Anyone who has met Francis Hooper of iconic New Zealand fashion brand WORLD will know that he is personality-plus. Warm, witty and we suspect a little wild. But he is also knowledge-plus too, having built his own business from the ground up in the late ‘80s (starting with only $100 and no sewing machine), he has since travelled the world, attended more Paris Fashion Week shows than anyone we know, yet these days, self confesses as being a hard one to impress. We met with Francis inside his neon-lit store on Ponsonby Road, in between his two meetings and collection drop-offs. One busy man indeed, however, as we are to learn, he always makes time for the things he loves, including a cup of tea.
Who are you and what do you do now?
My name is Francis Hooper, I was born in Hong Kong now I live in New Zealand, and I am one of two co-founders of WORLD, a luxury fashion brand for men and women - made in New Zealand.
How has the industry changed since you first started world?
We started WORLD in 1989. It was a time of firsts. New Zealand had really only just opened up to the rest of the world economically, so it was in a way like the ‘wild west’. We started with $100 each and no sewing machines. We just hustled. It took us a year to establish ourselves and become a real fashion brand. We bought, made and sold printed designer tee shirts. I know, it sounds so lame, but it was a rarity at the time. Our dream was to create luxury fashion made in New Zealand. We really wanted to make a point of being made in New Zealand and we were, and still are, a very politically minded brand. We wear our heart on our sleeve.
From there, we decided to open WORLD Beauty, which has had it’s own journey. We were selling in Paris when we started to realise that there was all of this really cool beauty stuff that just didn’t exist in New Zealand, so we started bringing it back home. Hence the name WORLD Beauty, which is also where the fabulous Storm & India Tea Sisters tea sits!
How did you find Storm & India Tea Sisters
I’m really lucky, spoilt actually. I’m always in the coolest cities and I get to see really cool stuff all the time. I’m the most jaded person you could come across. But when I found Storm & India tea what I loved about their tea was that it had been carefully selected from around the world. They sought out the best raw materials, from wherever that may be. To find out that it was New Zealand company was gob-smacking. New Zealand companies tend to be mediocre and are always hiding behind the idea that they have to sway towards what the market is wanting, worried that it won’t sell. But people crave innovation and luxury in their lives, regardless of where they come from. Luxury doesn’t mean a Lamborghini or a personal jet, it means having the time and the inclination and inquisitiveness to discover things that you want to have in your life to make it more enjoyable and pleasurable. You only have one journey so you better make it a good one, right?
We had seen wonderful tea brands overseas, and Storm & India embodied that same level of aesthetic, brand value, and quality that the top tea producers in the world, with up to 100 years provenance, had obtained. Storm & India are on the ground floor of something huge, they just don’t even know it!
What is your first memory associated with tea?
I have a Chinese background so tea has always been a big part of my life. I was surrounded by beautiful teas that we’d have along - side a yum-cha lunch. Hong Kong is a British Colony so there are many teahouses and teashops, catering for herbal and medicinal benefits. There has been a real resurgence for tea in the past year, which is fantastic. Storm & India have come about at the exact right moment to capture that.
Do you have any tea rituals?
Morning, lunch, after lunch, afternoon tea, after dinner - I absolutely love tea and drink it all day. I have an addictive personality so when I love something I do it until I explode. I love the Peppermint Leaf Tea from Storm & India, it truly zings! It’s rich and electrifying. Plus, I find I can sit on it for a length of time and it doesn’t over-steep, because the tea leaves are of the first cut, they’re the best leaves. The ingredients are the real thing. You only need to taste the tea and you’re hooked. It’s aspirational and luxurious.
What would be your most favourite travel memory?
Easy. Paris. Dinner in La President Room at the Corinium Hotel on St Honore. The degistation menu with truffles. The Eiffel Tower in the background, and being with my best friend.
What is coming up for you this year that you're excited about
Travel. All the time! It’s always change, change, change. Paris! Which is always a highlight, we’ll reintroduce WORLD at Paris Fashion Week this year. We have an accessory leather range we’re introducing too. We’re opening a Queenstown store later this year, which is very exciting for the brand. And we’re hoping to create something with Storm & India as we’re looking to move into a more hospitality/ retail-focused experience within our stores. Lots to look forward to!