assigned two-dimensional value.”
This Massey University graduate and 2017 iD Dunedin Fashion Week award-winner lovingly uses things few designers wouldn’t dare to nurture into runway-worthy marvels – fabrics that loudly evoke unconscious memories of day-glo raves and uninterrupted fun. Whimsical and indeed kitsch-worthy, Norquay combines patterns and fabrics that otherwise wouldn’t be used within the same ensemble, which would explain her recently-obtained Award for Excellence in Design. Norquay’s uncommon approach to her artistry involves the intermingling of plaid and pom poms, bows and animal prints, and custom stitching taking the form of elaborate lobsters and angry cartoon faces, as seen in her “Author Unknown” collection. As stated in an interview for Medium, Norquay’s reasons behind her designs and patterns (as well as her own personal style and way of dress) are centered on the objectification of the female form through the lens of the male gaze, as well as the retaliation that follows. It is, according to Norquay, more so “a subversive take on the idea of affirming a patriarchal oppressor.” Norquay also believes it is vital to “critique the parts of society that we aren’t happy with.”
Where does your fascination with 80’s-esque and kitsch patterning/style stem from?
Those weren’t active choices, but looking now, I can see how you reached that conclusion! My starting points with designing this collection were a little bit of garish 90s fashion (think Will Smith in Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and a bit of New Zealand flavouring sprinkled over the top. The New Zealand flavour being the incorporation of design details from the clothes farmers and labourers wear: high visibility, oversized pockets, durable fabrics. These were very vague references, though I find, for me at least, having too solid of an image in your head hinders the clothes’ ability to develop organically.
What designers, musicians, and/or visual artists have inspired and continue to inspire you throughout your career?
I’ve recently discovered Hannah Jinkins, and I love everything she does. I’m a sucker for hardwearing fabrics and unusual pattern making, and she ticks all the boxes for me. Each new Instagram post from her makes my heart flutter, it’s like waiting for the boy your teenage self had a crush on to text you.
A lot of the illustrations I did for my prints were inspired by David Shrigley, an artist from Glasgow whose drawings are very funny and deeply disturbing at the same time. Every bad mood I’ve ever had has been fixed by flicking through his body of work, and cackling away.
Where do you find your fabrics?
I designed the majority of the fabric prints myself, which I then got printed through spoonflower.com. The prints were intended to parody advertising tropes used to objectify women – hairy feet for the disembodied limb, cartoon underwear for the Madonna/whore complex, and the like. I also work at a fabric store, which is a blessing, particularly for some of my stranger requests (“Hello workmates, who knows where I can get ten metres of fluoro orange denim? Thanks”).
Where do you stand on individuality and unconventionality in fashion? Do you believe there is more or less of it these days and why?
Honestly? I don’t know. That’s a tricky one. I try not to see clothes as “individual” or “not individual” because I think so much of fashion is what each person brings to each piece, in terms of styling, the context they wear it in, things like that. I find it so interesting to watch someone else restyle my pieces, because the outcome is so different every time, combinations emerging I wouldn’t have thought of. I think the Internet has changed things substantially though- nowhere is isolated anymore, so everyone, be that designer, or consumer, has a wider spectrum of what their wardrobe could look like.
Lastly, how did it feel to be mentioned recently in Vogue Italia?
Completely surreal! I feel like I’m being Punk’d, and Ashton Kutcher’s going to come out at any moment!