On Tuesday 20 July 2010 Gus Fisher ONZM passed away at the age of 89.
While many people today recognise Gus Fisher as one of the country’s most generous and enthusiastic arts patron Gus first rose to national prominence in the world of high fashion. Gus Fisher was the creative force behind one of New Zealand most celebrated fashion labels, El Jay. The label was started by his elder brother Lou Fisher in 1938. At the age of 17 Gus joined his entrepreneurial brother in the business. Following the Second World War, Gus took over the label with the ambition of transforming it into a high end, design-led label. The fact that the House of Christian Dior approached Gus to manufacture Christian Dior originals in New Zealand in 1953 testifies to his success. Gus held the exclusive licence to produce Christian Dior originals for the Australasian market for over 30 years, providing New Zealand women with a direct link to the glamorous world of Paris couture. Gus’ dedication to capturing the true spirit of Dior even inspired him to create a scaled down replica of Christian Dior’s Paris salon. Gus continued to create smart, high quality clothing for the discerning woman of New Zealand, until 1988 when he quite deservedly retired.
In June, 2010 the exhibition Looking Terrific: The story of El Jay opened at the Gus Fisher Gallery, at the University of Auckland. The exhibition was an exuberant celebration of 50 years of El Jay, and was curated by fellow fashion designer, Doris de Pont. The launch was a packed and excited affair. Crowds, ranging from long-term clients, to seamstresses, house models and ‘bright young things’ for whom El Jay had become a desirable ‘vintage’ label, crowded into the gallery to celebrate the man and his work – to share fond memories of working for Gus, of wearing El Jay, of desiring El Jay. Throughout the evening Gus looked thrilled. At one point during the evening, I saw him pause from his socialising to rearrange the collar on a velvet coat on display, ensuring that it sat as he intended when he made it. Gus was a perfectionist from beginning to end.
Te Papa was thrilled to be able to loan a selection of beautiful El Jay garments from the 1950s and 60s for the exhibition. View Te Papa’s wonderful El Jay collection on Collections Online.
Gus Fisher’s life was also characterised by a passionate interest in art. Gus and his wife Irene were collectors of great insight and commitment. For art as for fashion, Gus had an eye for the very best. They were also very generous lenders. They lent works for Te Papa’s exhibition Rita Angus: Life & Vision, sharing the works they loved with the hundreds of thousands of people who saw the exhibition up and down the country.
They came down to Wellington especially for the opening and were delighted with the exhibition, with how their works looked and the company they were in. Exhibition co-curator William McAloon remembers that Gus was positively beaming that night, and he was just as pleased a little over a year later when the exhibition opened at Auckland Art Gallery.
Numerous exhibitions of New Zealand have enjoyed their support over many, many years, whether as lenders, as patrons or simply as lovers of art.
Post by Claire Regnault, Senior Curator History.
I am looking forward to the “Looking Terrific: The story of El Jay” exhibition reaching the capital in September – if only there were a few more El Jay vintage items in my wardrobe!
(exhibition 6th September – 4th October 2010, at Kirkcaldie and Stains, Wellington)
I was fortunate enough to meet Gus through my work with the Rita Angus exhibition. He was a true gentleman from a bygone age and it was a pleasure to have known him, albeit briefly.