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Ches Pritchard 'walked the walk' of New Zealand fashion design

Written by Alan Wood
on February 02, 2022

Frances Hodgkins Retirement Village resident Ches Pritchard has had a lifetime of mixing with the ‘names’ of the fashion, entertainment and broadcasting industries.

Having worked in fashion and design, he can look back with fondness at the changing times that enabled him to sample a little bit of what life was like on the catwalk and in the fast lane.

As a designer, he won awards, but later in his Auckland-based working life, then aged in his 50s, he realised it was time for a change of pace.  

So, in a slight career twist he took on a role teaching fashion to others.

That meant a move south to what is now his hometown of Dunedin. He had 10 years teaching with Otago Polytechnic, before retirement eventually led him to Frances Hodgkins village.

He loves Dunedin. He and his wife Pam, who passed away a couple of years ago, were drawn to the southern city by his daughter Tara and her family including his grandchildren.

Ches was born in England and brought up by his paternal grandparents in the small town of Crosby, near Liverpool, and describes his childhood in the small town as wonderful. He has a sister, Lucy, living in the UK and likes to keep in touch with her and her daughter Daisy. His father was a butcher and mother a bookkeeper.

His formative education was at Southport and Liverpool art schools (completing a National Diploma in Design). Despite his grandfather suggesting careers such as being a doctor, dentist, accountant or lawyer he soon found that he was obsessed by both fashion, textiles, and the textile manufacturing process.

He was a few years behind well-known art school attendee and then Beatle, John Lennon, but remembers plenty of talk about the 60s legend when he attended the school six or so years later.

His first job, as a designer/pattern maker, was with a company that manufactured clothes for British catalogues and chain-stores. "The volume of garments they produced was enormous… the process of manufacturing kind of got under my skin," he says.

In the UK he became aware of Carnaby Street fashion, the ‘swinging 60s’ and Savile Row before life as an older brother altered his destiny. His younger sister Jane begged him to take her on a first overseas trip. They took a cheap and cheerful ‘package holiday’ via Court Line aviation to Benidorm, which was then a tiny fishing village, yet to be discovered by the masses, in the south of Spain.

The stewardess on that trip was Pam, his future wife. He ordered drinks from her on board and didn’t think much more of it, until the next day she emerged from the waves in a white lace swimsuit, smiling at him. She came to sit and chat on the edge of his sun lounger, they started talking and that was it.

Within six months they were married – Ches was aged 22 – and within a few years were on their way to live in Toronto Canada, where their daughter was born. Ches gained experience in running a business until Wendy, a Kiwi partner in the wider team suggested Auckland, New Zealand as a beautiful city to live. It proved not to have Toronto’s weather extremes of cold winters and hot humid summers.

Arriving in Auckland in 1982 provided the chance to get in on the ground floor on the city’s burgeoning fashion industry. There were a few hiccups, however. Television New Zealand’s wardrobe and props department left a lingering feeling that the costumes and clothes were not really being cared for.

So, it was on to the more corporate and business end of the fashion world. In succession he spent a considerable amount of time working in different niches for a number of different companies that generally had strong profiles. First there was Silk Degrees, then Thornton Hall, Peppertree, and several different partnerships with colleagues and people who would become his friends. Pam provided an “accountant's brain” needed to help his business work, but also helped him push out in the industry.

“When I worked for Silk Degrees, one of the models we used to use was the former Miss Universe winner, Lorraine Downes,” Ches remembers.

The work was interesting. For example, with Peppertree, Ches designed the $100,000 wardrobe for the Fisher & Paykel crew in the 1989/1990 Whitbread round-the-world yacht race, involving a versatile set of clothing including 15 items per crew member.

Working in Auckland saw him mix and design for television personalities such as Suzy Aiken and Penelope Barr.

While he hasn’t been involved in recent New Zealand fashion runway events, he did help some of his Otago Polytech students prepare for the Dunedin Railway Station fashion event and attended a couple of the iD Dunedin Fashion catwalk shows.

One of the highlights of his New Zealand career was as a designer of sophisticated day and eveningwear, and winning the 1989 Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Menswear Award, having first entered the awards in 1986.

He describes the black wool barathea tuxedo plus black Dupion silk trench-coat, as “a very out-there dinner suit… and a silk trench-coat that was crazy – you wouldn’t wear it in the rain”.

After leaving Peppertree, Ches Pritchard formed The Uniform Design Company in partnership with a former Thornton Hall colleague. The venture lasted two years. Clients included Thomas Cook, Whitcoulls and the Toyota dealer network.

Next Ches took up fashion tutoring posts, at Auckland’s NZ Institute of Fashion Technology in 2000, followed by a move in 2002 to the Fashion Design School at Otago Polytechnic and to Dunedin where Tara and her family were living.

Since moving into Frances Hodgkins, with the help of village Sales Advisor Kate Morgan, he has been happy. “Here, where I am they (the team) are there when you need them. You don’t have to look, they’re just available,” Ches says.

“The most important thing for me at the moment is, that it’s a community.”

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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