Adrienne Whitewood. Photo: James Yang
Adrienne Whitewood’s personal and cultural identity forms the very essence of her design ethos. The Rotorua designer (Rongowhakaata/Nga Puhi) infuses her fabric patterns and designs with her emotional connection to Māori art and culture, creating deeply meaningful and richly intelligent pieces of clothing.
Specialising in creating unique prints from traditional Māori concepts, Adrienne is forging her distinctive path around indigenous design. Both her voice and design aesthetic are clear and strong, with her love of meaningful patterns elevating her silhouettes with an additional layer of appeal.
“I love to think of print as a way to give the body movement through design. I’m always fascinated when I research different Māori art practices and discover how inventive and resourceful our tupuna (ancestors) were.
“Designing using Māori print is a way I feel I can make that connection to my culture,” she says.
“I feel a genuine need to dig deeper and create more meaningful designs that reflect this passion for indigenous Aotearoa creativity.”
Having graduated from AUT with a degree in fashion design, Adrienne opened her first store Ahu Boutique in her hometown Rotorua in 2013 and recently opened a second Wellington store, with her husband Hoete.
“Hoete with a passion for Te Reo Māori, accounting, and performing arts has helped take ahu boutique’s concept of ‘being the home of Māori fashion’ to the next level.”
Adrienne and Hoete have two tamariki, Harete and Hikairo. Family time walking through the redwoods with their whanau is highly valued. The couple is also passionate about showcasing other creative Māori-inspired work – from taonga (jewellery) to pōtae (hats).
“We’re also working on some big projects pursuing sustainable textiles and manufacturing processes to create truly circular products for our customers,” says Adrienne.
Adrienne’s flair for high-end contemporary Māori design using detailed prints has seen her brand build a strong following. Adrienne Whitewood made her solo debut at New Zealand Fashion Week 2017 with a slick collection of relaxed men’s and women’s looks that drew rapturous applause and praise.
From Matariki-inspired pieces to her Taniko embroidery (a 100% cotton collection with her popular Aroha and Waharua pattern), Adrienne also loves to explore her connection to the natural world, evident her in Kakahu Toito range (spun, crafted, and sewn in New Zealand) from Aotearoa-inspired fibre utilising merino and brushtail possum.
Her newest collection Auaha is in-store and online now and is a collaboration between Hoete and Adrienne. Expect to see luxurious fabrics with rich kowhaiwhai and a fresh take on the European baroque style with Maori influence.
We caught up with Adrienne to find out more about her brand, what inspires her and what you would never catch her wearing.
Tell us about your latest collection
Auaha is our latest collection and it’s talking about the created form Hoete and I took inspiration from during our past trips through Europe; finding similarities between the European art style and Māori design has always been fascinating for me, so I bridged the two together.
What made you become a designer?
My grandmother taught me to sew when I was eight, so I always had a love of fashion and the fact those early memories are intertwined with precious time with my grandmother makes it even more special.
What inspires you?
Just being alive in general. I remember reading from a Māori artist that our ancestors’ carvings were how they were describing the world at that time, so I would love my work to be a reflection of that as well.
Describe your personal style and how it influences your designs
I dress to where I live and currently it’s my hometown of Rotorua, where people, in general, are extremely conservative dressers, so I just wear plain black or simple clothing as I don’t like standing out. But if I travel to Auckland or Wellington, I definitely wear lots more colour and more layered dressy pieces.
What is your all-time favourite purchase?
I bought some camel coat fabric from a customer in-store and made it into the most beautiful jacket. The fabric is from England and it has the most beautiful nap. I wear it all the time!
What wardrobe item should everyone invest in?
A nice coat for winter, and really good shirts for summer. I have very much enjoyed my Kainga print jersey this winter; it’s a must. I also love wearing my rompers during the warm months. They are versatile, easy to wear, and comfortable. It’s important to wear what you love.
Do you have a style rule you always obey?
I did, but now I am kept so busy with two young children, so it tends to be whatever is clean and fits well!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Opening our second store with my husband Hoete. It’s a dream that is now a reality. Spending every day working together has made a stronger connection between one another.
What can’t you live without?
My family: my husband and kids are everything to me.
Finish this sentence – You would never catch me wearing…
Brazen logo clothing