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Rag-trade creativity runs in local designer’s family

Flagstaff Team

Fashion designer Maddy Richards is just the latest in a line of successful, creative women. She tells Helen Vause about the lasting influence of her late mother and grandmother.

Next generation… Maddy Richards with her daughters Dulcie Daylight (7) and Peggy Moon (5)

Maddy Richards came home a few years ago and announced to her mother, “I want to start making stuff again.”

Her mother supported the idea, but thought the already stretched mother of two under-fives was perhaps a little ahead of herself with her fashion-designing proposal.

Richards parked the dream briefly, but last year her small collection, Daylight Moon, took its place alongside coveted international designer garments in a handful of high-end boutiques across the country.

Noone who’d known Richards over a couple of decades in the fashion business seemed surprised she’d launched her own label. The fashion media both embraced her and Daylight Moon.

Her mother, the late Jane Cross, would have loved to have seen it.

Richards’ latest creative burst had been a long time brewing.

The Devonport local grew up steeped in creativity, surrounded on all sides by family who made things, who often worked from home, and earned their livings from their creative talents.

Her father is locally based award-winning architect Geoff Richards. Her mother was a knitwear designer, a stall-holder in the booming Cook Street artisan markets of the 70s, a former hat maker and an all-round creative whose artworks fill the family home. Her grandmother, Beatrice Cross, made her mark as a Queen St fashion designer and retailer – and an admired rug designer.

Richards grew up learning dreams could be a commercial reality, that deadlines were a constant pressure in creative life, that people who did all this for a living had to have commitment and perseverance to bring their ideas to life. And she knew failures could come with the journey. It was an uncertain way of life she understood.

As a teen crossing the harbour to Selwyn College every day, Richards thought drama and performing arts would be her future, not taking a lead from the two women she was so close to, and influenced by – her mother and grandmother.

When Richards talks about her mother, who died three years ago, her eyes fill with tears and the pain of her loss is very apparent. “Janey was wonderful and just such a huge influence in my life. Her advice was always spot on for me.”

Richards describes the time, just months before her mother died, that thoughts for the Daylight Moon collection had popped into her mind, and lodged there.

“I had two very young children and motherhood had just taken over all of my life. I think I’d lost a little bit of myself and I felt I was muddling through. But I’d had a day out, without the girls, visiting a friend and viewing fabric samples. On the way home to Devonport I felt like my old self again and I knew I wanted to start a label of my own.

“Mum was wonderful. She said she had no doubts that I should do this but just not at that time, just not yet.” Cross managed to caution her daughter about taking on too much while the girls were so tiny, but she applauded the concept that would be best parked for a year or so until Maddy was in a better position to throw herself into it.

Richards is very proud of the talent and achievements of her mother and her grandmother. Beatrice Cross and her parents had a high-end women’s fashion store, called Berkley Style, in Queen Street in the 1940s.

While Richards was growing up, her widowed grandmother asked the family’s young architect – Geoff – to design her a “pavilion for old age” on family land in East Coast Bays. The very stylish grandmother painted her new house black inside and out, but had nothing suitable for her white tile floors. And so she designed her first rag rug.

The colourful creation was assembled by Beatrice’s mother, who like so many other women of her day had learned to make rugs out of need rather than any sense of interior décor.

Beatrice designed many more rugs, scouring opshops and the family factory for fabric offcuts, and with her mother producing vibrant rag rugs like no others.

Beatrice held several exhibitions. Her rugs are held in The Dowse Gallery in Wellington and in the Auckland Museum.

Detail of a Beatrice Cross rug held in the Dowse Art Museum collection.

After she died in 2007, aged 91, Jane wrote about her “incidentally redefining the art of the rag rug, taking it out of its homely, crafty origins and repositioning it firmly in the field of contemporary art”.

The influence of her family and their closeness and creative exchanges are a strong theme through Richards’ life.

“I couldn’t have done this without them. My mother had a special way of getting my ideas out of my head and helping me bring them to life.

“Of course she was right to tell me that I should wait a bit with my plan. Such good advice,” laughs a frazzled Richards at the end of a very long lockdown of working at home with school work and children in the picture.

Just to find uninterrupted time to talk to the Flagstaff she very gratefully sent her girls Dulcie Daylight (7) and Peggy Moon (5) off with their grandfather for an hour.

“This lockdown and trying to work and have the girls out of school all day has been really tough for everyone. It’s been really hard for parents to work at all,” says Richards who juggled child care and work at home with her partner, Aaron King-Cole, an artist and musician.

Richards has taken on challenges in most corners of the fashion business and says she’s learned from failures.

He first job was in most areas of the long-running Workshop label, getting invaluable experience in production, distribution, selling and everything else involved in getting designer clothes from concept to consumer.

Later, during a stint in London, she had a more entrepreneurial eye out for fashion, and for styles she felt could go well. On her return to New Zealand she opened a boutique in the city with her mother. She’s worked closely with international suppliers helping to reposition and distribute labels, and has provided creative oversight for shop fitouts.

“Looking back, I suppose those early days were sort of the equivalent of my tertiary education.”

Long before, she’d learned she didn’t have family talent for sewing, much less tailoring and the other painstaking elements of making fine clothes.

But she found she loved to sell.

“I’m a people person. I love the interaction, and I get a real kick out of seeing people happy in my clothes.”

She’s proud of the fact that her collections are locally designed and produced. In lockdown’s darkest days, she’d sometimes make personal contactless deliveries in the neighbourhood.

Richards is a tall, distinctive figure, frequently seen wearing her own designs going about her day around Devonport, picking up kids or doing supermarket shopping.

Shared flair… Maddy Richards wearing a jumper designed by her mother, Jane Cross

A generation raised with the concept that good clothes should be kept for best might wonder how she does it.

Never any track pants? No off days?

“It’s practice,” Richard’s laughs. “I get up every morning and put on the clothes I love. No matter what you have to do in the day, it’s a whole lot more enjoyable if you are wearing a nice dress while you are doing it. I find it very liberating.

“Beautiful things are a personal expression.”

  • Richards hosts a Daylight Moon pop-up shop in Fleet St from 9-12 December.

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