Our People: Adrienne Whitewood

By Jill Nicholas

Our People. Adrienne Whitewood. 28 April 2017 Rotorua Daily Post Photograph by Ben Fraser

If Adrienne Whitewood were to have words implanted on her forehead they'd read "profoundly Rotorua proud".

This multi-talented home town woman's heart, mind and soul is ingrained with love and respect for her birthplace; it's where she's carved out a career that's garnering international recognition.

"I think my strength is I don't just do one thing to do with design."

Her fashion label's on many a tourist's shopping list - just watch them come through her shop door and see, as we did, the couriers who whiz in to collect piles of online shoppers' orders.
In addition Adrienne makes puipui-inspired fringe jewellery, she screenprints and collectors are clamouring for her artwork. Hinemoa's her inspiration; her model, district councillor Tania Tapsell, is a direct descendant of Rotorua's legendary lady of love.

Whitewood T-shirts feature outlines of her friend's face - one a stunning profile mirror image.

This indisputably creative craftswoman's aim is to "keep it local". Where possible she sources her fabrics in the city, her sewers (there's no longer time to sew herself) are locals, as are those who tread the catwalk in shows and parades in which her designs feature. Her contribution to last year's Te Puia parade was a show-stopper.

Choosing local models is a no-brainer. "Rotorua has some extremely beautiful, stylie women, Te Arawa business women are particularly glamorous." She's chuffed mayor Steve Chadwick's a dedicated Whitewood label wearer.

She dressed Maori TV's anchor woman, Ohinemutu's Kahurangi Maxwell, for February's Te Matatini Festival.

"My website crashed with the pressure of so many people ordering the motifs I used for her."

The statement's frankly spoken, unlike some designer luvvies there's not a trace of arrogance about it. We'd challenge anyone to find a boastful bone in Adrienne Whitewood's body; she's far too grounded to inflate her self-image.

Proof comes in the first thing she tells us about herself, it's the admission she had to have two goes at 7th form (Year 13) exams. She needed them to get into AUT for the Bachelor of Design and Fashion she subsequently obtained.

"I never won academic awards, I always had this passion for fashion."

The trait's an inherited one. "I guess you could say our whole family's been in the clothing workforce one way or another."

Her grandmother, Lucy Whitewood, was a seamstress, her grandfather a presser in ex-All Black Allan McNaughton's dry cleaners.

"My mother always went to school perfectly pressed".

Her father, Darren Brown, sewed in a local factory, her mum, Michelle Brown, made her daughters' special occasion clothing. Of her surname's disparity with her parents' Whitewood is her grandmother's last name. "It's my legal name."

Adrienne and her sister, Natasha, were born 11 months apart, as tightly-bonded as twins.

"We wore matching outfits as our mother and her sisters did before us."

With such an impressive fashion-related whakapapa she doesn't quibble with our suggestion her career was pre-destined.

"When I was about 8 my grandmother Lucy taught me how to sew, make dolls' clothes; from then on I would be drawing my own designs and using my grandmother's scraps to make things, I simply loved it."

Her youthful grounding in all things clothing-related led her to AUT's winner's podium for its Head Of Fashion school award.

Her garments have been first down the runway in Auckland's Rookie fashion show, and she's a four-time New Zealand Fashion Week veteran.

"I was flabbergasted to be there, it was definitely inspirational, the audience realises this person is reputable."

Regardless of the big city offers that flowed in from such high-profile showcases, Adrienne never shook off her homesickness during her three years away from Rotorua.

"The Auckland lifestyle wasn't for me, I never appreciated it here until I left and realised how many more opportunities I had at home."

In 2011 she was selected for a summer arts residency at RAVE and was sufficiently "blown away" by the response to quit her job behind a local fashion store's counter to move into Eruera St's Tiki Villa, then on to an artists' collective.

"It was an awesome opportunity to grow but when my $40 tees began to conflict with $40 seats it was time to do my own thing."

She moved across the street from Tiki Villa, opening Ahu. The store's name's a derivative of the Maori word 'kakahu' meaning 'clothing' or 'to dress'. She shares floor space with fellow Maori-inspired designers. They take turns 'minding the store'.

Away from it Adrienne has launched a Vlog interviewing designers throughout the Pacific, the inspiration coming from an indigenous conference she attended.

A couple of weeks ago she was in Hawaii for her newly-launched Thread of the Pacific Vlog. This week she's headed for Samoa, next month it's Fiji's turn. "I'm concentrating on how these Pacific people make their textiles."

While in Fiji her work's to be the local fashion week focal point.

A trip to Europe last year inspired its own series. "I did little Vlogs of me wearing my clothing in front of landmarks like Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower."

With sponsorship from the Snowberry skincare range, there was a "so amazing" tour of a leather factory in Florence; in Austria she was "blown away" by a John Paul Gautier exhibition.

"It was in Swarovski House, their crystals were an integral part of his exhibition, I was just 'wow, wow, wow', getting to see a top European designer like that was hugely inspiring, I would love to aspire to that level of excellence in everything the European fashion houses do."

Of her work on the other side of the world her self-description is of being an unselfish designer.

"I'm a jeans and T-shirt girl, but when designing I always have my customers in mind, what reflects who they are in multi-cultural New Zealand, women who work in an environment making conscious decisions on what they wear and what they want to represent."

Born: Rotorua, 1987.
Education: Malfroy Primary, Rotorua Intermediate, Girls' High.
Family: Parents, sister, grandparents.
Interests: Fashion, church. "Growing up in a Christian family's influenced what I do". Food "My sister and I've always been foodies". Walking "I walk around Tikitapu [Blue Lake] a couple of times a week." Member Inner City Focus Group.
On her designer style: "Directional high-end, Maori-inspired women's wear."
What's next? "Air New Zealand's invited me to stage a Maori-themed fashion soiree for its female heads of staff next month; my sister's doing the food."
On Rotorua: "We're seeing the city boom with creative, boutique and retail culture. What's not to love about it?"
Personal philosophy: "Live with passion."

- Rotorua Daily Post


Sunday 23rd October 2016                                 


THE CULTURE TRIP - 10 New Zealand Fashion Designers and Brands You Should Know

Updated 28th July 2016

Adrienne Whitewood
"Adrienne Whitewood takes inspiration from her Maori heritage to create unique pieces with emotional significance. She graduated from AUT in 2009 and produced her first collection in 2010. In 2011 her collection titled ‘Te Aho Tapu’ (The Sacred Thread) won the Supreme title at the Miromoda fashion awards at New Zealand Fashion Week. This prestigious prize included mentorship and the opportunity to exhibit her work at Melbourne Fashion Week. She opened her first boutique in 2013 and has since won legions of fans of all ages because of her unique couture pieces and printed garments."


Sunday 24 April 2016

Te Ahi Kaa continues a series about innovation this week with young Māori fashion designer, Adrienne Whitewood (Rongowhakaata).

There were many signs that Adrienne Whitewood would work in the fashion industry.
Her grandfather worked as a dry cleaner, her grandmother was a seamstress, her dad sewed buttons on jeans and her mum was his boss.

Her whole whanau seemed to be involved in textiles and sewing.
Raised in Rotorua, but with whakapapa links to Rongowhakaata in Manutuke on the East Coast, Adrienne's earliest memory of fashion was of the bold matching clothes that her nan would make from patterns cut out from rubbish bags.

“I've lived here in Rotorua all my life, fashion design and sewing since I was eight-years-old. My grandmother taught me how to sew and it's been a bit of a gift for me really.”

In 2009, Adrienne graduated from The Auckland University of Technology with a Degree in Fashion design.
She also studied whakairo (carving) at Waiariki Institute of Technology and tikanga Māori at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Adrienne says she merges fashion and with indigenous inspired elements.

“Through nga mahi whakairo and tikanga Māori that I learned at the Wānanga.... all those things have built me up to be the designer that I am and understanding in terms of the Māori world view.

“Our practises, our tikanga, our kawa, I find our culture so beautiful and I just want to share that with everyone, in everything that I do.”

In 2010 she debuted her first collection - Kimihia He Ngaro (searching for the unseen) which was inspired by Māori artist Ngataiharuru Taepa. Adrienne used laser embossing, fabric manipulation and the colours she used were based on the blackness of paua meat.

Te Aho Tapu is a collection that she entered into the 2011 Miromoda Fashion Awards show, and a year later in 2012 she took out the Cult Couture Supreme Award at the Southside Arts Festival in Manukau.

Adrienne Whitewood at her boutique store, Ahu.Adrienne Whitewood at her boutique store, Ahu. 
In a relatively short time the accolades and awards have followed, she was even one of three Māori designers to donate a design piece to the Rotorua Museum.

Adrienne is pretty busy these days. While a friend helps share the shifts at Ahu, she fields online orders there, there is still a good number of walk-in sales at her Rotorua store.
Adrienne's most recent collection includes hooded long coats, called high peaks inspired by the Tongariro Crossing.


June 10th 2015

Adrienne Whitewood feels like she’s living in a goldmine. The 27-year-old opened her own store on Eruera Street just over a year ago and hasn’t looked back. “People don’t realise just how many tourists come through this town and how much they appreciate local design. It is really becoming known for its design scene,” she says.

Her shop Ahu (the Māori word for fashion) mainly stocks her own designs, coupled with pieces from other local designers.

For Whitewood, who grew up in Rotorua and studied fashion design at Auckland University of Technology, the meaning behind her designs is important. “I love the idea of an emotional connection to indigenous design. I find a lot of my customers buy something because it reminds them of things they had as a child growing up in New Zealand. Flax and woven prints have been some of the most popular designs.”

But it’s not just a couple of collections a year for Whitewood, who says that’s what most people think she does as a fashion designer. While she’s been at New Zealand Fashion Week for four consecutive years, her retail business keeps her on her toes. “I get about 10 metres of new fabric every couple of weeks. You have to constantly be doing something new in retail, and bringing fresh pieces to the store.”

She’s also passionate about increasing the profile of Māori design and evolving ways to present it to a wider audience. “I’m trying to raise the level of locally manufactured and designed products to inspire other artists and creatives in Rotorua to do the same.”

Rotorua itself provides constant inspiration for Whitewood who says she particularly appreciates the town’s distinct architecture. “The museum’s exterior, to me, looks like lace. I love drawing on ideas from our town and using its architecture as an inspiration for wearable clothing.” Some of her next pieces will feature various elements of the region’s built environment, including the museum’s façade.

Whitewood recommends:

Biking around the lakefront.
Walking around Hamurana Springs.
Going down Eat Street.