Gus Fisher, ONZM (1920 – 2010)
The University of Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery was founded due to the generous support of local fashion designer, manufacturer and philanthropist Gus Fisher.
Gus Fisher rose to prominence as a fashion designer in the wake of World War II, when Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ was sweeping through Europe and the United States. As Managing Director of his fashion label El-Jay, Fisher signed a deal in 1954 to produce Christian Dior’s designs under licence in Auckland through the El-Jay factory. At a time when conservative British fashion trends were widely worn in New Zealand, Gus Fisher’s innovative Parisian designs and partnership with Dior were pioneering in the New Zealand fashion industry. El-Jay produced inspiring and eye-catching clothing for 50 years, winning accolades such as the Best Pure Wool Garment, Best Wool Knit Garment, International Award at the 1971 EVE Fashion Awards for a black velvet full-length coat which the judges felt “would be acclaimed anywhere in the world”. El-Jay became the longest holder of the Dior licence in the world, reflecting the high quality of the clothing which the label produced.
Gus Fisher was also a keen lover of art, and extensively collected 20th century artworks from the early 1960s onwards. He collected numerous works by well-known New Zealand artists including Frances Hodgkins, John Weeks and Rita Angus, as well as contemporary figurative painters Pat Hanly, Jeffery Harris, Colin McCahon and Tony Fomison. In 2009, Gus Fisher became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to philanthropy. In 2010, he and his wife Irene received the fifth annual Arts Foundation of New Zealand award for their patronage and contribution to the national arts.
In 2010, the Gus Fisher Gallery held an exhibition celebrating the success of Gus Fisher’s fashion brand titled ‘Looking Terrific: The Story of El-Jay’, curated by Doris De Pont of the New Zealand Fashion Museum.
Alongside establishing the Gus Fisher Gallery as a leading contemporary art centre, Gus Fisher supported the establishment of the Kenneth Myers Centre, the Auckland Museum Redevelopment Programme, the Auckland Art Gallery, the McCahon House Trust, the Auckland Festival, and the University of Auckland Medical School.