Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern knows the importance of New Zealand fashion, but that won’t define her
* Zoe Walker Ahwa is editor-in-chief of Stuff and co-founder of the fashion and culture website Ensemble.
OPINION: She was there to sell Aotearoa New Zealand to the world, and she did it wearing a hot pink suit made in the Auckland suburb of Morningside.
This bold statement worn on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was one of many looks worn by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her US tour which ended earlier this week.
The wardrobe was a minor part of the trip – it was there to shake hands and promote the New Zealand brand – but like everything in politics it was subtly strategic in its messaging.
For her appearance on Colbert, the PM opted for said bright pink suit and top by Auckland-based designer Juliette Hogan. The ensemble was simple but utterly remarkable: a rare moment when fashion felt like a deliberate focus, in a bold color that wasn’t labor red. It was an outfit and a color of optimism.
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It showed Ardern’s new confidence in using fashion as a tool rather than being afraid of it being criticized as mere frivolity – the eternal, old-fashioned fear of politicians, especially women, who want that the focus remains on politics. As a politician and a woman who has worn New Zealand fashion throughout her career, Ardern has managed to walk that fine line; but not without criticism.
Like other high-profile politicians, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and even Emmanuel Macron with his hoodie and bare chest, she clearly appreciates the importance of fashion but doesn’t want to. not that she defines it. Clothing is simply a subtle presentation and communication tool. Who can forget the black interlocking blazer that seemed to pop up whenever Ardern was at the pulpit sharing bad news?
But this trip to the United States was partly about using her international profile and popularity to boost export-ready New Zealand businesses and industries, and while New Zealand fashion may not be as important that New Zealand beef, it’s a world-class and valuable industry to be proud of. Ardern took advantage of her moment in the spotlight to present a small part of it – bright pink and cheerful.
Costume aside, the tour wardrobe was essentially a much-hyped rehash of what became the Ardern uniform: simple and practical, with lots of printed blouses and soft tailoring. Comfortable but authoritative clothes; many of which were taken from his own wardrobe.
Significantly, the majority were made in New Zealand (questions posed to Ardern’s team about whether there is a policy that they wear New Zealand-made garments went unanswered) and two of our best known local fashion designers, Juliette Hogan and Kate Sylvester.
The Prime Minister regularly turns to the two for big appearances, having worn their clothes for many years, even as an MP before 2017 (she wore a Sylvester dress for her swearing in as PM, and Hogan made the dress for that iconic Buckingham Palace moment, worn with a kākahu during pregnancy).
Both designers make the kind of nice, well-made clothes you see worn by many other women in offices across the country. These are designers Ardern can trust to make it look polished and professional, and won’t talk about said relationship with others (trust me, I tried).
It’s probably no coincidence that both designers are also successful small business owners and board members of Mindful Fashion, an organization that champions the local apparel and textile industry from a personal perspective. view of future-proofing local manufacturing, employment growth and concentration. on sustainability.
There were also plenty of cover-ups, often seen as a signal of accessibility from public figures (a tactic used regularly by the Duchess of Cambridge), but I think in this case it just reflects normal Premier practice minister.
I was, however, intrigued that she chose something new for Stephen Colbert and something “old” – a Hogan silk coat and tunic – for her most high-profile meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice. -President Harris. It was also 33°C in Washington DC, so staying in this coat was a clear commitment to the look.
Clothing can be a way to express who we all are, whether you are the leader of a country or choosing what to wear to the office in the morning. There is often a history of politicians using fashion as a way to send subtle messages – beads, a brooch, a white suit to recognize the suffrage movement – but Ardern’s use of clothing is much less coded.
Her American wardrobe said little but said a lot: New Zealand is back, open for business, and at once pragmatic, confident and daring.