Taranaki designer showcases at New York Fashion Week

By Jessica Tyson

Singapore-based Māori designer Tessa Bailey-Lont showcased her brand named Lontessa for the first time today at New York Fashion Week.

Bailey-Lont, from Waitara, Taranaki, says she takes inspiration from her Māori culture and fuses Māori technique with contemporary methods to create feminine collections of great finesse.

"The inspiration behind my work has two anchors, my Māori values and my everyday life. I am always relating the two."

Her new collection The Hunter is now hunted closed the show at the Oxford Fashion Studio, alongside six other designers from around the world.

She says the collection is about predators and was inspired by "elevating an unnatural problem into a naturally graceful solution."

This collection focuses on preserving nature and elevating materials derived from an unwelcome presence of possums into lasting, luxurious utility. All designs are inspired by the rich and everlasting lore of Māori people, she says.

"It also features an earthy palette of olives, aubergines and browns merged with the conscious use of possum furs, silk and classic cashmere, says Bailey-Lont.

"This collection is a celebration of all women’s ever-constant state of grace. The ultimate being sensuality."

She says her patterns and rough samples are often made in her studio at home.

"Sometimes I get a tailor to make a perfect sample. When people try these samples on, I get them remade and tailored in their size. These are often luxury fabrics, such as silk and possum fur. This is one system, I do not overproduce unique items."

As a designer who also featured in the MIROMODA show at New Zealand Fashion Week, she says the presence and perception of Māori fashion designers in Aotearoa has changed in the last 10 years.

"I feel like it shows the world we are not just about the All Blacks rugby team or Lord of the Rings movies. Our culture has a far richer and deeper perspective to life, nature and our culture’s creative expression," she says.

"Internationally, Lontessa is not regarded firstly as a Māori designer, which is why Lontessa does not target a cultural or age-specific demographic, but rather a target psychographic - those who share my values, such as equality, environmental preservation and time-honoured traditions."

Bailey-Lont encourages all designers to get involved with their local fashion shows, like MIROMODA.

"Being involved in the New Zealand Fashion Week show was such a highlight of my career as I was able to work alongside the other talented Māori designers, supporting one another. It really is a whānau environment and the show received a lot of support from sponsors and media," she says.

"I am grateful to Ata Te Kanawa for inviting me to take part last year. The platform opened doors to many opportunities. Her support enabled Māori designers to feel recognised on an international level."