Homes

Inside the home of Dame Trelise Cooper

It's as chic as we thought it would be.

By Jessica-Belle Greer

The table is set. Ultraviolet anemones, ruby red anthuriums and winter white orchids spill down a hanging candelabra and out of the gold vases below. Beside them are stacks of pink Versace plates, ornate glass bowls full of dragon fruit and an eclectic mix of candlesticks.

At her Auckland home, reclining on a vintage, leopard print-upholstered chair, is Dame Trelise Cooper. She's wearing a collared jacket and figure-hugging dress by her eponymous brand – a brilliant shock of green with its own embroidered anemones and garden roses. This, and the daffodil yellow fabric fashioned into a tablecloth are next-season designs. She may fill her homes with antiques, but the dame is always ahead of the times.

Today, she's welcomed Simply You into her Orakei abode to spill some secrets of the entertaining type.

"There's no better way to come together than around a table," she says. "It's a coming together of friendship and love, and I like to celebrate that."

Photography Olive Kirkpatrick
Photography Olive Kirkpatrick

Flowers and ambient lighting are always on the table, a Spotify playlist in her guests' favourite genre playing in the background.

"I like to honour my guests with a little bit of theatre and a little bit of sumptuous glamour if it's a full-on dinner party. Whenever I set a table, it's always thought out, but that's the pleasure of it for me."

Trelise's cooking style is, like her clothing designs, layered with plenty of flavour. From her favoured French-style duck confit with cherry jam to an Ottolenghi-inspired chicken with Middle Eastern spices, which she recently cooked impromptu for a friend's birthday, ask the creative about any dish and she'll be able to give you an enthusiastic recipe, punctuated with affirmations of "delicious", " fuss-free" and "wow-factor".

While she's the epitome of glamour, both in front of Simply You's camera and in daily life, Trelise isn't afraid to roll up her sleeves.

"I do find I always have my hands in the sink," she admits. "I feel good in the kitchen. It's my hangout place, more than anywhere."

She's the hostess with the mostest, but Trelise can be easily distracted when the conversation, and the Champagne or chardonnay, flows.

"We could have a flambé dessert without meaning to quite often because I would have put it in the oven and forgotten it," she laughs.

It's this relaxed, carefree entertaining style that has led to many evening drinks rolling into high-spirited dinner parties.

Of course, the location plays a big role in the entertainer's theme, whether this be her charming Orakei bolthole, historic beach cottage in Leigh or picturesque French home, located in a small medieval village near Toulouse.

When in New Zealand, Trelise and her husband, Jack Cooper, spend weekends at their beach house, where mismatched plates and palm-leaf platters cover the table for more casual dining occasions.

The property's certainly rustic, complete with a kitchen from the 1960s, and Trelise describes it as paradise on earth.

"We're right on the water and we've got a huge garden that's rambling. There are old fruit trees – lime, lemon, avocados and figs – and we've planted lots of fragrant flowers and herbs."

Their other holiday home in France, where they escape to every New Zealand winter, has a similarly easygoing feel, with a summer vegetable garden. Trelise is often rustling up meals for visitors and neighbours, who sit down for a rosé at the long garden table and promptly lose track of the time.

Parts of the house, which they've been slowly renovating, are over 600 years old and it's naturally very eclectic – and potentially haunted. Trelise likens her kitchen in France to a camping kitchen. It's temperamental, but it hasn't stopped her feeding a small village – including having 90 people over for her son Jasper's wedding, and about 60 guests for her husband's milestone birthday. This year, she's finally demolishing the kitchen to make way for the new.

The designer is almost constantly travelling for work, and some play, and she takes every chance she gets to expand her worldview.

"I love travel for how it informs me; how it inspires. And I love going to new supermarkets – they're like living museums."

Some of her favourite places to visit are the sacred churches in the area around Toulouse – "Old and ornate with stained-glass windows, gorgeous saints, candelabrums and candlesticks…"

Most of Trelise's antique finds, including luxuriously large Limoges teacups and vintage linen and tea towels from the abbeys, make their way to her Orakei home, while pieces from New Zealand end up in France.

The calming, all-white walls of her Auckland pitstop have become a gallery of sorts for a collection of iconography, from a wall of wooden crosses to a congregation of saints that are stationed about the home.

"Even though we're not religious, I live a very spiritual life. Both Jack and I love anything that's from an altar."

There's also a sense of play throughout the home. Olden-day skittles greet you at the front door and century-old Champagne riddling racks and marionettes hang beside the dining table. A pillar near the kitchen has been replaced with an old French wooden one, a new form of art.

"We used to collect New Zealand paintings, and love them, but we've moved on to more ancient things."

Three of the home's six bedrooms have been converted into wardrobes for Trelise – one is entirely reserved for heels and handbags. The guest bedrooms, on the other hand, are at the ready for visitors, including her step-daughter, who stays most weeks.

Trelise met her two stepchildren, Nadia and Jacob, when they were four and five and they are now in their 40s. She says being a mother is the most significant job she's ever had.

"Family is the most important thing, and it's important to do whatever it takes to maintain a family unit."

The New Zealand fashion icon and feminist, honoured with a damehood for her services to the industry and community, believes in the power of women. She creates feminine, but not fluffy, designs to give her customers confidence.

"Every new collection, I try to surprise and delight," she says. "There's a story behind every fabric and every idea. I want women to have beauty every day."

It's clear that Trelise eats, breathes and sleeps fashion. Luckily, Jack is also very passionate about the brand; he has always worked in the fashion industry and is now a major contributor to the company.

Having founded the all-encompassing fashion brand 35 years ago, the doyenne's goal is to keep evolving in the feverish-paced business of fashion. She's acutely aware of the responsibility of being a business owner, employing 120 people in her own company and supplying more than 200 independent retailers in Australasia.

The stylish entrepreneur's tight blonde curls – which we've styled slightly differently for today's shoot – are the most distinctive in the industry, helping audiences spot her from one end of the runway to the other. But for the designer they're just the quickest and easiest way to get ready in the morning.

"I do believe in going with what you're given and making the best of it."

At 61, her impeccable complexion can be attributed, in part, to her commitment to La Mer skincare.

"I've been using the original La Mer cream for everything, for ever." When it comes to makeup, colourful MAC is top of her list. Another of her secrets is to make sure she has a spray tan on a regular basis, from Epsom Spray Tans.

With a wish to celebrate each day, she employs a few tactics and life mottos to help her make the most of every opportunity.

"The way I say it to myself is: everything happens for my highest good, and what I mean by that is that there's a gift in everything. Life is never straightforward or easy but I try to look for the gift, and be grateful."