Meet our Friday Muse, creative director Olivia Spencer

21 September 2023
By Fashion Quarterly

From collaborating with Edward Enninful to working on luxury designer campaigns in New York and London, this creative director's lauded career lends itself to a combination of hard work, determination, and courage. Learn more about the Kiwi bringing her talents back to New Zealand shores.

Here at FQ, we often celebrate talent making waves locally but this week, we’re shining a spotlight on Olivia Spencer – affectionately referred to as Liv – a lauded Kiwi who has made a name for herself on the international stage in the fashion industry.

A creative director by trade, Spencer’s story began in Pōneke/Wellington where she studied Graphic Design and Advertising. Following her graduation, she set her sights on New York, which would unknowingly become her home for the next twelve years. “I’d always been obsessed with New York, particularly from the ’70s and ’80s, where the street fashion, art and music scenes were so unconfined and gritty,” she explains. With no contacts, experience, or solid career plan up her sleeve, Spencer realised it would be a hard slog getting established. “At the start, I did pretty much anything and everything to get by,” she says, “I worked as a stylist on a reality TV show, spent time as a florist, helped out at model castings, assisted stylists, and worked in clubs, bars and cafes.”

Her first big break came when she was hired as the art director (and later as the creative director) for Zink magazine, an edgy indie fashion publication. Though she had always held an interest in fashion, it wasn’t until she acquired the role at Zink that she was able to apply her graphic design and advertising skills. “It was an incredible experience because I had a lot of creative licence, conceptualising and producing photoshoots from start to finish, and designing and laying out the entire magazine,” says Spencer. 

Dove Hospice & Wellness campaign: Designed to inspire people to shop second-hand, Liv Spencer partnered with photographer Liv Kirkpatrick and make-up artist Virginia Carde to bring her vision to life. The fusion of fashion and philanthropy lies at the heart of the partnership between Spencer – who donated this campaign – and Dove Hospice & Wellness.

Following her tenure at Zink, the creative director went on to work for several highly regarded New York branding and advertising agencies including Laird and Partners where she worked alongside multiple high profile clients and built and impressive portfolio. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with some exceptional brands and fashion designers, including Diane von Furstenberg, Topshop, Vera Wang, Mulberry, and Rag and Bone,” she says. “Collaborating with creative teams is what I love most about my job, and I have met some truly memorable people along the way.”

After twelve years in New York, it was finally time for a change, and Spencer found herself in London where she began working under the guidance of Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, a prolific creative director.

“She is responsible for many iconic fashion campaigns by the likes of Lanvin and Mulberry and it was a privilege to work for her,” explains Spencer. It was during this time that she also collaborated with Edward Enninful, now editor-in-chief of British Vogue. “Edward Enninful, then a stylist, was another incredible creative mind we worked with often at House and Holme (Ronnie Cooke Newhouses’ agency). He was able to take our concepts and bring them to life in the most remarkable way,” she says. “For Monclers’ Autumn/Winter 2013 campaign,  Giambattista Valli wanted the concept to look grungy. The collection was not grungy at all, but Edward was able to work his magic and style the models perfectly.”

For the past five years, Spencer has been based back in Aotearoa as a freelancer where she’s been able to pick and choose which projects she takes on while raising her three young children. One of the most recent campaigns she’s worked on was for Dove Hospice Shop, which she and a talented local team pulled together to help shift perceptions of second-hand shopping as something which is dull and unfashionable. “I’ve always been an op-shopper, and I love the idea of giving new life to second-hand clothing, both for sustainability reasons, but also because there are so many treasures to be found,” says Spencer. “I wanted to show how second hand clothing can have the gloss and glamour found elsewhere in fashion, and bust that myth that secondhand is less stylish.”

Although being based overseas provided an abundance of opportunities for Spencer over her career, she’s quick to acknowledge the strengths of the local fashion industry. “It’s a totally different fashion scene here compared to that of New York and London simply because of the size and scale of the industry,” she says. “I find I have more creative freedom here, and people aren’t afraid to be bold or take risks. Maybe it’s that Kiwi ingenuity thing – we’re pretty good at creating amazing results from not a lot. I love how small teams come together and work so collaboratively.”

When asked what her advice would be to those looking to pursue a career in creative direction, Spencer keeps it simple: “The most important thing for a creative director is experience. I would recommend doing some time as an art director or stylist so you come to the role with a deep understanding of every aspect of the process,” she says. “Think for yourself and don’t be afraid to follow your own path, rather than imitating what’s already out there. Be a storyteller. Have an understanding of fashion trends and history. Be an open communicator, always ready to adapt and collaborate. Attention to detail is essential. Lastly, be brave, travel the world, work with people you admire, and never stop learning.”

Images: Olivia Kirkpatrick, supplied. 


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