It is the reality of living anywhere that you cannot make it to every exhibition that you want to see. Such was the case with the most recent exhibition by the New Zealand Fashion Museum (whom I have mentioned before), At the Beach: 100 years of summer fashion in New Zealand. I did actually happen to be in Auckland while this was showing but for the reason of holidaying I chose lying on a beach to visiting an exhibition of a beach. I’m still not sure whether I made the right decision when I decided not to head along but thankfully, my mother-in-law had the foresight to get me the accompanying publication for my birthday:
The publication opens with the key reasons why this is such an apt topic for the NZFM to cover with the main point being that New Zealand is a coastal country where no one lives more than 130 kilometres from the coast. Given our proximity to the coast, there is a long association with the coastline as a means of emigration, trade, economy, sustenance, and lifestyle. These are all themes that are drawn on and extrapolated in the publication and are then illustrated with a mixture of photography (personal, archival and editorial), advertisements and vintage catalogues. As the authors, curator Doris de Pont, Cecilie Geary and Raewyn Alexander, take us through the changing attitudes of the ages through to the sharing of personal stories, I feel a nostalgic pull to the beach escapades of my youth. This is possibly the greatest appeal of the publication to me: its relatability for most New Zealanders.
I think another worthwhile point to make is the connection between the New Zealand love for the great outdoors and how it is reflected in our dress. Being a small country at the bottom of the world, we could be mistaken (and actually often are mistaken) for being behind the times when it comes to the latest fashions but in her chapter, Made in New Zealand, de Pont explains the way in which licensing agreements meant that international designs could be made in New Zealand factories therein providing work to New Zealanders alongside the latest fashion. Indeed, I own a swimsuit that was made in New Zealand through one of these licensing agreements from Jantzen and had always wondered how it came to be. Now I know.
On top of the licensing, it is also worth noting the proud history of swimwear designers from New Zealand. Before opening the publication, I had completely forgotten about Moontide, the swimwear label that was launched in 1980 and is arguably one of New Zealand’s most successful fashion exports. I am pleased to see that it still exists as their design of Māori motifs, created in conjunction with a kaumatua (elder) from a provincial town was lauded as an exemplary relationship wherein culture is celebrated and not appropriated.
It would be interesting to see someone revisit the Moontide swimsuit in a time that is more aware of the issues surrounding cultural appropriation to examine how this now sits alongside other examples of appropriation, is it a model for future collaboration? The beauty of this publication is that despite my not seeing the exhibition itself, it has provided such a depth of thinking that I am able to then go off on a tangent about cultural appropriation. Methinks it is an argument for more publications like itself to be created.
A note on my column title: Kōrero Kākahu translates very literally from Māori to English as “talk of clothing” but can also be read as the stories gleaned from clothing or the stories that clothing holds. Future columns, particularly those that cover Māori content, may delve into this meaning a little deeper.