Lyall Hakaria is a London based fashion-designer, stylist, night-club owner, creative director (to name a few roles) and all round fabulous being. Of Māori descent and originally from Kororareka (Russell), New Zealand, Lyall has called London home for nearly 30 years. Influential across several industries, Lyall has built and nurtured fashion, LGBQT, QTIPOC and Pacific communities and collectives as well as raising a wonderful daughter. With a colourful history, from opening the iconic VFD (formerly Vogue Fabrics) to designing for Madonna and Lady Gaga, Lyall is a spectacular and unstoppable force.
At Curionoir we don't follow trends and create a contemporary luxury through our craft with fragrance. As a unique brand with indigenous roots, we believe in the importance of people celebrating diversity and living their lives with inclusive values and became intrigued with Lyall. While back in New Zealand for a few days and dressed in archive Miss Crabb, we took to a private beachside farm on Waiheke island with photographer Rebecca Zephyr Thomas for a Curionoir shoot that was nothing short of Love. Art. Magic.
- How did you first get into the clubbing scene in London?
I was already involved with club culture in Auckland and was dressing fabulously and behaved like an arrogant superstar. In London, I found a whole new scene to explore and grow into. It was energised by pop stars, fetish-wear, fashion designers, models, street fashion, couture and raw ambition. The club that throbbed at the middle of this cultural cocktail was the incredibly eccentric and haute club 'Kinky Gerlinky' where the international demi mode designers danced with the gutter kids who pushed fashion and culture club over the edge and beyond. How could I not be attracted to this fire of creativity, paved with large, raging and 'tricky' personalities. I was slowly but wonderfully sucked into a world dripping in pure glammmmmour!
- Vogue Fabrics means so much to so many people. What inspired you to open?
My home had become the 'Party House' and I grew weary of waking up to a house filled with an assortment of snoring drag queens and strangers, a fridge full of broken high heels, with wigs in the butter and false eyelashes in the jam and the accusing eye of my miffed cat. Meow! While me having to explain to my daughter again why there were shoe tread marks on the ceiling was wearing very thin. I had no choice but to open my own venue and luckily had a basement that was fit for purpose, well almost.
At first Vogue Fabrics was a shebeen, an illegal drinking hole with curtains instead of doors on the toilets and people having sex behind the black silk curtains that lined the walls of the venues dance floor. The bar was a table in the corner with a shoebox for the cash box and the d-jay booth was a 1950's display cabinet. In the summer we created our own internal weather with the ceiling and walls dripping with sweat and in the winter the rain flooded the back smoking room and toilets and created a pond, which we called the Dalston Lido. In short, the place was a wreck, but a beautiful one and everyone was welcome and celebrated in all their glorious variety.
We always had cultural programming as well as legendary parties at VFD and with the increased pressure on queer space as more have been shut due to gentrification it has become more important for us to champion and support
queer artists and to keep the venue at the centre of the community. The list of people within the queer world that we have had the pleasure of working with has been incredible, CHRISTEENE, Betty Grumble, Penny Arcade, Briefs, Joey Arias, Charles Jeffery and LOVERBOY, Mykki Blanco, Lucy McCormick, Mika Haka, Karen Finley, Kembra Pfahler to name a few.
- How has the East London club scene changed?
With gentrification of the East End has comes the boring creep of conformity. There is a lot of very dull places and parties that proport to be an authentic experience and to be at the cutting edge, whose only purpose, in fact, is to make money and not community. But in truth underneath this dull veneer, the counter culture is still alive and changing and causing us to see the world in a new light. I love what is happening with the Non-Binary, Trans and QTIPOC communities and the way they are pushing back and making their own new culture.
- How does your culture and being from Aotearoa translate into what you do?
I have spoken about with the other members of 'Inter island collective' at our office 'Moku' which is the first Pacific Arts HQ in the UK and we are all agreed that our heritage has a huge part to play in our creative lives. As people of Moana nui a kiwa the need to create art and make community at the same time, it is written into our DNA and we express it as an extension of our identity and daily cultural practices.
Working with groups of people and creating whanua a has always been a part of my artistic life it gives the work we create together a sense of place, love, necessity and mana. My work in fashion has always been about raising craft to the level of couture and for me, the journey of making a piece of work over a long period of time has always been an incredibly precious experience. I particularly love making clothes of complex detail, ingenuity and imagination and when I look at the time and skill that went into making taonga like Kahu Kuri I see reflections in my own work practice.
- How often do you come back to New Zealand and what does it feel like to return?
I try and get back every year ... which usually ends up being every couple of years ... there is never enough time and I feel like there is always more people for me to visit and connect with .. but above all of this I love coming home and being able to relax in the familiar, London is not a place to relax. It is a town of action and endless change.
- What or who is your greatest love?
In this ridiculous and conflicted world that we are living in today my Freedom and being able to express who I am is my greatest love. Although western democracy is not perfect, we can take so much for granted with our Freedom and be thankful that religious and political regimes do not divide our society as in other parts of the world. Without the freedom that we have I would never have the opportunity to live the life I do and many of the people I consider family would not be able to live their lives either.
My greatest love is my daughter who has almost successfully survived her teenage years ... the goddess bless her.
I am also more than a little bit madly in love with perfume 'PŪROTU Rose'. Yum!
- You've designed for Madonna and Lady Gaga - what has that meant for your career?
Nothing in terms of vast financial gain. But then working with such huge personalities gives rise to some great stories and a few dramas. Which in fashion is the best currency ever!
- How and where did you learn to make clothes?
I started making clothing with a stall in Portobello Market in the '90s alongside other designers on the strip that included Lee McQueen and Preen. It was a great time to be there and we had buyers and fashion designers from all over the world coming, buying, copying and taking inspiration from what we all were making and the scene we created.
I am autodidactic and have always learned my craft from working with others and have always sought out those with skills that I wanted to learn. I was incredibly lucky that my friends are some of the most incredible talents in the world and who have made some of the most exquisite clothing for houses such as Christian La Croix, Mugler, Givenchy and Dior to name a few. I learnt so much about the patience and skill need to make clothing as well as the endless hours of research and sampling that is needed to create perfection.
- You have recently been working with the Pacific Sisters, tell us a little about who they are, what they do and how are you involved?
I have only recently become aware of the work of the Pacific Sisters and I love them and their work.
It is so important that our Pacific cultures are not always presented in a dated historic context. We need to show that our cultures move forward and that our artistic conversations are relevant to the world today. Our culture cannot be side-lined to historical fetishised failings that in the minds of many keeps us in a limbo of rigid colonial inequality. PAH !
The reworking of the Pacific island traditions of adornment in the context of new ritual is truly inspiring and opens up new ideas of where our cultures are going.
It was an honour to be asked to be part of their film piece for the Auckland city gallery and I may yet end up on the cutting room floor. I look forward to connecting with them in the future and it was wonderful to meet with Rosanna and Ani and for them to share their time and aroha with me.
- If you weren't designing clothes and in the club scene what would you be doing?
I would be a Dentist in Timaru.
- If you had to describe Lyall in three words what would they be
Love Art Magic
- Do you have a mantra you live by?
Forward never backwards