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Designer Profile - Suzanne Lee Dunn at KOOKY

The ideas just keep on coming and coming and getting better and better for rising young fashion designer and director Suzanne Lee Dunn and KOOKY - the design, import and retail business she owns with husband Jason Dunn which keeps on growing.

Despite the current economic downturn, KOOKY has grown from the 11 stores in 2006 when they bought the business to 14 today thanks to the recent opening at the Re:Start project in Christchurch City Centre. An Online Store and International Wholesaling division have also been added.

Suzanne’s first foray into fashion was winning the Northland Fashion awards which resulted in one of the judges inviting her to apply and guaranteeing her acceptance into Wellington Design School. Suzanne graduated in 2000 with her Bachelor of Design (Fashion) winning Massey University’s top Fashion Designer Award for her year.

Suzanne is a perfectionist. Barred from entering colouring in competitions at primary school because teachers thought her parents were helping her, Suzanne has always had intense passion for her work. This passion lead to a score of 100% for School C Art – a remarkable achievement. These days, Suzanne lives and breathes to design beautiful clothing.

KOOKY stocks only its own designs in store. There are three labels in the stable including the flagship label KOOKY, slightly more contemporary “Rosary” and for that special occasion “Vanilla”.

All KOOKY clothing is designed by Suzanne with the help of her in house design team based in Albany, Auckland at the Kooky Design House. As Suzanne explains,

“Being able to follow a design from concept right the way through to seeing our customers try the garment on is an immensely satisfying experience.

“I really enjoy getting into the shops and engaging with our customers about our designs and taking on board the feedback they have to offer. I find that supplying our own stores is a huge advantage when it comes to being able to communicate the design features to our customers. I deal on a daily basis with our Store Managers and can explain the designs, how to wear them properly, what to wear them with, how they go together, and the characteristics of the fabric.”

For KOOKY though it really is all about the designs. As Suzanne explains:

“Where do you get your inspiration from?” is always the first question everyone seems to ask me. It’s a difficult question and I tend to cringe when I know it’s coming because there’s no short answer.
Inspiration comes from so many different sources. Whenever I’m at that wonderful stage of the season where I get to sit at my beloved work bench with pencil in hand ready to start the design process, I surround myself in lots of gorgeous fabric swatches and all the fabulous trims I can lay my hands on. These include bits of ribbon, lace, patches and the most exquisite buttons you could ever lay your eyes on.”

“Plus, and most importantly, my design folder which is full of odd bits of paper covered in rough scribbles. These are all little ideas I have scribbled down throughout the year. They could be a pocket detail or funky fastening idea or texture/appliqué combos. A lot of these scribbles can happen in the middle of the night when I wake up from an inspirational dream where, at the time (half asleep) I believe I’ve had a design epiphany. Occasionally, once wide awake in the morning, these so called “design epiphanies” give Jason and myself a chuckle over breakfast and are thrown in the bin. Often however, fantastic ideas are born from these barely legible scribbles.”

“So surrounded in all this great stuff the creative juices really start to flow and, to be honest, the ideas just seem to keep coming and coming and get better and better as I draw. Sometimes I can’t draw fast enough and I always end up with way too many designs that I love!”

“We also travel to various fashion destinations around the world when we possibly can take the time. I love going to Hong Kong to visit the gorgeous fashion houses to get a real feel for the season ahead but also, in contrast, I love looking at the funky clothes and accessories found in the markets. These are usually made a tad on the crude side but they always have such great, funky little details and crazy but inspiring trim applications.
Inspiration also comes from our customers and trends or demands I pick up on in the previous season. Having a lot of contact with our customer’s means I can get a real feel for what they’re loving in an existing range and I can build on those trends.”

“When I’m at that intense design stage of the new season everything I look at gives me inspiration. Because, during this time, I think, eat and sleep nothing but designs, designs, gorgeous designs, literally everything I look at is converted into a garment detail. This could be seaming on the couch I’m sitting on or twists within a metal structure of some sort or a reflection in the water or Jason’s gorgeous new shoes!"

“I do love fashion and I always make myself stop and take the time to appreciate just how fortunate I am to be doing something I love so much. What I love most of all about my job is designing for the KOOKY market. Us women are fabulous creatures and no matter what size or shape we are, we can all look absolutely stunning dressed in the right clothes. When a sleeve is controlled and the seaming, design features, angles and vertical movement are all positioned in the perfect place within a garment any women can look ½ to a whole size smaller and more in proportion.

This is something my design team and I have a real understanding of. We don’t see designing as just an excuse to get creative and draw pretty pictures. The process is extremely technical and a lot of analysis goes into each design with our customer’s body shapes and their good features and not so loved features constantly in mind. Not one KOOKY design will only look good on a size 8. All our designs are cut and styled to look fabulous on a size 8 and right through to a size 22.”

“I’ve had so many women come out of a KOOKY fitting room for the first time, dressed in the perfect cut, colour and size for them, and honestly can’t believe they’re looking at themselves in the mirror. I’ve had mum’s in tears because they’ve never looked so good and daughters in tears because they’re so happy for mum but the best is when the husband has a tear in his eye looking at his beautiful wife. How rewarding is that!”