In 1999, a very special woman took a chance on me. She bet on me when she could have placed her chips on anyone else; saw something in me that – at 23 – I had yet to see in myself. And here’s the thing, this week I’ve discovered just how many other people she has believed in – cultivated, loved, nurtured and set free into the world. I think it is time she is recognized for all she has done for the New Zealand fashion industry.
I am talking about Maysie Bestall-Cohen, New Zealand’s original and most-loved model agent and fashion promotor. Maysie was a fashion model when there were no such thing as agents. In 1968 she opened a model school in Lorne Street and went on to be agent to the stars, including Rachel Hunter. From 1982 – 1998 Maysie produced the Benson & Hedges New Zealand Fashion Awards (which became the Smokefree NZ Fashion Awards). Oh, and she’s the only model I know of to have had her beauty captured forever in a mannequin.
I’d modelled for Maysie as a teenager and reconnected with her on my return from London. Maysie reckoned I was the right person to take over her company, Nova Models & Talent (previously Maysie Bestall-Cohen Model Management). I was altogether excited, hesitant, hopeful. But Maysie was right. For nine years through my twenties and early thirties, I owned and ran Nova. They were some of the most fantastic years of my life, with the steepest learning curve. A journalism degree and experience in retail and events didn’t prepare me for the broad base of knowledge (and understanding of accounts) you need to run a company. But, with the help of Maysie, Anna Adam, Ellie Gray, Melinda Williams, Sonia Gray and countless others, I faked it until I made it. What a hell of a ride it was. I eventually expanded the business to include the Cadbury Dream Model Search, travelling up and down New Zealand to find the next top model. It was impossible to think just seven years earlier I had been nervously walking down Maysie’s runway as a finalist in the Revlon Look of the Year.
A market competitor bought Nova in 2009 leaving me free to have our two beautiful daughters and rekindle my love for writing. I am about to begin a Masters in Creative Writing at Auckland University, once again altogether excited, hesitant, hopeful. I wouldn’t be here without Maysie. And neither would 149 other people, if Facebook is anything to go by. Over the days following my recent catch up with Maysie (who was visiting from Australia) and Sonia Gray, it became apparent just how many other life-paths Maysie has influenced. Sonia posted this photo:
Maysie, we know you are not on Facebook, but this picture received 95 likes and 54 comments. In real terms we have a pile of hugs, thank yous, secret touches and we-couldn’t-have-done-it-without-yous from the following people: Kim Chappel, Colin Mathura-Jeffree, Jude Lane, Maree Wilkinson, Kata Greaney, Elizabeth Charlston, Delwyn Lawson (Cummack), Kristie Macauley (Brown), Danella Jade (Service), Amber Louise Carroll, Amelia Lundberg (Boyle), Alison Blain, Megan Rupee, Kerrie Stevens, Hayley Brooke, Kim Smythe, Karl Pierard, Jordan Flash, Chrissie Price, Tracey Moon, Amisha Mistry, Brenda Kendall, Bron Eichborn, Nikki Gapes, Jennifer Freed, Helen Wisby, Janine Carr, Susan Elliot-Trainor, Wendy A’Bear, Chantal Gaiqui, Margaret Petchell, Michael Hallows, Rurani Perera, Nigel Godfrey, Marissa Findlay, Melinda Williams, Renee Leonard, Greer Walker, Moira Ganley, Rochelle Strathdee, Victoria Eremeeva, Monique Hawkins, Tracey Strange, Haley Brook, Sara Standring, Penny Kee, Siobhan Page…and many more.
Maysie’s work and influence was instrumental in the international success of the New Zealand fashion industry, long before New Zealand Fashion Week, New Zealand’s Next Top Model and the global acclaim of New Zealand fashion designers such as Karen Walker, Zambesi, Kate Sylvester and World. Auckland University of Technology recognised Maysie’s contribution in 2000 by awarding her an honorary arts degree in fashion technology. With the recent awarding of honors titles to several members of the New Zealand fashion community, I believe it is time for Maysie to be further recognised and I will be in touch with the fashion community – past and present – to ask for your support.
Whatever happens, Maysie, please know that there are many of us here in New Zealand who will never forget all you have done. Thank you, for everything.