Waikato hosts world-class fashion event celebrating Māori and Pacific connection

By Jessica Tyson

The connection between Māori and Pacific cultures was celebrated during a fashion event over the weekend attracting hundreds of guests, including the honourable Kīngi Tūheitia Potatau Te Wherowhero.

The event was led by designer Kharl Wirepa who also featured his latest collection in the show.

“We are able to bring together people from the Pacific Islands tonight through a fashion storytelling show that shares our migration history and our common ancestry through whakapapa and the Pacific Islands,” says Wirepa.

The show featured designers from across the Pacific, from islands such as Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Tahiti, Cook Islands and Hawaii.

“From the island of Tonga we have Bou Fonua who is a great incredible designer. She’s been around for a while now. She’s represented Tonga at Buckingham Palace a few years ago and we also have Tav Pacific who is a resort wear designer and he’s dressed people such as Kate Middleton, says Wirepa.

“We have some upcoming designers. We have TKT FASHION a Samoan designer who has displayed a beautiful collection tonight and Nikita Samuels who is representing her Tahitian history.”

Design by Nikita Samuels. Photographer: David Rowe

Samuels, who is also the reigning Miss Supermodel New Zealand, says her collection reflected her whakapapa.

“I’m bringing my mum, my nan, my koro all my whānau that have been on this journey with me, also the whānau that I’ve lost. Everything I’ve used I’ve recycled from the local op shops so pretty much everything is recycled and I’ve also collaborated with my aunty. She’s a raranga weaver so you’ll also see a bit of harakeke in there, lots of muka or traditional fibres.”

Models wearing designs by Deborah De Loree. Photographer: David Rowe

Designers MAKKE, Seraphina Lakatani, Talosia Haulangi and Deborah De Loree also featured in the show.

De Loree says, "This is the first indigenous fashion show that I’ve been in so it’s quite exciting to be here in the heart of Tainui. The only shows I’ve done are in Te Arawa so it’s quite exciting."

She had 28 models in the show ranging from children up to a model aged 72 years.

“Most of my designs I’ve put in tonight’s show are red, black and white…because that’s most of our main colours we use for our designs in our marae and most of our bodices.”

VIP guests at Ohomairangi. Photographer: David Rowe

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi was a guest at the show and sat beside Kīngi Tūheitia and Cook Island royalty Queen Pā Tepaeru Upokotini Taiteariki Marie Ariki at the high table.

Waititi says, “It’s just wonderful to be in spaces where there’s celebration where we whakanui (celebrate) not only the constellation of Matariki but we celebrate our people. Our people are doing amazing, beautiful things all over the place and quite often the light is shining on negative stuff and it’s time for us to celebrate who we are, to show the world how beautiful our culture is, how beautiful our people are and how progressive we are across all of the creative and innovative spaces.”

Wirepa says it is important to celebrate fashion made within Aotearoa and not offshore.

“Our fashion as indigenous people tells the stories of our ancestry and of who we are. Fashion is a powerful medium to tell the history and to tell personality and values.”

Miss New Zealand Sydney Batters modeling Kharl Wirepa. Photographer: David Rowe

The current Miss New Zealand, Sydney Batters, was one of Wirepa’s models.

“I showed up today not knowing what I was going to be wearing and I was put in this beautiful red gown and the makeup was amazing. The hair and makeup team and Kharl are just all incredible. It’s all coming together, she says.

“It makes me really proud to be here as a wahine Māori to represent our Māori culture and represent our Māori designer as well.”

Siblings, Terangiwheriko Tairua Bracken and Heritage Tairua Bracken, modelled for the first time in the show.

“It’s exciting. It’s our first show together so we’re giving it a go. It’s a bit nerve-racking but once we did rehearsals… it’s a great experience,” they say.