Real Life

The Rotorua family fashion duo taking over Paris

This Kiwi grandmother and granddaughter have made waves in the French fashion world.

When Leilani and Anastasia Rickard say fashion is in their DNA, they’re not joking. The Rotorua-based design team come from a line of women who have made their living from making eye-catching clothes.

So when Leilani (64) and Anastasia (26) decided to start a business as a grandmother-granddaughter fashion duo, no-one in their family batted an eyelid. What was surprising, though, was how they got their biggest break.

The swirling droplets of colour on their garments are images from tiny slivers of native harakeke flax – used in traditional Maori weaving – which have then been placed under a powerful laboratory microscope and photographed.

It’s a delicious duality that’s not lost on Leilani. A traditional Maori weaver, for decades she has made piupiu (grass skirts) for schools and kapa haka groups, using harakeke leaves.

It was Anastasia who pulled the strands of ancient art and modern science together when she went to work at Rotorua’s Scion Crown Research Institute. One scientist wanted to know how harakeke was traditionally extracted, so she introduced the scientist to her grandmother.

“I showed the scientist how we extracted the fibre with the sharp end of a mussel shell,” says Leilani. “And as a ‘thank you’ gift, she gave me a CD of images of what harakeke looks like under the microscope.

“When I saw them, I thought, ‘Holy cow! Look at this! I’ve been working with the outer beauty of this plant and this is its inner beauty.’ I knew I had to do something really special with these images – not just slap one on a T-shirt.”

Anastasia and Leilani printed their own fabric using the images for visual effect. Before long, they’d designed dresses, raincoats, tops, trousers and more, all adorned with the beautiful swirls of colour and pattern from the molecules of the harakeke plant.

The pair were still considering how to position their new range when they were invited to showcase at J Model Management’s Autumn Fashion Show in Paris last year.

By the time they flew home, they’d come up with the name of their label – Natura Aura.

“Natura being the Latin word for nature,” explains Anastasia.

“And Aura for the life-force that comes from the plant,” adds Leilani.

Last month, their 100 per cent New Zealand-made clothes were at New Zealand Fashion Week and this month, they’re showcasing again at contemporary Maori culture fashion show Tiki Ahua, in Rotorua.

They’ve previously worked together on entries to wearable art competition Rotorua Wearable Creationz, and Leilani has had her own eye-catching hosiery label, Iwi Creations, for the past four years.

“I always liked looking at people’s tattoos,” says Leilani.

“I never wanted a real tattoo myself – I was too scared! But I realised I could make a line of stockings with tattoo designs. It would be like you could change the colour and design of your tattoo every day!”

She created a range of hosiery with stylised patterns like tipu (plant shoots), koru and mangopare (hammerhead shark), found a manufacturer and went into business.

The pair have dreams of becoming a globally recognised brand and in the meantime, they love seeing their clothes being worn on the street.

“I was out walking recently,” says Anastasia. “I looked up ahead and saw a woman dressed in a beautiful raincoat with striking green fabric. It was one of ours. It felt good. Actually, it felt better than good. It felt great.”

Nerida has created a beautiful line of jewellery using metal fused with bone and feathers.

Heavenly creations

When people tell Nerida Johnstone her jewellery makes them feel powerful, she knows she’s on the right track. The Gisborne-born designer’s handmade pieces are more than just adornment – they’re talismans, made to protect the person wearing them.

Nerida came to jewellery from an unusual background – heavy metal! She discovered a passion for bronze casting while studying design at Waiariki Polytechnic in Rotorua. And the mum-of-three went on to help establish a bronze foundry at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute – one of a few females in a male-dominated world.

“Bronze casting is very physical and certainly not glamorous,” smiles Nerida. “I became pretty buff with all the heavy lifting involved.”

After two-and-a-half years, juggling the demands of the foundry with raising three children became too much for Nerida (44).

Sitting in her lounge one night, weighing up her options, she was drawn to a photograph of her grandfather in his WWII Maori Battalion uniform.

“I thought, ‘He was brave enough to fight and survive in the war so I should be able to conquer my own battles.’”

In a flash, she realised making jewellery would be the “perfect manifestation” of her design, sculpture and casting skills.

Nerida left the foundry and named her new business Henare Jewellery, after her grandfather. She will be showcasing her creations – necklaces, rings, bracelets and crowns made from precious stones, bone and leather and fused with metals – at the Tiki Ahua fashion show.

The materials she uses “all have their own power” and Nerida “cleanses” each piece in moonlight before passing it to its new owner.

“People say they gain strength from my jewellery all the time. Just like my grandfather is talismanic for me, my jewellery is talismanic for its wearers.”

Words: Megan McChesney

The Tiki Ahua contemporary Maori culture fashion show will be held in Rotorua on Saturday, September 24.

Related stories

Get NZ Woman’s Weekly home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.