The label, created by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Te Kura Hoahoa—School of Design Innovation lecturer Dr Bobby Luke (Ngāti Ruanui), draws on Dr Luke’s whakapapa along with research for his PhD in Design, which looked at the complexities of how Māori engaged with “colonial objects and pomp to make it their own”.
“The clothes depict Victoriana silhouettes, but they are paired with taonga objects (traditional and contemporary treasures). It’s leveraging Māori taonga with colonial objects of the past,” says Dr Luke, who was awarded his doctorate in December 2021.
“Many colonial objects symbolised authority and status. It was something our tupuna saw as contemporary yet knew how to navigate. It displayed our people’s ability to thrive with different cultures, prior to the land wars and the interruption of whakapapa (genealogy).”
Dr Luke’s Fashion Week collection, ‘Counter Colonial: A critique through an ancestral lens,’ was inspired by archived images of family and ancestors, woven with memories of a childhood spent on the family marae in Taranaki, and in the kitchen with his mother.
“The kitchen for me has been a big thing. My marae has been a big place of inspiration. Growing up in that space you tend to reference things you see as a child. That included mum wearing tea towels, mum wearing aprons, mum wearing puffer jackets, skivvies, knits. All of these kitsch tablecloths and assorted plates. It was almost like an op-shop.”
Dr Luke is interested in clothing that will last. His PhD thesis was entitled Kākahu Hou: The breath of cloth—“it’s about the renewing of cloth,” he says. Fittingly, part of his collection will include dresses made from old sheets and curtain netting.
Dr Luke’s fashion career began at New Zealand Fashion Week when he was 16 and an intern for Trelise Cooper. He went on to show his clothing as part of a competition run by Miromoda, a launchpad for Māori and Pasifika fashion designers, and in 2019, had his first solo show at New Zealand Fashion Week.
In 2021 he was due to showcase again at the 20th anniversary of New Zealand Fashion Week in Auckland, but the event was cancelled due to COVID-19. His 2021 show was supported by a Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation Strategic Research Grant giving him access to research, funding, and time. The New Zealand High Commission is supporting his participation at Fiji Fashion Week in 2022.
“None of what I’m doing is business-driven, though undeniably there is a business facet to it. The purpose of doing my PhD was to really find a way of doing things that can accommodate Māori—the industry is not fitted for us. We have to shape it.”
Dr Luke says the research for his doctorate helped him find a way to be comfortable in the fashion industry.
“I’ve never thought of doing this to be rich. I’m doing it for the little Bobby, the younger me growing up wanting to be in the design industry. I also hope it provides inspiration for others, where being Māori is the norm, being proud, and allowing cultural agency to thrive.”
He wants to see more Māori flourish in the industry, and says initiatives like the Kahui Collective, a Māori fashion collective based in Auckland, and Miromoda provide a supportive community where Māori artists and designers can share ideas.
As part of the Fiji Fashion Week festivities, Dr Luke will participate in a panel discussion on 26 May, and his work will feature in a show on 28 May at the Resort Luxe at Vodafone Arena in Suva.
Dr Luke’s Pupuke te Mahara fashion exhibition is also on display in the Cobblestone Park light boxes at the Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation at 139 Vivian Street, Wellington.