Chelsea Winstanley wearing a custom Kiri Nathan gown at the 2020 Oscars. Image © Getty Images.
The 2020 Academy Awards was a pretty special one for Taika Waititi, his co-producer and wife Chelsea Winstanley and the entire Jojo Rabbit team. The celebrated film had six Oscar nominations including Best Picture with Taika taking home the win for Best Adapted Screenplay, making history as the first Māori Academy Award winner.
“I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories, we are the original storytellers and we can make it here, as well,” he said as he closed his acceptance speech on stage. It was a significant moment for Māori and a particularly inspiring speech but there’s much more to the night’s achievements than just Taika’s win.
Chelsea, his talented wife and co-producer of many of his films, was celebrating being the first Māori female producer to have a film nominated for best picture. She is a successful producer and director in her own right whose films include a celebrated documentary on Māori director Merata Mita. Chelsea stunned on the red carpet in a custom emerald green Kiri Nathan gown that was accessorised with vintage jewellery from Cannonball and Tilly Vintage in Los Angeles. “It was such a special moment for wāhine Māori, indigenous peoples and New Zealanders, history was made! It was a privilege to be involved in this small way,” says Kiri Nathan.
It was Chelsea’s first time wearing a gown by the stylish Māori designer but Kiri and Chelsea initially met when Chelsea asked Kiri to make a custom dress for the late Merata Mita’s daughter, Awatea Mita, to wear to the premiere of the film about her mother that Chelsea produced. Kiri loves making special custom pieces that reflect the person wearing them and the dress featured Awatea’s whakapapa and her mother’s favourite quotes that were hand painted on the back of the silk Kūtere dress, making it a very personalised piece.
When it came to Chelsea’s gown for the Oscars it was one of Kiri’s best friends Stacey Morrison who suggested that Kiri reach out to Chelsea to find out if she needed a gown for the red carpet and offer her services to make a custom piece. The producer responded immediately and was thrilled to work with Kiri on creating the one of a kind gown. It was an unusual process for Kiri in the sense that no NZ fittings were done with LA based Chelsea measuring herself and Kiri creating the piece based on those measurements. Much discussion over email, WhatsApp and Instagram took place to get the gown just right with Kiri utilising over 20 metres of beautiful Thai silk for the final design. It was painstakingly crafted with multiple skirt pieces to give it an elegant flowing movement on the red carpet.
“Chels is a courageous, stunning talent, I wanted a design that reflected who she is and also made her feel comfortable, the pockets were a personal addition as I knew they would make her feel at ease,” adds Kiri. “The weight of responsibility for all that she represents would have been heavy on that carpet and in the Oscars environment, so I implemented traditional Māori weaving techniques within the silk bodice so Chels felt connected to Te Ao Māori and home.”
The designer believes in slow fashion and making garments by hand that are special to the wearer. She describes all her custom garments as generational keepsakes which she hopes are treasured by the wearer. For Kiri the dress was even more special as it was made from Thai silk that she sourced on a trip to Thailand late last year for Thai Silk International Fashion Week. It was an amazing trip for the designer who attended a Thai Silk Gala event which was also attended by the Thai Prime Minister and legendary footwear designer Jimmy Choo.
Watching Chelsea walk the Oscars red carpet in Kiri’s custom design was a dream come true for the designer who pointed out that while it’s an achievable dream for some overseas labels, it’s a rare opportunity for a Kiwi designer. It was particularly special to Kiri as a wāhine Māori to dress another wāhine Māori on such an auspicious occasion. “My little girl Oscars dream came true,” adds Kiri, who felt overwhelmingly grateful for the experience. History was certainly made in Los Angeles and no doubt Chelsea and Kiri (not to mention Taika) have many more achievements to come.
Taika Waititi with his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Image © Getty Images.