Doris de Pont is the co-curator of Moana Currents: Dressing Aotearoa Now, a project that she describes as being ‘after her own heart. ‘
‘Everybody wears clothes so there is always an immediate engagement at some level with an exhibition of clothing or that uses clothing to tell stories. For the Met in New York it is their fashion shows that bring thousands of people through the door. So it can generate income. Within the New Zealand landscape the powers that be still have some resistance, but I think museums better understand the value of starting a story with a piece of clothing, whether it is a science, social or mathematical story. You get buy in straight away. People feel free to have an opinion about it. It is a wonderful medium to kick off all sorts of conversations.’
Moana Currents: Dressing Aotearoa Now is a survey exhibition from The New Zealand Fashion Museum that opened at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery in Auckland in August 2019. It is now at the Canterbury Museum as the first part of a plan to tour it to at least four venues. De Pont has been a fashion designer for more than 26 years and established the New Zealand Fashion Museum in Auckland in 2010. She is sharing the curation of Moana Currents with Viva fashion editor, Dan Ahwa.
She says that her commitment to fashion is about making things that ‘speak of ourselves, rather than European influences.’ The exhibition is multi-cultural on numerous levels and generous in its consideration of body-wear and garments, embracing clothing, jewellery, tattoo, textiles, and body adornment from the Pacific, sourced locally in Aotearoa in an evolved form, bringing together traditional crafts, materials, motifs and new technologies.
The works selected for exhibition are similarly wide-ranging from emerging to senior designers, Trelise Cooper, Dru Douglas, London-based Emilia Wickstead and jewellery from Kereama Taepa and Fran Allison. Moana Currents is also a fashion exhibition that could only have come from Aotearoa with de Pont asking the question: “What is it that is unique about New Zealand Fashion?” She says that when she established the Fashion Museum it was to make that conversation a part of our cultural story.
De Pont has enjoyed working with many artists across numerous disciplines, including developing clothing collections with John Pule and Richard Killeen, the latter being the only artist that she has directly developed a collection with. The others she bought a piece of their work from and translated it to textiles. ‘When I asked Richard about working with him, he said “Let me see what you can do and how you can use a print.” He made four different patterns for me and I could choose which ones and which elements I would use. So, I developed a textile from patterns that he had given me specifically.’
De Pont says that for Moana Currents she also wanted to show how specific practices and motifs change with technology over time. ‘That was the premise of the exhibition.’ Designer Kiri Nathan is represented by an Akatea woven texture top. It is a silk but it has been stitched to look like weaving and she is a Māori weaver. ‘These designs are looking at how being in the Pacific impacts on how we dress ourselves. So there are a number of things in there. The very obvious ones are the motifs.’ (For example: New Zealand fashion designer Trelise Cooper’s Air New Zealand’s hostesses uniforms, 2012 with the koru patterns).
‘Motifs are an easy link between garments throughout the exhibition but there are also more complex ideas, garments are wrapped throughout the Pacific Islands and that is a way that we like to dress. We dress loosely, New Zealand women tend to wear garments that are loose rather than that very European body fit. We don’t really do sexy in New Zealand.’
There is a strong element of informality in the designs as well, yet they are equally stylish and elegant. De Pont draws attention to Emilia Wickstead’s designs. ‘She is a New Zealand-born women who went to Italy with her mother as a teenager and then went into fashion. She is working out of London and made a lot of garments for Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. The navy garment in the exhibition is from a project that Emilia did with Woolmark. She did a whole collection for them and brought it to New Zealand last year and photographed it on a lot of our Wahine Toa, (strong New Zealand women). The garment in the exhibition was worn by Katie Milne the first female president of Federated Farmers in their 118 year history. It is Merino wool, refined and referencing the wrapping of garments. It was lovely that she brought this collection to have it photographed here, rather than to Europe or Australia, and Emilia’s “dress over pants” look is a New Zealand motif as well.’
De Pont also highlights the predominance of floral motifs in garments like Trelise Cooper’s Shed a Tier Dress and the links with colonial missionaries and the story of cultural exchange. ‘The cotton cloth was originally Indian which was taken to the United Kingdom and then reproduced. They were sold in England but eventually found other markets through sending them to the missionaries in Africa and the Pacific. The missionaries wanted the Pacific Islanders to clothe themselves and they offered them these calico garments with patterns on. The Pacific Islanders saw that they could just buy the cloth in exchange for other products instead of having to make their own bark cloth which took forever to wash and beat. So it was embraced very rapidly. The mills in the United Kingdom responded to the things that sold best so the patterns became much more Pacific with bright colours and bolder motifs.’
There are also designs by new generation designers, including Natasha Clare Senior’s Avarua Linen Organza from 2018 made with recycled polyester and denim. ‘She was 14 when she made that piece. I met her at “Walk the Line,” the YMCA show. She did an interview with John Campbell last year and she talked about wanting to make garments that spoke of being here, seeing ourselves as people of the Pacific - of the Moana.’
Moana Currents: Dressing Aotearoa Now
Canterbury Museum, Rolleston Avenue
Museum closed until further notice
- Doris de Pont, at Moana Currents with designs (from left) by Shona Tawhiao, Tarita Georgia Rahui and Sheena Taivairanga.
- Mannequins from left: Trelise Cooper, Air New Zealand uniform, 2012, middle mannequin necklace by Alan Preston, denim jeans by Workshop, Lavalava by Tanoa. T-shirt by Sam’s Island gear, right mannequin, Emilia Wickstead and Woolmark, Jump suit and wrap from the ordinary yet extraordinary women capsule collection, 100 per cent Australian Merino Wool, 2019