The Donald Trump owned pageant has had a 10 year absence of Maori representation and there are high hopes for Priyani. For not only is she beautiful, but she possesses a charm, sophistication and graciousness beyond her 20 years. Val Lott, Miss Universe New Zealand pageant director, illustrates it this way, "Priyani is the total package. She is beautiful, intelligent and confident.”
Iris Chan chatted to Priyani to learn more about her:
Why did you enter into the pageant circuit?
When I was 3 and half years old, I began dancing. My sister and I danced all our lives and we were always on stage. So when I was 17, I saw the advertisement for Miss Horowhenua which is the local pageant of where I grew up in Levin. I was a contestant in that and won. I then went on to Miss Wellington, our capital and won the pageant there. Then I went on to compete in Miss Universe New Zealand and fortunate to win that a month ago.
You are the first Maori-Pacific Island woman in 10 years to be in the Miss Universe pageant. What do you hope to show the international stage about your culture?
I’d hope to tell a story through my national costume. I want to emphasise Maori and Pacific Island culture. The importance of water is seen in my costume as it relates to my culture on both sides. My maternal grandfather came on a boat from Sweden, and was a fisherman in Kaikoura. And on my Maori side they lived off the sea as well. I’d like to teach everyone about my tribe and their values. The chief of my tribe, Te Atiawa, was one of the few Maori chiefs who was a pacifist and rather than sending out the soldiers to fight the land wars against the Europeans, he sent the soldiers to take down fences and dig up roads as passive protests. The symbol of our tribe is the Albatross feather – a white feather. Which symbolizes peace, not to just the Maori people, but all people. I’d also like to teach them a bit of poi which the women of my tribe are known for.
Your costume sounds amazing. So you’re heavily involved in designing it?
Yes! Shika (Braddock, Wellington based designer) is sponsoring and making my dress this year. Once she heard of my Maori and Pacific Island background, she wanted to learn all about it so she could incorporate it into my gown. So I’ve been heavily involved with that and took her out to my marae in Puketapu Grove and she met my cousin who’s mother is world renowned for Maori traditional weaving. Her cloaks and artwork are in Te Papa, which royalty have come to see on their visits to New Zealand. She spoke to Shika about the importance of that and the Albatross feather, as I mentioned before. And it turned out they both loved paua and silver!
You’re going to be a role model for young girls, but why do you think pageants are relevant in this day in age?
I think pageants are very relevant. It’s not just about beauty; of course you learn deportment, grooming, how to apply makeup, do your hair, how to present yourself, the right clothes to wear for the right event. But they teach you so much more; vital skills that will assist you for the rest of your life. [Such as] interview skills, public speaking, networking. How to relate to anyone and on any level. So many skills that are vital for life, when you are stepping out into the big world and you’re unsure of things, to have confidence in these areas are great skills for young women. I’ve learned so much.
So any beauty tricks you have for evening gown wear for their formals coming up?
Always pick a colour that is right for you. I love bold colours and bling! And find the right neckline that works for your shoulders. And find a cut that works for your figure – I love dresses that show off a woman’s figure. Also, accessories. Finishing touches – earrings, shoes, nails, the right lipstick. From the tip of your toes to the top of your head, finish everything off!
Outside of pageants, what is your style?
To be honest, I’m a bit of a comfy girl but remaining stylish as well. I love bright bold colours when I go out with my girlfriends like reds and yellows. When I’m in school I’m in a nice t-shirt, jeans and boots.
Interview by Iris Chan
MISS UNIVERSE is a registered trademarks of Miss Universe L.P., LLLP. The 2011 Miss Universe pageant will be televised live in September from São Paulo, Brazil. Check your local listings for show times, and find out more about the organization at www.missuniverse.com.