The fashion expert who helps women put together their perfect wardrobe

Fashion expert Bridget Hope shares her tips and tricks.

What if I were to tell you that instead of having to schlep around a mall, or a shopping strip, and rifle through racks, and deal with other people, and children, and bad music, and expensive parking, and 19-year-old shopping assistants who wouldn’t know what do with a pair of generous thighs if their life depended on it, there was an alternative.

That you could instead drive to a quiet, secluded showroom, out the back of a white-walled country mansion, the garden of which contains an actual, honest-to-goodness band rotunda, and there would be a flat white, or glass of sav, waiting for you.

And inside that showroom would be racks of clothes from some of our biggest and brightest local designers, and at its heart would be a fashion expert, who decided to take her 20 years of working in glossy magazines, both at home and abroad, and her knowledge on how to dress every shape of the female body, and turn it into a shopping experience.

Well, drive just 30 minutes out of the convoluted collection of construction that is Christchurch’s CBD, and you’ll find it. Tucked into a cul-de-sac in the suburb of Ohoka is Magpie Style, the brainchild of Bridget Hope.

As fashion pedigrees go, hers is right up there. Bridget has worked in magazines since she was in her early twenties and has been editor of local titles like Creme and Simply You in New Zealand, as well as seven years as a publisher of magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan in Singapore.

She lives and breathes fashion. Oh, and she’s the daughter of Paula Ryan, whose classic, tailored brand has been a favourite of Kiwi women for almost 20 years.

On her return from Singapore in 2015 with sons Henry, four; Sam, three; and husband Gabe, also a fellow Cantabrian, Bridget had stayed with publishing for her first year back, accepting a senior job at Fairfax in Christchurch before she realised she needed a break.

The endless spin of meetings that comes with a corporate job was getting to her, and she felt removed from the creativity and love of fashion that had been the drive behind her career for so long. She took six months off and thought about what she wanted to do next.

Trouble is, she had no idea. She threw herself into home life for a while:

“I started making chutneys and jams, I made about a thousand jars”, she says drily.

Fashion was her bread and butter, and had been for more than half her life, but her next move was a mystery. Then, a change.

Local retailer Quinns – a Merivale institution of 43 years – was shutting its doors, and taking the Christchurch leg of the Paula Ryan brand with it.

Bridget, like so many locals, had adored the shop and felt a bit bereft in the face of losing it. She asked her mum if she could take over the Paula Ryan brand in Christchurch, which she agreed to.

But she wanted to do something different than just opening another store. Shopping in the CBD had become a bit “joyless”, as Bridget puts it, and from her own perspective and that of her friends, she felt women wanted more of an experience.

“I was sitting in this room – which was my office at the time – and I thought, ‘Well, why don’t we do it here?’” That bright idea happened last October and two months later, Magpie Style opened its doors for a soft launch.

The idea is simple. You make an appointment, with no cost attached, and get two hours to look through good quality clothes, with someone who knows what they’re doing to help curate the collection for you.

“You could come into this room, and I could get you 12 pieces like that,” Bridget says, snapping her fingers. “You wouldn’t have to open your mouth. That’s a skill I’ve learned from 20 years in publishing and dressing real women, and doing workshops with Mum.”

Her first customers were friends and family. Bridget rang all the women she knew, and asked if they could help with test runs. Then she took it further afield, approaching the locals.

“It was terrifying,” she laughs. “They would be walking along the street and I would pull up in my car and be like, ‘Hello, how are you… I’m starting this new thing – want to come over next week?’

She only had three racks of clothing for the first week, she recalls, so she did a lot of talking to compensate. But the range grew and grew; she now stocks, among others, the full Paula Ryan range, Auckland designer Shjark and another big get: Trelise Cooper.

She picks pieces carefully, based on advice those who’ve been in the business for a long time gave her.

“You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re selling, otherwise you can’t sell it. Every single garment I’ve bought, I’ve believed in. Because if you can imagine someone wearing it and looking amazing, then you’re doing your job properly.”

Since the official launch in March – “I treated it like I would launch a new fashion magazine, only with a far smaller budget” – Bridget’s been consistently busy. Her gamble that the women of Christchurch were also in need of a shopping alternative has worked out.

Her clientele ranges from busy working mums like herself through to women in their 70s and 80s. Her eldest is 90, she says, which is why the clothes she picks are so important. They have to suit everyone, every age, every event a woman might need to dress for. That’s no small task.

“It means I have to be on my game when I’m buying, because I don’t want anyone to come in here and think, ‘There’s nothing here for me’. Especially when they’ve made the drive to come out and see me. The least I can do is find them a great pair of trousers, or a great pair of boots.”

Dressing such a wide age range has given Bridget a new-found understanding of how getting older can warp our sense of what we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ wear.

“Paula did this great bling bomber jacket, and I sold that to women in their 30s, and women in their 70s,” she says.

“It’s not about age when it comes to your clothes; it’s about dressing for your body. Age is just a state of mind. I’ll have one client who’s 75 come in and try something on and love it, and I’ll have another client in her 60s come in and try the same thing and say, ‘Oh, I’m too old for that.’ It’s about changing that mindset.”

Creating a safe space for clients is a great way to help women think outside the box, Bridget says. Each appointment lasts two hours, giving women the time and ability to break from what they think their style is.

“You’re giving them permission to just try something new,” she says. “If you went into a shop and saw all of this on a rack, you wouldn’t have time to go through it. And you get stuck in a rut, in terms of what you think you should wear. So what I’ll do is, while we’re talking, I’ll run around and put together a rack of clothes for you. And 95% of the time I get it right.”

One of the first things Bridget will say to a new client is ‘Tell me about your body’. In the closed door environment, it’s a question that gets things moving quickly. And, in news that will be surprising to absolutely no one, all of her clients have a body issue they offer up immediately.

“There hasn’t been a single woman who’s come through that door and been like, ‘I’m in a really good place, I go to the gym all the time and I’m great – I am at the finish line,’” Bridget laughs.

“Everyone goes to their bad bits first – I do the same thing! But it’s about working with women to dress in a different way. We tend to shroud what we don’t like and forget what we do like. We should dress up our best bits first and then think about our worst bits second. But we’re always covering everything up.”

There is a level of hairdresser psychology that comes with her role. First with bodies, then with lives in general. Clothes can be a loaded thing for women, and you can find out more than you’d think about someone’s life with some everyday questions.

“You might say, ‘Do you need anything for evenings?’ and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I never go out for dinner’. There is a level of that,” Bridget says.

“But it’s very individual; some women have just had terrible days. Often they just want to have a coffee in a nice chair, in a pretty room filled with pretty things, and have a chat. And then we’ll start doing some work with the clothes.”

There’s no plan to expand as yet; Bridget isn’t averse to taking the brand into the more traditional shop format, but she says she’d still want to keep her showroom going.

Her dream of creating a job that could be done during school hours is completely dashed, she laughs. Running the showroom appointments and the corresponding online store, as well as saying yes to events like the Culverden fete – “I’m taking this whole showroom and building it in a paddock!” – means she is very, very busy.

Not to mention running the social media behind Magpie Style, and keeping in constant contact with her clients every time a new item they might like arrives in the showroom. But even with the round-the-clock hours, she’s having a ball.

How to dress…

A post baby body

“Always buy clothes in a stretch fabric. Particularly denim – the worst thing you can ever do after having a baby is try on jeans without stretch. You just lose the will to live! I wouldn’t put anyone in denim without any stretch unless they were a size 8 or 10. Buy everything in stretch fabric – and good quality stretch at that.”

As you get older

“Get out of that psyche that says ‘I’m getting older, so I have to dress older’. Dress for your body. There are a few fundamentals – short skirts and tall boots tend to look a little on the nose over the age of 40. And not everyone can wear black close to the face as you get older – try a soft grey marl scarf or cable knit jumper. But really, it’s all about confidence.”

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