Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real:
Christian Dior in New Zealand
It may come as no surprise to hear that the refined grey and white décor of the Christian Dior flag ship boutique on Avenue Montaigne is not unique. The efforts of international branding and globalisation have seen it reproduced ad infinitum across the world from Beijing to London. What may come as a surprise however, is the existence of a near replica of the original Dior salons on a small street in Auckland, New Zealand. Currently deserted, although rumour has it, still perfectly intact (bolts of Dior fabric included), this boutique has existed since 1954 when clothing label El Jay obtained licensing rights to produce Christian Dior designs in their New Zealand factory.
The company El Jay was established shortly before the Second World War by Jewish émigré Lou Fisher as a reseller of imported international fashion for women. Soon it began to produce designs under its own label but, as was the case for many clothing manufactures at the onset of the Second World War, El Jay was forced to abandon their domestic production in favour of army uniforms and great coats. A buoyant New Zealand economy at the end of the war allowed the business, now under the direction of Gus Fisher, younger brother of founder, Lou, to return to high end manufacture. With a strong interest in tailoring and evening wear Gus transformed El Jay into a sophisticated manufacturer which became one of the first high end clothing labels in New Zealand. The quality of the garments produced by El Jay was such that, in 1953, a mutual contact in the textile business recommended Gus Fisher to Christian Dior as a possible manufacturer of licenced products for the New Zealand market.
In 1949, Christian Dior became the first Haute Couture house to recognise both the financial benefits and the importance of a global image that could be gained by licensing their products for an international market.
At the time, this move was heavily criticised by the Chambre Syndicale de Haute Couture. Christian Dior was not however in the habit of approaching firms to collaborate as licensees (the process traditionally worked in reverse) but he invited Fisher to come to Paris and negotiate a New Zealand licence. The result was a contract that ran from 1954 to 1988, allowing Fisher each season, to choose garments from the entire Dior collection. The meticulous paper patterns which would accompany him back to New Zealand were supplemented by pages of detailed sketches from the Dior atelier and notes taken by Fisher himself to allow the exact replica of the garments in New Zealand.
Besides the precision taken in the technical reproduction, Fisher also imported the original French fabrics, unless their price pushed them beyond the means of the New Zealand market – in which case a suitable alternative would be agreed upon. As Fisher notes, they were not copies, they were reproductions and there is a big difference between the two and Fisher’s reproductions were exact.
Although Dior maintained a close and watchful eye on all production of garments under its name, the consistently immaculate construction of Christian Dior by El Jay eventually resulted in an agreement that Fisher would continue their manufacture, unwatched from Paris.
By 1986 Fisher had become Christian Dior’s longest licence holder in the world and he was honoured with a private ceremony in Paris. The collaboration allowed Fisher to work alongside Christian Dior himself, Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Bohan, before retiring from fashion in 1988.
Fisher wholesaled and retailed Christian Dior alongside El Jay throughout New Zealand for 34 years and was honoured with a recent retrospective, Looking Terrific, The story of El Jay hosted by the New Zealand Fashion Museum in 2010. Fisher passed away three days after the close of the Auckland season.