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Trelise Cooper | When evocative adjectives like luxurious, colourful and avant-garde are used in global fashion circles the name Trelise Cooper is never far away - such is her bond with the world of individualistic style and the women for whom she creates. A perfectionist, who immerses herself in her craft, Trelise, a born and bred New Zealander, is a fascinating blend of contradictions and non-conformity. She has never learned to sew or had any formal training and yet her eye for design and fabrication are legendary, winning her countless awards and accolades and taking her brands worldwide. Driven and dedicated, she is at the helm of a ‘feminine democracy’ employing 75 staff in an expressive environment where discussion and interaction combine to create explosive fashion flair. “Because I am untrained I approach my designs in an unconstrained way and I feel a freedom in this,” says Trelise. “It is unconventional but it means outcomes are not limited by traditional boundaries.” Trelise’s unique business mind-set comes from personal experience. A go-getter in New Zealand’s fashion industry in the Eighties, with two well-known shop fronts in Auckland and Wellington, she spent much of the Nineties as a stay-at-home mum with her adored son Jasper, and her husband Jack Cooper, a renowned Australasian textile wholesaler and her companion of 26 years. Her fashion fantasies reignited in 1997 with the opening of her first Trelise Cooper store in Auckland. Business started briskly and quickly became a runaway success as her plush fabrics and eccentric twists of design caught on with her idiosyncratic-yet-sophisticated clientele. "My whole aim in setting up this business was to have self expression as a woman; to create a woman's space in my working and selling environment; to do what I absolutely, passionately love which is creating clothing.” says Trelise. “Self satisfaction is a big driver for me, I want to come to work and be happy. I believe my clothes reflect my happiness and I hope my clothes give women permission to be truly who they are.” As such the day at the Trelise Cooper Ltd headquarters in Newmarket starts unlike most in the corporate world. At 9.15 each morning all staff gather for the ritual lighting of candles and incense and five minutes of beautiful music and uplifting readings from staff – all part of the holistic approach Trelise credits for taking her business beyond her wildest dreams. Like Oprah Winfrey – one of her greatest inspirations – Trelise is full of home-spun philosophies which she uses every day to motivate herself, her staff and others. When she signs autographs it’s often with the line “Follow Your Dreams” quickly scribbled as well. “Listen to your instincts, they are rarely wrong,” says Trelise, who took this advice as her prime motivator when her business expanded from the kitchen table to a multi-million dollar concern, catapulting her onto the world stage and into the wardrobes of Hollywood stars like Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon. She has seen her designs in the shopfronts of Sydney, Paris, the USA, Milan, Auckland and Singapore and watched as Sex and The City stylist Rebecca Weinberg walked out with a dozen of her creations after a show in Melbourne. She’s heard on the grapevine that Sharon Stone loves her stuff and she was a favourite for young best actress Oscar nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes during Oscar week. Amidst the heady successes, Trelise says it’s the humanity for your fellow woman and man which we will eventually be judged by and gain from. “Afford generosity of spirit to those who are around you and you will reap the benefit,” explains Trelise, a well-known philanthropist in her home town and supporter of causes as wide and varied as breast cancer, domestic violence, AIDS research and the opera. Her interest in life and all it offers is part of the Trelise Cooper appeal as well. She cares about her staff and wants them to be happy which she hopes in turn engenders loyalty. In 2004 Trelise’s good works were rewarded by Queen Elizabeth II becoming a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, 2004. Her ethereal looks give off the effect of a Botticelli-like angel while completely belying the brains of the astute business woman she has become. And still each piece she creates is like her own child. "A lot of love, attention, thought, even prayer goes into each garment. Every detail and every pleat and every pintuck is lovingly and carefully thought out. I think about a woman's body, think what she wants to reveal and what she wants to hide. I think about what she might want to do in these clothes, who she might want to be with." So who is the Trelise Cooper woman? Or can she be summed up at all? “She's not afraid to show her personality,” explains Trelise. “She's unconventional. She has a sense of humour. She’s quirky. She's a risk taker and has the courage to express herself. She's not trying to conform to the look of the season. She's brave. She is sexy. She likes her feminine side but she can be passionate about the boardroom too. She is vulnerable at heart but strong when she needs to be." Sounds like a dead-ringer for the woman behind the success behind the brand. Trelise Cooper.
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