Kiri Nathan’s history-making fashion week homecoming

The Māori designer delivers an opening act that hammers home what NZFW: Kahuria is all about

It feels almost erroneous to call Kiri Nathan’s 2023 show a homecoming. 

Don’t get me wrong – the excitement, the sense of togetherness, the collective emotion that rippled through the crowd was welcoming beyond words. 

My hesitance lies in the fact that, in New Zealand Fashion Week’s 20-plus year history, it has taken this long for a Māori designer to open the week. Make no mistake, Kiri Nathan’s has been consistently one of the most anticipated shows each year she has been involved with NZFW, and for good reason. Her designs are captivating, her business nous and influence is unparalleled. She’s put Māori design on the map, and it’s paid dividends. 

But can we call it a homecoming if the welcome mat wasn’t necessarily set out for our indigenous creators from the get go? 

A quick sense check: this morning, prolific Australian fashion journalist Patty Huntington reminded us that, compared to other fashion weeks around the world (of which she has attended countless over her several decades as a fashion critic) New Zealand Fashion Week has always punched above its weight when it comes to showcasing indigenous talent. And NZFW: Kahuria 2023 kicks off a never-stronger relationship between the event, and the local iwi on whose land we congregate year after year in the name of supporting our local fashion industry.

Kiri’s evocative and community-centric show was emblematic of this new direction. Titled Te Kuneroa, it chronicled the evolution of Māori fashion from the 17th century into the future. In the spirit of new beginnings, it heroed the healing and, at times, tear-jerking power of community. To that end, it felt like a homecoming. 

Kiri Nathan nzfw 2023

First look

Marking the 1600s-inspired chapter of Kiri’s collection, we saw the merging of two worlds – or rather, two textures – a binary that would continue to punctuate the show. Billowing white ruffles moved with braided and free-flowing bleached flax – a balance that was brought back in the the show’s final chapter (2000s and beyond), which asked the audience to imagine a road to nationhood through contemporary looks that fused elements of Māori and Western design.  

An evolving front row 

A status symbol like no other, front row seats are coveted (at times, demanded) at any fashion show. Refreshingly, the usual handful of editors (ourselves included), and those with blue-tick Instagram handles and belt-to-boot Gucci looks didn’t really factor. Instead, Kiri had handpicked the makers, artisans, weavers and wider members of her creative community to take the prime seats, in recognition of their craft. 

Kiri Nathan's pounamu tie

A custom waiata 

The opening waiata was written and performed by students from Auckland Girls Grammar, following months of intensive workshopping. The project was offered as a taonga, intended to thank prestigous business network Global Women for bringing international human rights speaker Dr Maya Soetoro-Ng (and Barack Obama’s sister) to their school. 

The politics of fashion

After his iconic Parliament tie speech was blasted from the speakers, Te Paati Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi’s exit onto the catwalk commanded a roar from the audience. Joining him was a crowd-pleasing line-up of local talent: musician Teeks; our models-to-watch Tia and Karlow; and award-winning film producer Chelsea Winstanley (who famously had a Kiri Nathan Oscars red carpet moment). Come the finale, designers Dr Bobby Luke and Mitchell Vincent, Anika Moa and Theresa Gattung, and many of Kiri’s muses and community sprung from their seats for a last hikoi with the designer and her models in a joyful close to the show.