Designer Elisabeth Findlay recalls the misty afternoon she tied the knot with Zambesi co-founder Neville.
Neville and I met more than 40 years ago. A girl I worked with told me she knew a cool guy who she thought I’d get along with, and invited both Neville and me to a car-club party.
Soon after Neville introduced himself, he mentioned that he needed to attend a friend’s engagement party that night, and invited me to join him. So I did – and being together felt normal straight away, like we’d known each other for ages.
I remember introducing Neville to my parents, who lived in Dunedin. They immigrated to New Zealand from Europe in 1951 and family has always been the most important thing to them. Neville’s always been very close to his family too, and my parents liked him straight away. The first time Neville asked me to marry him I changed the subject. It was a bit soon – we’d been together for just four months, and I was only 21. Later I went over to his place for dinner and there was a fire going – it was all very romantic – and that’s when I said yes. To mark the occasion we chose a ring from an antique shop in inner-city Auckland, which these days I wear around my neck.
In terms of planning, we didn’t have a vision of what we wanted for our wedding. For a while we thought about having a double wedding because my sister Margi [Robertson, the creative mind behind Kiwi label Nom*D] had her wedding date set for around the same time. In the end we decided not to, but we wed at the same place they did, with the same celebrant, three weeks later in November 1971.
We didn’t want our friends who couldn’t travel to Dunedin for the wedding to miss out, so we had a great big party in Auckland a few days beforehand. On the actual day we celebrated with just 26 people, mostly family, including Neville’s sister who had travelled from Sydney. It was lovely.
Because I’m a big shopaholic and I used to visit Anna Bonza’s store all the time, I asked her if she would make my dress. She just drew a sketch and said, ‘This is what you should wear.’ It was made from guipure lace and organza; I still have it at home in the dress-up box. When I look at my wedding photos I notice the hairpiece I wore to make my hair bouffy; we used to do that all the time. I didn’t want the veil and all that stuff because it wasn’t a church wedding. Instead I wore jasmine in my hair – the same type of flower that was used in my bouquet.
Neville wore a burgundy jacket and a ’70s lace-front shirt – it was pretty much off the peg. He was in a band and his look was reflective of the time. We arrived in Dunedin a few days before the wedding, and everything was nice and relaxed. We did spend a whole day driving around looking for a place to stay on the wedding night though – we were almost going to have to stay at Mum and Dad’s! Getting really desperate, we went into a place on George Street that was still being built. It was due to open a week or two later, but one unit was almost finished, so they got all the builders to work on that one to get it done for us. It still smelt like paint!
The wedding day itself wasn’t stressful – there was no pretence, it was very European, just all about family and love. We wrote our own vows and just went with it, getting married during the late afternoon while it sprinkled with rain. Both our ceremony and reception were held in a lovely old restaurant called La Scala. We got married in one room and held the reception in another. After the sit-down dinner we served a three-tiered cake – looking at the photos now it seems a bit over the top. Later we went back to my parents’ house for the after party, where we danced till late – especially my father, who has always loved to dance.
For our honeymoon we drove all the way back to Auckland, camping as we went. A few days later Neville left to do Army service and he was away for a few weeks.
We’ve shared a lot over the years and learnt to make the best of – and really appreciate – what we have, most importantly our family. If our two girls choose to get married, we’d just want them to be happy and to celebrate in a style that’s true to them – isn’t that what every parent wants?
Marriage is more about creating a special life than merely a special day. Some people make a big deal about their wedding being their ‘special day’ and that’s fine, it should be memorable. But it’s what goes on afterwards that count.
As told to Melissa Gardi