Kaarina Parker modeling for Hine Collection (left) and in an editorial image shot by Reihana Tait (right).
Model Kaarina Parker (Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Maru) is having a moment, with her beautiful presence gracing a range of local campaigns in recent months. Kaarina has appeared in imagery for RUBY, Liam, Hera Couture, Daisy by Katie Yeung, Hine Collection and Taylor Sport among others, and she’s delighted to see her takatapui (queer) and statuesque self represented in their campaigns.
Kaarina grew up in Tamaki Makaurau but lived in Melbourne and London from the age of 18, returning back to Aotearoa in 2018. Modeling came as an unexpected surprise and from a friend’s suggestion she’s signed with Unique Model Management while working towards her goal of becoming a published author. As a writer, Kaarina is represented by High Spot Literary, and her debut novel LIBERTY is currently out on submission with publishers. The novel is the first in Kaarina’s trilogy about the lives of two ambitious and scandalous women in ancient Rome.
We caught up with Kaarina to find out more about her career, what inspires her and how she feels about the move towards more diversity in the fashion industry?
How did you first get into modelling?
My friends and I love to play around with clothes and styling, and we would do these very camp photoshoots together just for fun. One day, a friend who is a very talented photographer told me that I should consider modelling professionally, so I approached an agency with some of the photos we had shot together and it was all go from there.
How has your upbringing, culture and identity shaped how you view and have handled the fashion industry and how do you keep it in perspective?
I’m very thankful for the upbring that I had. My parents never put any emphasis on my looks when ascribing me value. It was never “this is our daughter, she’s beautiful”, it was “this is our daughter, she’s smart and funny and works really hard”. I think it’s really important for everyone, but especially young girls, to learn that their value doesn’t lie in how other people perceive their looks. Beauty is incredibly subjective, and also very fickle – just look at how the beauty standards have shifted from the ’heroin chic’ of the early 2000s to now.
What do you enjoy most about modelling and what has been your favourite job so far?
I love that every shoot is different, and I love getting to work with other creatives who are so passionate about what they do. Every single person I’ve worked with so far has taught me something valuable. I had an amazing shoot with Hera Couture recently which was definitely a favourite – the location was beautiful and Katie Yeung makes the most stunning dresses, it’s always a privilege to wear them.
Diversity is definitely a buzzword in fashion but actual change has been a bit slow, what are your thoughts on it and how do you see fashion changing to be more inclusive?
To me, ‘inclusivity’ in fashion means striving for a future in which any person has access to clothes that are fun, functional, affordable, and comfortable (and hopefully, sustainable). We are still quite far from achieving this. I think the biggest thing we need is more diversity (gender, body, cultural, racial) amongst designers, models, and brand-owners. Change has to start at the top.
Kaarina Parker modeling for RUBY (left) and Daisy by Katie Yeung (right).
A big part of diversity is representation, seeing people that look like you in the media and magazines, what does that representation mean to you personally?
I think it means having media that represents the population, rather than a constructed ‘ideal’. I would love for any one person to be able to look to the media and see someone or something that they recognise reflected back at them.
One of the best decisions I ever made was to deliberately curate my social media feed. I unfollowed almost every celebrity and influencer (with the exception of people I knew in real life, or people I was following for their art), and followed a bunch of fat, queer, funny, beautiful, fashionable, smart people whose content made me feel good, and from whom I could learn. I blocked ads about diet culture or cosmetic surgery, and tried to train the algorithm to show me animals, astrology jokes, and food haha.
Social media has become a significant part of being a model, how do you feel about being visible online and the role it plays in your career? As an active social media user how do you find interacting with your followers?
It feels very much like a job for me now, in a way that it didn’t before I started modelling. I love it as a way to express my creativity, with either style or with my writing. But I’m very aware that anything I post is telling people something about me, or about what I stand for, so I’m a lot more mindful about how I exist online. I try to be as honest as I’m comfortable being, while also maintaining boundaries with my personal life. The more followers I get, the more increasingly creepy DM requests I get from people (men). I usually just mass delete them.
Who do you look to for positive inspiration in terms of modelling and in general?
I love Precious Lee, she has one of the best runway walks I’ve seen in a hot minute. Barbie Ferriera is teaching a new generation of fat girls that they can be playful and edgy with their fashion and I really really love that. She has amazing style.
Outside of modelling, I’m inspired by the simply brilliant shes gays and theys that I’m privileged to call my friends. Their passion, humour, art, and beauty constantly inspires me to do better. I wouldn’t be the person I am without each and every one of them. Even if they’re always late for brunch.
Who are your favourite local designers and brands?
Hine Collection for sportswear, their leggings are unmatched and their sports bras are revolutionary for us larger-titted individuals. I love Liam – I have their satin slip dress in almost every colour, it hugs all the lumps and bumps just right. Ellis Label and Rachel Mills both do beautiful made-to-order pieces – it’s definitely an investment but they’re high quality and ethically made. I also love Gojo Store – a little op-shop in Avondale where I’ve found some gorgeous pieces that have become staples of my wardrobe.
Kaarina Parker in an editorial image by Shauni Van Apeldoorn (left) and modeling for Taylor Sport (right).
How would you describe your personal style?
I’ve had my style described to me as very ‘model off-duty’, which I guess is appropriate. In summer it’s all linens and cottons, because I overheat really easily. In winter, I love layering. I wear a lot of turtlenecks, high-waisted pants, white button-ups, and bias-cut skirts and dresses. I love a tailored suit, and I have a brown ‘leather’ trench-coat that is the love of my life. You will never see me in flats unless I’m working out – I love a heeled-mule or an ankle boot.
I take style inspiration from women like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and Nan Kempner. They didn’t dress to the trends – they were timeless, and the key to their style was in the little details. I’ve invested in classic pieces for my wardrobe, and then I like to build my style around that.
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to get into the fashion industry?
If you’re looking to model, I would say make sure you have a strong sense of self going in to it, because your face and body are in the public domain in ways that most people won’t ever experience. So you need to know who you are and what matters to you, if you’re going to be able to withstand being scrutinised. Also we get no say in which photos end up in magazines or shop windows, or even online, so you can’t be precious about how you look in photos. That was a really hard lesson for me to learn personally, haha.
But if you’re interested, go for it! The first and most important step is getting comfortable in front of a camera, so start taking photos or having friends/family take photos and go from there.
Looking ahead, how far ahead do you plan and what makes you excited for the future?
I have goals that I’m working towards, but I’m learning to be more flexible and understanding with my expectations of myself. There is so little in this world that we can control, and every day that I’m alive and happy is a success. But I’m excited to see where modelling takes me – it was an unexpected (but not unwelcome!) turn in my life and every day is still fresh and exciting. And I’m excited for my novel, which is currently on submission with publishers, and the many more novels I plan to write in the future.