to fashion with Craccum’s most stylish editors
“Art is political—so is fashion.” – Fatima Sanussi
Twelve life size photographic portraits stand tall in The Pavillion Britomart for Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki, posing proudly in their best looks. to fashion, an exhibition by the New Zealand Fashion Museum, captures the act of styling in action, and asks us to consider what the act of dressing means in our everyday lives. It looks to explore the way that clothing and style becomes an expression of identity and culture. The striking photographs are captured by Edith Amituanai, and the group of participants includes poet and writer Tayi Tibble, artist Mariadelle “Abbey” Gamit, and K’Road Chronicle Editor Six, among many others. As this exhibition is about self-expression, here we offer some individual reflections on the exhibition’s impact, and explain what it means to fashion to us.
Clothing is a tool of multiple functions. It allows us to explore who we are as individuals, connect with our familial and cultural histories, and communicate a little piece of who we are to others. to fashion presents twelve drastically different approaches to style as an expression of identity, with no single ensemble even remotely similar to another. Each individual explores their own meaning of fashion, with the results ranging from playful to moving. Diving into the descriptions of each outfit, I was most warmed by those who told stories about receiving the pieces as gifts, hand-me-downs, or picking them out second hand. There’s something quite precious about holding the people we love close through our clothing, and creating new use for clothing that was once loved. It was also compelling to hear clothing addressed through so many lenses—as a site of play, as reclamation, as a channel of attitude. It’s enough to encourage reflection on your own state of dressing… How and what do I express through my own choices? What politics am I participating in? On the stroll away from Britomart, I found myself slightly more curious about the people I passed on that street, and wanted to know why they wore the clothes that they did. To consider clothing as a device for storytelling may be slightly romantic, but it certainly inspires a mode of empathy and inquisitiveness that I’ll be holding on to.
In many ways fashion—all fashion—is art, and it’s gratifying to see it presented as such. All the portraits told a visual story about the people depicted before we even scanned the QR code to hear their voices. Many wore their heritage proudly, with traditional cloth patterns, garments or accessories. Others referenced recent fashion history. All had a sense of joy and purpose in their clothes. The portraits illustrate how clothing can become an extension of self, almost a second skin. The people whose portraits hang in the exhibition show how fashion is also an extension of craft. Dressing can be a subversive, creative, everyday act. Clothes express heritage, attitude, comfort, meaning, and yes, politics. Personally, I’ve been shamed often for my sense of self-expression and clothing—the skin—I inhabit. Dressing and fashion has been a personal and political rebellion, against labels, against perception, against beauty standards, against misogyny, and against cultural erasure. For both myself and those who get it (iykyk), fashion is a way of reclaiming ourselves.
Approaching each photograph in Amituanai’s exhibition, I would say something like, “they’re a dancer”, “they’re confident”, “they’re creative”. Although we might not always feel we have a strong intention behind what we wear, our style still communicates a lot about who we are, where we are going, and where we came from. Listening to subjects speak about how their cultures, identities, occupations, and experiences influence their dress resonated with me. My favourite clothing items have a story behind them; like my embroidered purse passed down from my Gran or pearl earrings my mum wore in the 80s. I enjoyed that the individuals in the exhibition didn’t necessarily reflect a popular or current style but were instead unique and authentic to themselves. I was inspired by people using clothing in ways they perhaps weren’t intended, like Chanel lipstick with briefs from Countdown. It all paints a picture of who they are, and that’s powerful.
See to fashion at Te Ara Tahuhu Walkway in Britomart before it closes on the 27th of March! https://www.aaf.co.nz/event/to-fashion-dressing-aotearoa
PHOTO BY JOE HOCKLEY