Chef, food writer and TV presenter Peta Mathias has kept key fashion pieces from throughout her life. Amy Shanks discovers how they’ve formed the basis of a new book – out in October.

Accidental sustainability icon, lover of colour, shunner of fast fashion – TV presenter and writer Peta Mathias wears many hats.

Known for her vibrant, exuberant fashion choices, Peta began sharing gems from her personal collection (stored in a shed on her property) via social media. The attention her ‘Shed Couture’ series attracted, eventually snowballed into something much more – the idea for a new book on fashion, clothing and sustainability.

“I have kept my most valuable clothes, both emotionally and physically; as a result, I still have my debutante dress and my first ball gown,” Peta says. 

“Back in 2012, I had a shed in my backyard full of clothes I couldn’t waste, there were some really beautiful things in there … 20 years later I opened it and put on a different outfit every day, with the date acquired, the dress, the designer – I put it on my social, and it really took off.”

So, came the basic foundation for her new title – Shed Couture – set for release in October. 

Fast forward a few years, more travel, some new additions to her wardrobe, a research trip to New York and Covid, the idea has finally come to fruition.

“There’s chapters on embroidery, chapters on colour, chapters on uniforms…and shoes,” Peta says.

“New Zealanders love wearing black, we like style, but we don’t want to stand out, so many opt to wear the same jeans every day. It’s about finding what actually suits you, I have a whole chapter on what to buy when you are out shopping.”

Peta’s passion for clothing began about the same time she moved to Paris in 1979 and started taking her cues from chic Parisian women. “It wasn’t until that point I became seriously interested in fashion … I realised you don’t just dress to cover yourself; you dress to show the world who you are.”

A career in television marked another turning point in her style journey – with well-made designer cut clothing becoming her go to.

Having moved back to New Zealand from France in 1990, Peta was working as a chef when she wrote her first book, Fête Accomplie (1995), about her life in Paris.

“That book changed everything because it turned me from a cook into a writer. The executive producer of the lifestyle division at TVNZ asked if I would audition for a new show called Taste New Zealand.”

All of a sudden, she had a budget for wardrobe that fostered her addiction to designer pieces and quality over quantity.

“I can’t stand fast fashion, it’s a pestilence on the earth, it’s terrible quality, and if it’s that cheap, what were people paid in some other part of the earth to make it?

“Buy less, and buy better – now, we are being made to think about it, we are being made to think about what we are buying and why.”

“If you want to dress sustainably, you need to buy local or buy sustainably.”

Photo: Florence Charvin

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