Celeste Watson, Whitecliffe

Celeste Watson attended Whitecliffe College of Fine Arts and Design, where she gained the critical skills and experience to help drive her future career in fashion. Watson grew up in small-town Kaitaia and came to Auckland four years ago to seek opportunities and pursue a career in an industry she dreamed about as a little girl.

“I wanted to be a supermodel and fashion designer. Since then, I’ve gotten to do both things in various ways,” said Watson.

Her brand, Celeste Elena, is a combination of her first and middle names. Celeste in French means heavenly and Elena in Spanish means light, hence heavenly light.

When asked about how she got into fashion, Watson explained that she had been sewing since she was eight years old, using fabric scraps to sew clothing for Bratz dolls with her friend. At the age of 15, she got her very first sewing machine and has continued to make clothing ever since.

“When one of my friends told me about Whitecliffe College and the incredible degree program they have. I went for an interview with my design portfolio, and I got in on the same day.”

Studying fashion has taught Watson many valuable lessons that will help her progress in the industry. Knowing how to collaborate and communicate well with others as they will likely be in the same sector was vital to learn as making connections is the key to building a strong reputation.

Watson’s graduate collection was time-consuming as she naturally hand-dyed 99 percent of the whole collection but entirely rewarding. The collection consisted of bright and beautiful colours derived from natural materials, onion skins, eucalyptus leaves, chamomile flowers, magnolia flowers for eco printing, turmeric and natural indigo dye. The vast range of materials allowed Watson to explore as an artist within the realm of fashion.

She presented six looks on the runway and her collection In Full Bloom: Here I Am. It explores her rural identity growing up and how that transfigures within the urban environment.

“I am not Māori, but where I grew up, close to Kaitaia and Tokerau Beach, Māori culture is richly embedded," she explained. "I feel the love for the Whenua that is spoken of by Tangata Whenua. Trees, grass, hills, ocean, sand, everything is alive and vibrant.”

She incorporated her passion for the natural world and wanted to bring that sense of nostalgia back into her collection, hence why it was an important practice for her to naturally dye the fabric to ensure her colours have come from the earth.

In Full Bloom: Here I Am used flounces as an element of design to reference floral figures. Watson describes her style as feminine and floaty, so she tailored her pieces to fit the body and accentuate the waist.

“I will always be an A-line girl. I design for women who want to feel confident and look beautiful, to hold the eye without giving away too much. I like to use high-quality silk satin because like a magpie, I like shiny thing.”

Nature and landscape paintings particularly inspired this collection. Along with the work of Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, Watson wanted to capture colour and movement the way these artists do in their work through small delicate brush strokes.

“The same inspiration they took from nature is what I used to create imprints from leaves and flowers on my fabrics.”

During her degree, Watson has completed three internships where she worked as an usher, dresser, organiser, room assistant and in customer service. Having so much experience in the industry will allow Watson to further progress as a designer as she holds the various skills and knowledge that will help her thrive.

“I have been taught industry-standard construction, pattern making and design, I could step into a sample machinist role, a production or workroom assistant but the number one goal is to launch my own label under a local New Zealand designer.”