For the past 30 years, Dame Trelise Cooper has been carving a unique space in the global fashion industry, a space she has come to describe as a ‘Theatre of Dreams’.
For Dame Trelise, the phrase describes the special impact her designs have on women, and not just because they are beautiful clothes — it describes an ideal, a vision, a story, a sense of a woman’s inner and outer beauty, her vulnerability, her sense of herself and her place in the world. It is this quality — Dame Trelise’s ability to truly see a woman in her unique context and understand what is required to highlight a moment — that has made her designs stand out for three decades.
“A woman’s femininity is the focal point in designing the dress,” Dame Trelise says, alluding to what has motivated her from the start. “I design for women by relating to them, whoever they are. And that’s because designing is an expression of who I am as a woman — all the complications, feelings and emotions. I understand a woman’s vulnerability, just as much as I understand that fashion is an instrument to make her beautiful, confident, happy and content.”
Dame Trelise is as well known for capturing that sense of connectedness and ethereal beauty in everything she does, as much as she is known for the fashion brand that bears her name and is globally recognised and valued. “My goal has always been to make a difference in women’s lives,” Dame Trelise says. “When I’m designing I think about a woman and how she lives — their empowerment is the most important thing for me. “Fashion is all about telling stories. It is where a woman takes it that is the exciting bit.”
The Trelise Cooper story has been a lifetime in the telling. The story of Trelise Cooper has been its own Theatre of Dreams, one that saw a young New Zealand woman open a single store in 1985, to now, heading a global brand that boasts ten flagship stores worldwide, as well as more than 200 independent retail stockists across the US and Australia. The four Trelise Cooper labels — the bespoke Trelise Cooper range, the more casual Cooper, the youthful COOP, and the elegant Boardroom — are complemented by brand extensions Trelise Cooper Home, Trelise Cooper Eyewear, and Trelise Cooper Jewellery.
The Trelise Cooper designs that emerge from that space have always captured the romantic and the feminine with luxurious fabrics, dynamic colours, delicate touches of lace and sparkling embellishments. They are renowned for their attention to detail, and the flourishes of spirituality that linger beyond the moment or the occasion. The style may have become more simplified, more elegant and more subtle as the brand has matured, but each Trelise Cooper garment continues to be synonymous with that Theatre of Dreams.
Beyond this, the Trelise Cooper story has never ceased to celebrate the colourful, the exuberant and the luxuriant in other ways. The Trelise Cooper shows at the annual New Zealand Fashion Week, for example, have become as famous for theatre and big production values as the labels themselves. Some of Hollywood’s most elegant and edgy female stars have been clothed in Trelise Cooper designs, including Liv Tyler, Miley Cyrus, Suri Cruise, Catherine Zeta Jones, Julia Roberts and Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. But again, building and maintaining a high profile that appeals to such well-known names is only part of the story.
Just as significant are the women whose names never appear in the glossy magazines, but whose self-belief is impacted by the Trelise Cooper dresses they have worn.
Success is only partly measured by the longevity and popularity of a brand and its presence in boutiques and Department Stores. For Dame Trelise, ‘success’ is mainly gauged by the memories created by women in the garments she has designed. The ability to achieve this comes down to that indefinable gift of insight that only the best poets, writers, artists and dancers, sculptors and designers have … to see in-between, into that place of mystery and movement, of spirit and grace, hope and life, and out of that space to create something of deep value and significance.
It is out of this space that Dame Trelise also fulfils important roles as patron of the Breast Cancer Research Trust and Auckland’s Returned Services Association for War Veterans. Dame Trelise passionately and generously supports several charities each year, including Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, ‘Shine – making homes Violence free’, and multiple small community charities. Her vital roles have been rewarded by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, and Knighted as a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2014 for services to fashion and the community.
Ultimately, the Trelise Cooper brand has helped women of all ages to achieve their dreams because what Dame Trelise achieves on behalf of women of all circumstance, age, culture and body shape, is a sense of harmony — the union of a woman’s individuality with the garment she wears. As someone gifted, as she is, with the ability to work in those sacred spaces in-between moments and people, the task of striving to achieve this sense of connectedness between a woman and her dress, a woman and her story, and between a woman and the moment, is more than a craft … it’s a responsibility.
But it’s a responsibility that Dame Trelise Cooper has happily accepted for 30 years … and will do so well into the future.