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Kiwi fashion designer Kiri Nathan on motherhood and her new granddaughter Mahina-Rose

A new baby is just what the Kiwi designer needed after heartbreak
Kiri with her son and granddaughterPhotos: Emily Chalk

Staring into her granddaughter Mahina-Rose Pirihira Nathan’s eyes, acclaimed fashion designer Kiri Nathan can’t help but lose track of time as she marvels at the similarities between the delightful eight-month-old and her son – Mahina’s father Astley.

“I get this amazing double-layered thing happening where Mahina looks like a reincarnation of Astley,” beams mother-of-five Kiri, 51. “So it’s almost like seeing my baby again, but I also get to see him as a dad for the first time, which has been really beautiful.

“He’s really relaxed, and my husband Jason and I have seen this gentleness in Astley we’ve never seen before. If Mahina gets upset, she looks around to try and find her dad and as soon as he picks her up, she’s fine again.”

With a laugh, Astley, 32, adds, “I think Mum is trying to say I wasn’t really someone they thought was going to have a baby now. I’ve always been a little less serious. And I’ve only had to take responsibility for myself, so it’s been a massive shift. But I’m so happy to have baby and this opportunity to look after someone else.

“Although the day-to-day can be hard, she’s a ray of sunshine in my life. In the morning, she’s sitting up smiling, ready for me to take her out of bed. There’s so much joy in that.”

Astley – a former Flava radio host and Te Karere television reporter, now works in Māori engagement for the Mental Health Foundation – also acknowledges his partner Kim Newton.

“I feel really lucky to be with her on this journey,” he beams. “She’s a wonderful mum and loves baby so much – and that’s all I could ask for.”

Kiri's son Astley with his daughter Mahina and partner Kim in front of a rack of clothes
New parents Astley and partner Kim.

Meanwhile, the arrival of her fourth grandchild has given Kiri cause to reflect on her own experiences as an 18-year-old first-time solo parent. She rasied Astley with the support of her mum Rozelle Pirihira Fullerton. 

“I will forever be grateful for her support,” shares Kiri. “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to get through the first years.”

Memories of their beloved matriarch have been top of mind recently. Rozelle passed away in March following a long illness. 

She took her last breath, aged 73, with Astley, Kiri, a close niece and her dear friend around her. They recited karakia and prayers as she passed.

“With Mahina being born and Mum passing, it’s been beginnings and ends – and to be perfectly honest, both were beautiful,” tells Kiri. “I know Mum felt really happy to have all her whānau around her in her last week. Her goodbye was beautiful.”

For Astley, the special time with his Nan Nan brought back memories of his upbringing and inspired him to bestow Mahina with Pirihira as a middle name in her honour.

An old image of Kiri when she was a toddler with her mother on a boat
Baby Kiri with her mum Rozelle.

He explains, “She was awesome and in that last week, I realised how much she did for me and meant to me, and I wanted to honour that through baby’s name. 

“She made a kākahu [Māori cloak] for baby, which she gave me on her moenga whakamutunga [deathbed]. It’s something she’ll have forever as a sentimental taonga [treasure] for our whole family.”

As the season for celebrating Matariki approaches – traditionally a time to remember ancestors – Kiri is busy as ever releasing a new Matariki-themed collection through her award-winning, self-titled fashion label, and supporting events at her children’s schools.

But she also hopes to return home to her tribal lands in Hauraki. There, she’ll acknowledge her mum at the region’s Matariki celebration.

During the traditional ceremony, they offer karakia and kai to the nine stars in the Matariki cluster. The names of loved ones who have passed away in the last year are called out to Pōhutukawa, the star connected to the dead. 

“Given Mum has been laid to rest in the whenua [land] of her father in Te Tai Tokerau [Northland], it would be nice to go down to her mother’s side in Hauraki and call her name on that whenua,” explains Kiri.

Through the grief, baby Mahina has been a beacon of joy for the whole whānau.

Work can wait while darling Mahina’s around!

“With Mahina, it’s just all good,” enthuses Kiri, or “Kiki” as her grandchildren call her. 

“She has these great, big, beautiful brown eyes you sink into. When Astley was born, I would lose hours staring at him. I thought about how beautiful he was and every time Mahina is over, the same thing happens.”

Smiling, Astley makes sure Kiri knows how much he appreciates her.

“Ultimately, I aspire to be someone Mahina confides and trusts in. Someone she has a loving relationship with, and that comes from Mum,” he enthuses. “She is loving, understanding and allowed me to be who I want to be. Though her, I learned who I am and how to hold myself as a father from her.”

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