The show: In conversation with Rory William Docherty

The show: In conversation with Rory William Docherty

With more artistic talent than you can shake a stick at, the creative shares his professional history and process ahead of his New Zealand Fashion Week solo debut.

Rory William Docherty by Mara Sommer.

It’s an uncharacteristically sunny winter’s day in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland when FQ talks to Rory William Docherty. Amid the chaotic rush that is the lead-up to New Zealand Fashion Week and what will be his first-ever solo show, the designer has graciously reserved an hour of his time to sit down and chat via video link. He dials in from his beautifully curated living room filled with chic furnishings and towering house plants bathed in natural light — an environment that mirrors the attention to detail that pervades his collections. The conversation immediately turns to Fashion Week, which at the time of our interview is a mere six weeks away. “It’s a juggling act,” says Docherty. “We’re in the midst of sampling the collection for Fashion Week while trying to finish some production I want to get in store as soon as possible. Today, I’m expecting the new-season silk prints to arrive on my doorstep, which I’m really excited about.”

Original prints such as these have become synonymous with Docherty’s eponymous label, alongside the array of luxury knits, Japanese suiting, Italian wool and reworked deadstock materials he features throughout his collections. The artistry instilled by his creative upbringing shines through in every garment he creates.

Part 1: Agnus Dei.
Part 1: Agnus Dei.

Born to Scottish parents in the UK, he moved with his family to Aotearoa at the age of two, and was raised in a farming community in the Manawatū. Surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty, he
quickly developed a love of drawing, painting and fashion, interests he pursued under the guidance of his art-teacher father. “I could draw and paint before I could read,” says Docherty. “So there I was, drawing and painting, and Mum and Dad would always throw these amazing Hogmanay [Scottish New Year’s Eve] parties and get really dressed up. I guess I just thought it was fabulous, and a bit escapist, being able to kind of put forward a [different] version of yourself.”

As the years ticked by, the designer leaned further into his artistic talent, and on leaving school opted to pursue a degree in fashion design at Massey University. His first big break into the industry was as a designer for iconic local outwear label Swanndri. This marked the beginning of a remarkable career in fashion that has spanned more than two decades to date, during which he has loaned his considerable skills to several esteemed labels in both a design and a retail capacity. Although Docherty had long hoped to found his own label, doing so wasn’t so straightforward. Towards the end of a five-year stint designing for Workshop Denim, he felt a strong desire to refocus on his art outside the scope of fashion. “I’d just been working quite hard and felt like I really wanted to explore drawing and painting again,” he says.

In dedicating his free time to his art, his drawings soon evolved beyond paper. “Before I knew it, I was like, ‘This would make a really cool textile’, and then that turned into a textile print and I was like, ‘It could [also] make a really great coat’, and then, ‘It would also be beautiful as embroidery’ — and in spite of myself, I ended up making [my first] collection.”

Part 6: Refresh collection.
Part 6: Refresh.

Over a two-and-a-half-year period, Docherty crafted a full body of work that ultimately became Part 1: Agnus Dei. That was around seven years ago, although he’s reluctant to pinpoint a specific launch
date. “It wasn’t really a brand,” he says of that time. “I basically just made [my first collection] and then it was like, ‘Okay, what do I do?’ and I thought, ‘I’ll just put on an exhibition.’”

Presented to a select group of friends, colleagues and industry people at Thievery on Karangahape Road, it was the first time Docherty’s designs had been seen by the local fashion community. “The response was really positive, and people were like, ‘You need to start your own brand,’” he says. And so he did.

When asked to define his label, Docherty keeps it short and simple: “[It’s] slow fashion, quality craftsmanship [and] original artwork.” More than just the trend du jour, slow fashion has always been important him as both a maker and a consumer. “I’ve never really thought about it in terms of hashtags and catchphrases — it’s just how I actually purchase clothes and dress,” he says, using as examples the Yohji Yamamoto and Prada pieces he’s had in his wardrobe for 20-plus years. “I try to create clothes that people will keep in their wardrobes for that amount of time.” Every Rory William Docherty garment is made locally by him and the small team of contractors he employs to help with pattern-making and sampling, so you can be sure you’re investing in quality.

Sketch previews from Rory's NZFW show.

Circling back to the topic of New Zealand Fashion Week, Docherty says there’s more than just the clothes to consider in the process; he’s currently trying to organise a preliminary model casting. He’s aiming to curate a very specific mood for his show. “We’re starting to think about, like, how do we create the mood for the space, what’s the music, and how to get that balance of something that’s special, but strong, but gentle — all of that,” he says.

As with those in his previous collections, the items he’ll present are designed to be worn year-round. “There will definitely be some signature pieces to spot,” he says. “I really want to reinforce that and have pieces from previous collections that are ongoing, so whoever’s watching can be like, ‘Okay, cool, I can wear that again.’” Alongside the handmade shoes and custom jewellery he’s in the thick of finalising with independent collaborators, he’ll be showing new textiles and a continuation of a silhouette he’s delved into before.

“I think [Rory William Docherty] has been perceived as an aspirational and perhaps a more formal, dressed-up brand,” he says. “What I’m hoping to achieve through showing at Fashion Week is to expose it to a broader audience, so that they can see the breadth of what I do, and understand that it isn’t just about special-occasion dresses.” One thing’s for sure: thanks to Docherty’s strong values and vision, whatever his show evolves into, it’ll definitely be one to remember.

Imagery: Getty Images for NZFW: Kahuria.

This article originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly’s Spring 2023 issue. 

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