Designer Céline Cummins on celebrating a decade of Céline Rita

Photos from the Socialites photo-shoot at their offices in Auckland

Designer Céline Cummins from Céline Rita is celebrating a decade of her label this year. Image supplied.

A decade in the fashion business is definitely worth celebrating and while this unpredictable year has meant she didn’t get to celebrate in the way she had hoped, designer Céline Cummins from womenswear label Céline Rita is still delighted to mark her brand’s 10 year milestone. Launched at New Zealand Fashion Week 2010, when Céline was a fresh AUT fashion design graduate, her label gained attention for it’s feminine designs that were elegant, playful and featured a rainbow of beautiful hues. Fast forward to 2020, and Céline Rita has evolved into a sophisticated womenswear and bridal label, mirroring the evolution of the designer herself into a wife, mother and successful businesswoman.

Céline had always loved fabric, fashion and dressing up, she learnt to sew at a young age so a fashion career was a natural path for her. The ‘Rita’ in Céline Rita is the designer’s middle name, and also the name of her grandmother who was a dressmaker. While the two never met, the designer is certain she inherited her life-long love of fashion from her grandmother.

Fashion has seen a huge amount of change in the past decade since Céline first launched her label and while she initially followed the seasonal fashion model that is ingrained in the industry, a few years down the track Céline decided she was better off doing things her own way. After celebrating her fifth anniversary at New Zealand Fashion Week 2015, Céline slowly began to move her label away from the usual fashion business model, as her bridesmaids dresses had grown to be a strong part of her business and the designer wanted a change from the constant sales cycle and waste from creating seasonal collections. After creating a few smaller collections she moved into her current model which is offers completely made-to-order garments.

Women can choose a dress or jumpsuit from Céline Rita’s beautiful range, which is mostly focused on bridesmaids and bridal outfits but you can get a piece made for any special occasion. Every gorgeous garment is made-to-order locally in Auckland, taking 6 – 8 weeks in production. Dresses can be bought online and are also available to try-on at Céline Rita’s Eden Terrace showroom with personal consultations available to help you choose the perfect dress.

We caught up with Céline to find out how she’s celebrating a decade of Céline Rita, how she balances the creative and business demands of her role and what her advice is for anyone who wants to be a fashion designer?

Congratulations on celebrating 10 years in business this year, how are you marking the milestone?
Thank you! It has been a strange year to celebrate our 10 year milestone. I had originally planned to have a little party with our loyal Céline Rita community, showcasing some new styles… then Covid came along and the little party became a bubble at home!

Thankfully, the last few months have been back to business as usual, especially with weddings back up and running, so the 10 year party might end up an 11 year party in 2021.

I personally marked the milestone by reflecting on the last 10 years and thinking about the next 10. I spent time during lockdown looking back on photos from different ranges and fashion shows, thinking about all of the ups and downs, but mostly the incredible support I have had from family, friends, customers, customers who became friends, and the talented people I have worked with in our small but significant fashion industry here in NZ.

It made me quite emotional, and proud of the 22 year old me who just gave it a go and believed in herself!

Celine Rita NZFW

A runway look from Céline Rita’s New Zealand Fashion Week 2010 debut show (left). Céline Cummins and a model in Céline Rita closing her New Zealand Fashion Week 2015 show.

Take us back to 2010, what was the original plan and vision for your brand and how has it evolved since then?
Back in 2010 I was fresh out of fashion school and as naive as they come! I was full of energy and ideas, and not much of a plan. Being blissfully unaware was undoubtedly a blessing. Over the first few years, CR organically grew through word of mouth and social media. I learnt as I went, asking for advice from anyone who would give it to me, I was (and still am!) very eager to learn.

My vision in 2010 was to create a boutique fashion label that women wanted to wear. So much has evolved with my business, but this vision – and the heart of it – really hasn’t changed. CR is dedicated to creating beautiful garments that women want to wear, we are all about celebrating and empowering women.

I focus on designing clothes with an effortless silhouette, an impeccable fit that flatters the female body and that are made from carefully selected, high quality fabrics. Naturally, the CR aesthetic has grown up with me. Although still feminine, the style is much more sophisticated and understated, rather than girlie and fun.

Back in 2010, I was trying to follow more of a traditional business model that I was taught in fashion school – seasonal ranges, 6 months in advance to sell at wholesale. It was just how fashion businesses worked then. Now I look at things very differently – I don’t care about what others are doing, I care about what works for my business.

How do you balance the creative and business demands of your role in your brand?
The balance has become a lot easier for me in recent years. I think experience has left me more self-assured in both areas.

I love exploring and expressing my creativity. I used to feel CR was too ‘girlie and pretty’ compared to all of the edgy, directional, androgynous looks of other New Zealand fashion labels. Now I am much more confident in my designs and aesthetic, and I absolutely embrace the timeless femininity!

The same goes for the business side. 10 years ago, there was a mould to fit into, but I am now so comfortable with not fitting that traditional mould in the way my business runs. For years now we have been working with a made-to-order and seasonless model, it works so well for us.

I really enjoy the business side now, and utilising all of the technology and programmes that can enhance it and help me to make strategic decisions about the business.

The real juggle is that of a working mum. I’m only 18 months in, and the Mum Guilt is real! Luckily I have a great team around me, and incredible support from my husband, parents and extended family. I hate the glorification of busy… but since becoming a mum, I really have a new idea of what busy really is!

Becoming a mum has been the best thing to happen to me. Suddenly overnight, life just made sense. I couldn’t love it more. And it has really given me an extra push for the next phase of CR. Everything I do is for Tommy, he is the reason I work so hard. Tommy has made me extra organised and so efficient with my time. I’m sure all other mothers can relate to this!

Becoming a mum changed me in a million ways, but it also gave me a new perspective on being a business owner, it has been an asset for my business. I want to succeed for Tommy (and any future kids) to be a role model for them, and show them what happens when you work hard. But I also love that I will have the freedom to take an afternoon off to be parent help if I want.

Céline Cummins wearing the gorgeous wedding gown she designed for her 2017 nuptials to husband Dean Cummins (left). Céline with her beloved dog Flo (right). Images by Jody Lidstone from I Do Photography.

How do you maintain a personal connection with your customers and how does social media help you to connect with them?
Personal connection is so important to me. I love my customers and love dressing them. It is an authentic connection, and I believe customers know that. My beautiful Auckland showroom (doubles as a workroom) is a safe space for my customers to come in and try on clothes. Once you’ve been into the CR world, I like to think customers are forevermore connected. Customer service is of utmost importance to me, and I want everyone who comes through our doors to leave feeling better than when they arrived.

Social media definitely helps with this, it has always been a direct link to my community.

How would you describe your personal style and how does it influence your designs?
My personal style hugely influences my designs. The aesthetic of my brand is so closely tied to my own, I would never produce anything I wouldn’t wear. I want to feel comfortable and confident. I want to put on my outfit and not think about what I’m wearing.

I always wear samples out before deciding to produce a new style. I check the fit and if there is anything about it that annoys me. I check on the washing – all the practical elements.

I would describe my personal style as relaxed elegance. I’m quite a practical dresser, and love to be able to dress up and dress down the same outfit.

Fashion has changed a lot in 10 years, what are you currently focused on for your brand and where do you see it’s future?
It really has changed a lot – for the better. Most consumers are a lot more conscious about their shopping. They care more about who is making their clothes; and that a business is ethical and are actively participating in sustainable practices. And although these are incredible qualities in any business – the designs, fabric and fit are what matters most to me still.

As the world of fast fashion continues to grow, particularly here in NZ, we are focusing more on our sustainability practices. Rather than opting for mass production, our pieces are all Made-to-Order, meaning less waste. We don’t carry or store excess stock, but cut and make orders as they come through. This results in no leftover items at the end of a season that would be cleared at discount or thrown away. This model reduces fashion’s impact on the environment, with ethical production methods that generate less waste. While we are not perfect, we are implementing as much as we can, and learning more about ways to continue our ethical practices.

We use local suppliers, and take particular care when sourcing and choosing fabric. All CR garments are made by local artisan seamstresses who take great pride in their work. We can ensure no unfair labour goes into the making of our garments.

I am so proud to make our garments locally and to be able to support our local community. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that I feel so lucky to be able to live in New Zealand, why not support fellow New Zealanders in every way possible?

Celine Rita

Recent bridesmaids dresses by Céline Rita.

How did the bridal side of your business come about and what do you enjoy most about it?
It came about because my customers started getting married and asking! I love having groups of women in together, and hearing about the special day each bride has planned. I love seeing female friendship and meeting all sorts of interesting women who are making a difference in the world in their own way.

How do you describe the Céline Rita woman and what do you think she is looking for from your brand?
Our pieces are designed for women who treasure taste and recognise the value of quality.

Our clientele are smart, modern women who are looking for a polished, yet nonchalant look, with timeless pieces they can add to their wardrobe and wear for years to come.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you keep referring back to as a designer?
To be honest, I can’t think of any specific advice that is relevant to me as a designer. However, my parents instilled in me at a young age to work hard and to be kind. These are two things I will always refer back to in every aspect of my life.

What is your advice for anyone who wants to become a fashion designer now?
Follow your gut, be prepared to work very hard and get a good, trusted business mentor.

What is it like when you see women in Céline Rita? Do you still get a buzz off that 10 years on?
Of course! I feel so privileged to dress so many amazing women.

Looking to the future, how far ahead do you plan and what makes you excited about the future?
I have the next 12 months planned and I am SO excited about it – the most I have been in the last 10 years. I feel like I am finally at a place where I can push to the next phase of CR.

Celine Rita

A look from Céline Rita’s S/S 2015 collection (left). Sweet Céline Rita flower girl dresses also from 2015 (right). Images by Anna Allport.

Images supplied.