Wilson Trollope is the name on everyone’s lips at the moment in fashion.
Some may think, as I did, that the brain behind the beautiful Summer collection of cotton dresses, denim jackets, and striped culottes are two designers, Wilson and Trollope. But you would be misled to think so. “I named the brand after my two grandmothers” explains sole designer, gorgeous Annabelle Wilson, over coffees and danish pastries that she has kindly brought along one Saturday morning in late September.
The sun is pouring into her Wellington pop-up store on Manners Mall. Annabelle sits before me, looking demure yet somewhat wicked in her own denim jacket and dress with a chunky chain necklace. There’s an air of old world charm about her, a cross between victorian protagonist from The Secret Garden’s Mary Lennox and a London society girl, all flowing brunette hair and English rose skin. Annabelle’s designs certainly have more than a whiff of history to them. In fact, her latest collection is named after the Grandmotherly obsession with blue and white china. “Inspired by from blue and white porcelain” she explains. The collection is, however, definitely for the modern woman. Somewhere between the old and the new lies the story of Annabelle’s brand.
Baby Girl, Blue
Born at Wellington Hospital, brought up in Broadmeadows, Annabelle Wilson is a Wellington girl through and through. She has two older siblings who are older so was brought up as the baby of her Wellington family. “My mum used to be an art teacher at primary school and then she worked at NZQA for a while. Dad is a ship broker, selling and insuring shipping vessels. When I was little he used to work from home so I would come with him when he was inspecting ships as a little girl” Annabelle explains.
Growing up Annabelle loved drawing, and was encouraged to be artistic by her mother. She remembers going to the beaches around Wellington. A fond memory is a time when her parents told young Annabelle that she wasn’t allowed to enjoy a dinner party at 3 or 4 years old, prompting her to go and make her own dress. “I went and made a dress out of fluorescent pink tubing and cut the heads off flowers in the garden, sticking them all on,” Annabelle says. While it may remain a cute memory, it was clearly just the beginning.
Her whole life, right since she was a little girl making dresses for dolls to making dresses for going out, Annabelle has sewn. “My Grandmother’s were very into sewing. One of them would always send me little things like fabric pieces to encourage me” Annabelle explains. Annabelle admits she loved and loves fashion magazines still. “Fashion Quarterly, British and Australian Vogue. I used to love getting an airfreight magazine. I also enjoyed British Hello magazine - all the clothes in them were wonderful.”
Outside of sewing, at school Annabelle danced jazz and hip-hop. She enjoyed Wellington Girls High School, although admits it was different from her smaller intermediate schools, as would be expected. “I really fell in love with History due to a great teacher there, which has steered me on my whole trajectory” Annabelle explains. When school ended, she decided to study History in Dunedin at Otago University, an experience she says she still looks on fondly. “I didn’t feel ready to turn sewing into a vocation,” Annabelle explains. “I loved sewing, making my own things which you couldn’t just get at Glassons. I didn’t ruin it as a passion.” And did she enjoy the Dunedin life? “I went to Cumberland Hall and then on Castle Street. In my final year, I lived with nine girls and we had the best year. It’s such a cliche but it was fun.”
Work and Dreams: "What if I fail?"
By the time Annabelle graduated a job drought that had hit the country. She moved from Dunedin to Auckland and worked for a charity in a marketing and business development job for two years. After a time, however, she began to get itchy feet. “I did some pattern making courses in my second year of work at Whitecliffe Art School in Auckland. Sewing was my escape. On Saturday I would just get home and that would be what I do,” Annabelle explains. “I had this idea I needed more life experience before I started a label which I had always wanted to do. I would think “What if I fail? What if it didn't work? But so many of my friends just knew it was my path. A friend’s boyfriend once sat down at a party and asked ‘Belle - what are you doing with your life? You should be making clothing.’ I was like ‘Hi - haven’t seen you in a while?!’”.
Annabelle made the decision to move back to Wellington to work temping for 6 month’s and then saved to travel to Europe with friends. It was while she was in London staying with her sister she did some courses at the world famous Central St Martin’s on fashion design and business. There Annabelle learnt important fundamentals about how to start a label, how the industry works, from design to social media and marketing. She says she thinks the course was excellent training on how to start a fashion business focusing more on the practical aspects than the style. The hard part was she had to bring everything with her “…so I was lugging all this fashion equipment everywhere.” She then went to Berlin to stay with her uncle where she began to brainstorm Wilson Trollope.
Back to Welly
When Annabelle arrived home, her experience at Central St Martin helped cement her resolve to start a fashion business. Her parents have been completely supportive, from helping take photos at her Wellington launch last week to offering their home for Annabelle to live at while she started up the label. Every step along the way has been a thrill. “For me, getting the website live and making the logo made it feel really real. I also was thrilled to start sending stuff to the first stockists” Annabelle explains. “It was such a special moment.” Annabelle takes the time to appreciate the little wins along the way, such as her first pop-up store last November in Wellington.
Annabelle admires certain international brands, such as Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, and Marni. From closer to home, she respects Kiwi brands twentysevennames and old school Marilyn Santy. She’s also been inspired by how her Aunt, Jo Trollope (my old art History teacher) dressed and styled herself over the years.
Season's forward and seasons past
Now Annabelle has finished designing her ninth season. She describes the aesthetic as very feminine, mainly skirts and dresses. “Everything is quite structured, using woven fabrics. I drew upon what I liked. I need clothes to define my shape so I try and think about that when I think about my customer too. They’re clothes that make your body shine” she says. Behind the collections are historical references, drawing on Annabelle’s degree. “The label is named after my Grandmother’s but sadly neither of them got to see it. But I’m sure they would have appreciated it. It’s a tribute to them, really.”