Fashion has long had an obsession with "dressing like a French girl," but the truth is that Paris isn't the only city with seriously stylish residents. In our column "International It Girl," we celebrate our fashion inspirations from all over the world. Next up? New Zealand.
Having grown up in an international community in the Philippines, there were plenty of Kiwis in my life, including one honorary "aunt and uncle" whose accent I never quite mastered but loved trying to copy anyway. That my first memories of New Zealanders have less to do with fashion than they do with simply being outside — playing hide-and-seek in my friends' backyard, taking family holidays to the beach together — seems more fitting the more Kiwis I talk to who work in fashion. Whether they're models, designers or stylists now, almost all of them recall their upbringings in NZ as connected to nature in a way that impacted how they think about clothing. Whatever else it was going to be, their style needed to be laid-back enough to not get in the way of being active outdoors.
A year out of college, a few of my former roommates decided to ditch their jobs and lives in the U.S. and move to New Zealand on temporary visas. And while I can't comment on how much their day-to-day style has actually changed since making the big move, the moments they deem Instagrammable have switched from dressed-up evenings at concerts in Chicago to hiking outings around Wellington that feature practical shoes and comfy sweaters. That's what happens when the highlights of your life begin to consistently take place on the beach or mountainside.
Natives aren't always wearing hiking gear, obviously, but there is a universal unfussiness that shines through in the style of fashion's favorite Kiwis. Whether it's Stella Maxwell's minimal but sexy off-duty style or Lorde's penchant for wild hair, even the most in-the-spotlight New Zealanders find ways to make the glamour of international stardom seem far from try-hard.
So how does that translate when you're designing lingerie that's clearly meant to be seen, not just worn under clothes, or working with famous maximalists like Alessandro Michele? Read on to find out what my some of my favorite Kiwis had to say about how their heritage affects their outlook on fashion, beauty and bodies.
IMG-represented Georgia Pratt has emerged as a sought-after plus size model, walking the runway for Christian Siriano and Tome, starring alongside other plus-size powerhouses like Candice Huffine in ad campaigns and showing up in international glossies from Elle to Dazed. Through all her global travel and gigs all over the world, Pratt has never lost her preference for New Zealand, which she says she misses dearly.
"There is a strong fashion consciousness present but I also think there is definitely a 'come as you are' attitude," she tells me over email about the signatures of NZ style. "You embrace being carefree and comfortable because during the summers, everyone is walking around in sarongs and swimsuits and Havaianas or bare feet. There is a definitely Polynesian presence and influence."
She also notes that, while fellow Kiwis might cringe to hear her say it, they do wear a lot of black (we see you, Lorde). Wearing layers is important, too, as "you need to be prepared for multiple seasons in a day," she notes.
Jahra "Rager" Wasasala
Jahra "Rager" Wasasala is a poet and dancer whose often politicized work deals with womanhood, her heritage as a mixed-race New Zealander, the body and the divine. Along the way, Wasasala's own striking looks and penchant for traditional tattoos, or tatau, has made her portfolio of work — which is engagingly presented on her Instagram — a jumping-off point for conversations about how beauty is perceived and metabolized both in New Zealand and beyond.
"I view my body as... a powerful and holy thing, which translates to the tatau that I adorn my body with," Wasasala says via email. "Having access to tatau... has helped me build my identity, document my growth, honor my ancestors and continue the conversation around being of the Pacific diaspora and what that can look like, including challenging that through style, aesthetics, beauty and body image."
According to Wasasala, New Zealand's relative isolation from the rest of the world was a boon when it came to refining her own visual preferences growing up. "The distance we had meant that the way we chose to represent ourselves through aesthetics and visuals could draw on influences from the rest of the world, but not be suffocated by them," she says.
As the founder and designer of Lonely, a label known for its inclusive, un-retouched lingerie campaigns, Helene Morris has been sparking conversation in the fashion industry for years now. Her commitment to ethical manufacturing and deeply inclusive, raw-looking imagery — the latter of which is a rarity in fashion at large, but even more so in lingerie advertising — have earned her brand a loyal following all over the globe.
That preference for a natural look comes in part from her Kiwi background, Morris says, noting via email that she thinks that her New Zealand heritage is part of what's made the brand so "distinctly relaxed." The mission behind the brand that's made manifest in the thoughtful advertising and manufacturing practices has its roots in Kiwi history, too.
"NZ was the first country in the world for women to gain the right to vote and this heritage of strong, confident women fighting for what they believe is something that has always stuck with me," she says.
Her career as a model who's walked for Chanel and Victoria's Secret, shot with photography legends like Rankin and Inez and Vinoodh and appeared in multiple international editions of Vogue has Georgia Fowler understandably based in the fashion capital of New York these days. But the half-Aussie, half-Kiwi's sensibility was uniquely formed by her upbringing in Auckland, she says, where her neighbors always knew how to keep things "casual and classic."
"Because of living near the beach in New Zealand, I'd say my style is more relaxed, and my beauty regime is simple and natural," Fowler says via email. And while she's happy to do whatever she needs to for a shoot, she says, "I try not to do anything to my hair or wear much makeup whenever possible."
Zara Mirkin may have styled big names like Kim Kardashian in the past, but her most fruitful and long-lasting partnerships tend to happen with cool, slightly more-off-the-beaten path names. She's a longtime Petra Collins collaborator, working with the photographer on everything from Gucci campaigns to editorials for Oyster, Wonderland and a host of other indie magazines.
Mirkin's gritty aesthetic has its root in her laid-back upbringing in the "most beautiful place on earth," she tells me via email. "I do stuff pretty low fi, and I guess I'm a lot more carefree about things," she says. As far as personal style goes, she claims that she dresses like she's "on holiday in NZ" when not working — and she echoes Pratt's statement about Kiwis' color of choice. "People like to wear a lot of black there!" she says.