Designer Nichola Te Kiri with one of her Visitor Host uniform designs for Auckland Museum. Image by Richard Ng.
Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira recently collaborated with designer Nichola Te Kiri on revamping the museum’s front of house Visitor Host uniforms to allow the staff to feel more connected to their workplace. The project first began in 2017 when a focus group of museum staff were assembled to find out their aesthetic likes and dislikes – those who wear the wardrobe were heard and had their thoughts, feedback and ideas helped formed the project brief which went out to local designers.
That directive to the designers invited to pitch was that the textile design must reference taonga and their stories from Auckland Museum’s collections to reflect their mission ‘to connect people through stories of people, land and seas’. From the submissions Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) based Nichola Te Kiri’s design was chosen using these taonga as inspiration and incorporating the sky, mountains, flounder and stone, she named the final design Kahu Tāmaki.
Nichola Te Kiri is the founder of fashion label Nichola which offers contemporary clothing, jewellery and accessories that reflects her unique style and Māori heritage. She believes in mahi telling a story and Nichola explores narratives drawn from the environment around her as well as her heritage and upbringing in her designs.
The Auckland Museum project is a great showcase of local talent and production with the textiles printed in Tauranga, and the uniforms made by Fashion Uniforms in Papakura. Even the ties that are part of the wardrobe are made locally by Parisian Ties on Karangahape Road.
We caught up with Nichola to find out more about the project, the inspiration behind her designs and what she wants people to take away from her mahi?
Can you tell us how this project with Auckland Museum came about and what it was like to work on?
I was initially approached by one of the working group, Denise Cohen, to see if I would like to put forward a conceptual design (along with three other designers) for the project brief, which was to create the design and print for the new Auckland War Memorial Museum wardrobe (uniform). Which ultimately I was selected for.
The project team were amazing, safe to say they are one of my top collaborators to have worked with. They trusted me to deliver a design that sat beautifully within their requirements and that incorporated all the different facets of the brief. They were patient, understanding, open and so appreciative. I really loved what we created as a team.
How did you interpret the uniform brief and what were the most important aspects that you kept in mind during the design process?
I interpreted the brief as I would approach my own work and collections. I started with the kaupapa (topic/purpose/theme) and kōrero (the story behind the work) of the brief and that was to reference some of the taonga the museum hold, which had been selected already by the working group. I then created a tohu (symbol/pattern) that incorporates the overall kaupapa, which I then used to create a continuous pattern to tell the story of connection.
‘Tui Tui Hono tangata, whenua me te moana’ Connecting through sharing stories of peoples, lands and seas.
What is the inspiration behind the key print and can you explain the symbolism and storytelling in it?
The inspiration behind the print was to reference four specific taonga, three traditional and one contemporary piece, which were from Fiji, Tonga and Aotearoa.
There are many layers and meaning to the kōrero of this taonga (treasure);
The green background – was inspired by a contemporary taonga (treasure) in the museum, by using hand drawn hukahuka (strands) to represent this connection to that taonga, but also the connection between, the land, the sky and the sea with the variations of colour.
The main tohu comes from the initial design, created and inspired by the reference taonga: the Manulua and Patiki patterns. The singular tohu represents the notion of creation and time with the three diamonds, te kore, te po, te ao marama… these diamonds are then set within the wider tohu, that represents (initially) the maunga.
These are the maunga that surround the museum, in Tāmaki Makaurau.
I have then taken this singular tohu of the maunga and used it to create more layers to represent different parts of the surrounding environment, such as the kāhu (hawk) which is a kaitiaki for me personally, but also has significance to Ngāti Whātua, and the patikitiki pattern (motif), which comes from two places. The reference taonga the patikitiki kete and a kōrero I had with Graham Tipene. Graham spoke to me about the harbour here, and how the flounder fish was abundant in times of old. All of these combined represent the connection between the taonga, the environment, the people and ultimately the museum.
What was it like seeing the finished product and what do you want viewers and wearers to take away from your mahi?
When I first saw the staff at the Museum wearing their new wardrobe, it honestly felt very surreal. I felt excited, proud, happy, humbled, stoked, teary, emotional but most of all I thought of my children and how they would feel about seeing them and knowing their Mum had a role to play in its creation.
I also felt really proud of the team, because it wasn’t just me working on this project, we had an amazing working group based at the museum, who had approached staff for their input into their wants and needs, the manufacturers – Fashion Uniforms, with Chloe Sharplin and her amazing team and our project leads, Fiona and Michael. I felt really proud for all of us involved, so proud in fact I was high five-ing everyone when I saw the final pieces!
What I hope viewers and wearers take away from the mahi is the story, that they engage, they ask and they connect to the design, the narrative and the Museum as a whole.
Images by Richard Ng for Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.