Building communities: traditional Tivaivai embroidery meets high fashion

By Commonwealth Fashion Council

Explore the exchange story of designer Karen Walker from New Zealand and artisans Kuki Airani Creative Mamas from the Cook Islands and find out how they created their look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, 2018.

Artisans from Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās embroidering flowers for Designer Karen Walker's dressCommonwealth Fashion Council

"I find it important to recognize the
intersectionality of fashion and how so many hands come together to produce
beautiful pieces." 

Karen Walker

The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange looks at Australian High Commission, LondonCommonwealth Fashion Council

The Exchange: New Zealand x Cook Islands

For The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange 2018, designer Karen Walker exchanged with artisans Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās to create a look that highlighted traditional craftsmanship and embroidery techniques. The look was unveiled at Buckingham Palace on February 19, 2018, and later moved to the Australian High Commission, London, where it was open to the public in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, April 2018.

Designer Karen Walker by Karen WalkerCommonwealth Fashion Council

New Zealand: Designer Karen Walker

Karen Walker’s eccentrically elegant style has established a stellar international following for her ready-to-wear, eyewear, jewellery, bags and fragrance. Karen’s signature energy and optimism define the label. Her designs cleverly play with cultural subtext, juxtaposing luxe and street, masculine and feminine, folk and utility, creating pieces that are both directional and wearable.

Karen Walker artisan event by Karen WalkerCommonwealth Fashion Council

Cook Islands: Artisans Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās

A cooperative of women originally from the Cook Islands, Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās are expert in the craft of ‘tivaivai’ – a part-patchwork, part-embroidery tradition that is intrinsic to their island culture. Depicting designs that represent age-old legends, sea life and flowers, and often taking many years to complete, these bedspreads are rarely bought or sold. Instead they are given as special gifts, demonstrating love and patience, between family members, close friends and the community. 

Artisan Tukua from Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās handing out flower garlands in Cook IslandsCommonwealth Fashion Council

Karen Walker's artisan eventCommonwealth Fashion Council

A spirit of togetherness

The Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās work on tivaivai collectively, each given a part of the process to complete, in a spirit of togetherness.

Karen Walker's artisan eventCommonwealth Fashion Council

Karen Walker's look at Buckingham Palace Karen Walker's look at Buckingham PalaceCommonwealth Fashion Council

The story behind the look

Karen Walker worked with a community of tivaivai craftswomen from the Cook Islands, now resident in New Zealand. Her dress is made from dusty pink Italian wool flannel and is covered in claret-coloured tivaivai embroidered flowers. The flowers are iconic flora of the Māmās’ island home and include gardenia, jasmine, orchid, fruit salad plant, hibiscus, fringed hibiscus, red ginger, frangipani and the Cook Islands national flower, Tiare Māori. Added to these are the beloved Karen Walker daisies. The 10 plant varieties are brought to life with 12 different traditional stitch styles.

Karen Walker's sketch by Karen WalkerCommonwealth Fashion Council

Illustration of the dress

Karen Walker's look by Karen WalkerCommonwealth Fashion Council

Materials

The dress is made from dusty pink Italian wool flannel and is covered in claret-coloured tivaivai embroidered flowers.

Karen Walker's artisan embroidering by Karen WalkerCommonwealth Fashion Council

Traditional embroidery

The flowers are iconic flora of the Māmās’ island home and include gardenia, jasmine, orchid, fruit salad plant, hibiscus, fringed hibiscus, red ginger, frangipani and the Cook Islands national flower, Tiare Māori.

Close up of Karen Walker's dressCommonwealth Fashion Council

Designer print

Added to these are the beloved Karen Walker daisies. The 10 plant varieties are brought to life with 12 different traditional stitch styles.

Behind the scenes with designer Karen Walker by Karen WalkerCommonwealth Fashion Council

Karen Walker with artisan Tukua from Kūki ‘Airani Creative MāmāsCommonwealth Fashion Council

Karen Walker's look at Buckingham Palace Karen Walker's look at Buckingham PalaceCommonwealth Fashion Council

Final look on display at Buckingham Palace, 19 February 2018

Karen Walker's look at Australian High Commission, London by Karen WalkerCommonwealth Fashion Council

Final look on display at the Australian High Commission, London, 22 February 2018

Behind the Scenes of The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange 2018Commonwealth Fashion Council

Credits: Story

This content has been specifically curated for the Google Arts & Culture platform on behalf of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange exhibition that launched on the 19th of February at Buckingham Palace in partnership with Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MATCHESFASHION.COM.

The project, created and managed by Eco-Age, with the support of The Commonwealth Fashion Council and The British Fashion Council.

More information about the images is available by clicking on them.
Read more about the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at http://eco-age.com/commonwealth-fashion-exchange/

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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