From high school to high street: Why Ella Cook is the New Zealand designer that could

Ella Cook took on an internship with local fashion brand LEO+BE that saw her design a head-to-toe look for their winter collection.


Ella Cook took on an internship with local fashion brand LEO+BE that saw her design a head-to-toe look for their winter collection.

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Ella Cook has big fashion dreams – and just because she was still at high school, the fledgling Kiwi designer didn’t for a second think that would stop her from starting the chase!

The go-getter took on an internship with local fashion brand LEO+BE – and has smashed all expectations by creating a head-to-toe look that’s flying out the door.

Ella’s time with the brand saw her design a head-to-toe look for the winter collection and helped her achieve a seriously impressive 23/24 for her NCEA course and top spot in the whole of NZ for Materials Technology!

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The collaboration was a crucial learning curve for Ella about the reality of an industry not short of its challenges but through it all her talent, drive and creativity shone through. And her work was so great that her designs have landed on shop floors across NZ next month. We had a yarn to the young up-and-coming designer.

Hi Ella! Tell me how you felt when you found out you’d be working with a real life fashion label?

After receiving a series of “no’s” from other labels I had reached out to, it was very thrilling to receive the email from Jenny saying that this internship would be something LEO+BE could accommodate. It was surreal that I had gone after and attained this opportunity to work with a legitimate brand.

The fact I had also been a customer in the past makes it even more special. Fair to say I was extremely excited to begin the journey with LEO+BE!

Have you always wanted to become a fashion designer?

Fashion design has always been something I have been passionate about and interested in from a young age, so naturally getting into fashion design when it became available at school seemed like the perfect fit for me.

I enjoy the momentum the design process brings, evolving garments through looking to the past and reinventing for the future.

What were some of the biggest challenges with your internship?

Trying to produce a theme, three garments and a logo to boot while effectively communicating visual ideas during lockdown certainly came with its challenges. One particular challenge was sourcing the fabrics I wanted in the correct meterage and involved several phone calls to suppliers and a last-minute dash to The Fabric Store to pick up my fabric order before lockdown started.

Also, being a year 13 student I had my other subject studies and school commitments to complete on top of this work. So, effective project and time management skills and maintaining focus was definitely put into practice. Covid lockdowns and multiple zoom sessions just added to the challenge.

When designing your pieces for LEO+BE, what was your inspiration, and why did you choose it?

During last year where we were in and out of lockdowns it felt like an escape to be thinking about travel around our country. The inspiration blossomed from this desire to reflect something that was truly New Zealand, at our back door if we only took the time.

From that, came my theme “Look Around”. It’s about getting back to local and looking around our own NZ backyard. Taking that extra moment to appreciate what’s around you in all its beauty. Taking a second look at places you’ve been before and exploring others for the first time. We certainly did that as a family during lockdown walks around our local coastline we hadn’t done before.

Each garment I designed has elements that reflect this theme, whether it’s the structure of the jacket representing the more rugged coastlines of NZ or the fluidity of the blouse from our oceans and rivers. Now that we are in the fortunate position to safely explore these beautiful places again it seems to have come full circle!

What’s your favourite thing to wear?

Honestly for me nothing beats a cool pant and blazer combo, so my design is definitely something that fits with my style.

Wide leg pants have always been a favourite and recently 70s style flares have been something I’ve been loving. Throwing a blazer over any outfit, casual or more formal, just adds an effortlessly cool edge to your look, that is so street style-esque.

What’s your big dream?

My BIG dream would be to one day have my own fashion label, or to be working for one of my favourite international brands – Jacquemus, Aje, Zimmermann or favourite NZ labels – Maggie Marilyn, Paris Georgia or Karen Walker.

But for the near future, I would be happy working in the fashion industry as a buyer or for a brand in a design team somewhere in the fashion globe. You did say ‘big dream’!

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