Rotorua designer Adrienne Whitewood showcased her first solo show – inspired by Maori art and culture – at the recent New Zealand Fashion Week.
This multi-talented, creative woman, who merges fashion with indigenous-inspired elements, is proud to call Rotorua home and, with her aim to keep things local, opened ahu boutique on Eruera Street in 2013. Adrienne’s ethos is all about creating wearable clothing for women who want an emotional connection to their clothes. focus had the opportunity to pose some questions for Adrienne.
focus: Where did you do your training?
I trained at AUT in Auckland then came home to Rotorua and did more fashion papers at Toi Ohomai.
focus: Where does your artistic influence come from and when did you start making clothing?
My artistic influence definitely comes from living in Rotorua and I started sewing at the age of eight so ever since then it has been a passion of mine.
focus: Everyone has to start somewhere. What was your first job?
My first job was merchandising at Countdown in Rotorua. We had to ‘face’ every single product and that really helped me appreciate the art of merchandising and how to make a store look good.
focus: How do you describe your designs and style?
I would describe this as Maoriana – it’s a twist on nostalgic Kiwiana but with strong cultural references.
focus: Tell us about your first show at NZ Fashion Week. How many outfits did you have to get ready? What were the challenges and stresses? What were the highs?
My first show at NZFW was both exciting and daunting, wondering ‘is it all going to come together?’ ‘who will be interested?’ all that kind of thing. It was a success and I really think Fashion Week is one of those things where, what you put in is what you get out. I showed 28 looks and the challenges were many, including just getting there on the day, dealing with media, staff, the production crew, the models. The whole thing was smooth but still stressful! The highs were getting great media coverage and great brand awareness plus a few investment and sponsorship opportunities as well as working with the NZFW team.
focus: How do you handle stress and pressure?
As a leader for a big team I feel I need to set the tone so I make sure if I am stressed that I just hold it in – there’s nothing worse than going to or being involved in an event and you see the head person stressing out. It only brings the team down and just doesn’t look professional. At Fashion Week we were complimented on how well organised the show was and that’s always something I find really appealing – a slick, smooth-running event.
focus: What have been the positive outcomes from NZ Fashion Week?
A few really cool investment opportunities, a sponsorship proposal and a trip to China! So a lot of cool stuff came out of it; I’m super stoked!
focus: You currently have ahu boutique in Rotorua. Any plans for more retail outlets?
Not as yet but I would love to get into stocking (having her label stocked by other stores nationwide) and open up a new market for myself.
focus: What’s your favourite part about being a Fashion Designer?
Finding ideas! When you find a great idea for a dress or top or print it’s like finding a golden nugget – you feel rich!
focus: What trends do you currently see in the fashion industry?
Designers collaborating with foodies – that’s a huge trend right now. My sister is a great cook and an MKR (My Kitchen Rules) contestant so I can definitely see myself collaborating with her!
focus: What skills are important for a successful career in fashion design?
People don’t realise how hard designing clothing is; it’s pretty much like engineering. You need to understand a whole bunch of fundamentals of construction alongside the principles of design, then include forecasting and getting your numbers right to push those units. It’s very difficult.
focus: Who are two of your favourite designers?
It always changes but my top NZ designers are Karen Walker (obviously) and I Love Ugly. I sat near I Love Ugly at models’ castings and I was wearing their bag! I was having a fan moment – I wanted to go up and say hello but was too nervous. I hope I see them next year!
focus: Who would your dream client be?
Someone like Beyoncé or Rihanna. Imagine the stories you could tell – wow!
focus: How do you stay up to date with fashion?
I stay up to date with design, not necessarily fashion. I do walk around malls and look through Facebook and Insta. Looking at what people are wearing on the street gives me great ideas. I often take photos of strangers’ clothing and my best friend will tell me off, saying, “You can’t take photos of people!” I never take photos of their faces but I do have a lot of strangers’ outfits on my phone!
focus: What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself taking your styling career?
I plan to expand my label, open up a new market for myself and push my online store.
focus: What advice do you have for other aspiring fashion designers?
Be consistent and enjoy what you do because there will be a lot of tough times in the industry. And also, don’t limit yourself.
focus: What’s your go-to clothing item(s)?
At the moment, it’s my black aroha sweater. I wear it with everything and with the whole sportswear trend at the moment, I’ve even found ways to dress it up for dinner out; it’s so versatile!
Photos: Erica Sinclair