This is a story of a girl named Penny. Living in Auckland, this young creative soul finds beauty in the things that are carefully crafted. She often drives down Desert Road, and is overwhelmed by the beauty of the colours in the rugged landscapes that surround her. Her mother’s family name has become her own, and her mother remains her greatest influence. She makes clothes, and produces everything in her hometown out of natural fabrics. She just prefers the way they feel when they’re natural, an admirable quality indeed. She is not a contrived character, no, but creates the pieces that she would want her sisters or her mother to wear. She is quietly confident, and does not follow trends. She is of generous spirit, and shares her space with other creative types who all love what they’re doing. Her name may not be her own, but she’s enjoying her newfound freedom within the designated boundaries she’s made for herself. She’s Penny Sage, and she’s stolen our hearts. Penny Sage designer, Kate Megaw speaks to Hall of Furs about the alter ego that has become her Auckland-based label.
Sophie Flecknoe: Firstly, can you start by telling me a little about yourself? How would you define what you do?
Kate Megaw: I spend my days making clothes for my label Penny Sage, which I do out of my Auckland based studio. I share the space with four amazing individuals who also do what they love; it’s a wonderful creative space.
What is Penny Sage’s definition of beauty? Where do you seek to find it, or how do you aim to create it through your designs?
In clothing I find beauty in structure and form, in things that have been crafted with care. I am often initially drawn to fabrics and colour combinations that tread a fine line between ugly and beautiful, as those are the ones that I end up loving for seasons to come.
Where did the name Penny Sage come from? I can’t help but think of ‘Penny Lane’, which consequently has been stuck in my head the whole time I’ve been writing this interview!
Penny Sage is a sort of alter ego, I was very shy when I was younger and always thought if I could change my name I would have all the confidence in the world. There were lots of names I imagined but Penny was one that really stayed with me. When I began making clothes I started using the name with Sage – which is my mother’s family name, I love having a bit of my Mum in there because she has always been a big influence on me making clothes. It turns out having that anonymity does give me a feeling of freedom and confidence.
I’ve read that your pieces are transcendental of season, as they are designed to be quite timeless. What do you keep in mind when designing?
I avoid having a narrow starting point in terms of inspiration and seasonal structure. When I am designing it’s my chance to take a break from all the other aspects of the business so I just try and keep an open mind and enjoy that time.
Who is the archetypal Penny Sage woman? Do you design for yourself or people you know?
I don’t have an archetypal Penny Sage woman in mind when designing although when I am designing I can sometimes imagine characters or scenarios where the clothes would be worn. It’s a combination of ideas I think are interesting and things I want to wear myself as well as things I could imagine my mum, grandma, sisters and friends wearing. My clothes won’t be for everyone but I want to make clothes for all types of woman.
You’re based in Auckland, in New Zealand. I myself have never been to Auckland, but I have been to Wellington and it was such an eclectic, unique place, full to the brim with originality. Does Auckland directly influence your designs?
I love living in Auckland and do find it an interesting place to live, there are spots all over the country that influence and inspire my designs. I was recently driving through the Desert Road of the North Island, which is a beautiful part of the country. I pass through it so often and always admire it but this day it had something else. It had started snowing and the light was so incredible, it took my breath away. That was the moment I started thinking about colours for the winter collection.
Do you source your fabrics in New Zealand?
I source and produce everything in New Zealand although most of the fabric that I buy from wholesalers is imported. Unfortunately there is very little fabric manufacturing in New Zealand, sometimes that can make it hard to find unique fabrics which is one of the reasons I love over dying and painting my fabrics.
In your opinion, what is the importance of social media in relation to what you do? Is it crucial in getting your message out there to a broader audience? Or do you think it creates a barrier between customers and your designs?
It took me awhile to actually want to use social media in relation to what I do but now I find it a really positive way to connect. I think it’s a great way to let people into a part of your world that you want to share but I also think it’s important to be able to connect and tell your story in other ways.
Where do you draw inspiration? Are there any other labels, designers or artists who influence your work?
The initial inspiration for a collection often comes from the simplest idea and grows with what’s surrounding me at the time. For instance the drive through the Desert Road really sparked the beginning of the Winter collection. Once I got back to Auckland I started finding inspiration everywhere in the smallest places; the incredible colour combinations of a succulent on my desk, an old hall painted entirely in grey hues, [or] the colour my living room turns when the sun goes down.
I read that your designs are expertly crafted, something that is of paramount importance for you and your label. What is the process for you from initial idea to finished product?
I’m always seeking to learn more about my craft and I do have so much more to learn. I really enjoy the challenge from design to how it will be finished; it’s a really important aspect of design for me that the garment has been constructed in a simple yet well thought out way. I spend a lot of time on the initial pattern refining the design; it’s here where I begin thinking about how it will be finished.
What role does an editorial or photo shoot play in constructing the identity of your label?
I think it’s chance to bring it all to life, to tell a story and allow people to connect.
There is an indisputable quirk and charm attached to your pieces. Do you aim to tell a story through your designs or campaigns?
I like subtle stories to come through in the designs, I think pieces can remain timeless if they are free from anything too obviously theme driven. I love seeing a new story come together when we shoot the campaigns. Once everyone comes together – the photographer, hair and makeup artists and the model. It’s the moment when the collection becomes a collaboration of ideas and everyone puts in their point of view.
Your designs are very much unique reinterpretations of classic pieces. What role does colour, shape and texture play in your designs?
Those three things are at the center of what makes a garment in my opinion. Colour can be the thing that creates the emotion in a collection. Texture and touch is so important to me, I love natural fabrics because of the way they feel when you wear them, a garment can look pretty but it should also feel amazing to wear. I love simple shapes, having just one part of the garment the focal point. [I currently love] playing with shoulder and sleeve shapes.
Is travel a major component of what you do? Where is one place you would love to visit?
I look forward to travel being a bigger component of what I do. I dream of visiting so many places but the top of my list is currently Joshua Tree in California.
What’s next for Penny Sage? Where do you see yourself and your label in a few years time?
I have just been writing a list of goals for the next few years. I can’t share them all but I can tell you I’m very excited about taking Penny Sage to Australia…
Words: Sophie Flecknoe. Images courtesy of Penny Sage.