Prime Minister of Nation wrapped in Carlson

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Tanya Carlson’s piece in an exhibition at the Otago Museum has done a national service, writes Tom McKinlay.

The dress was worn by Jacinda Ardern.

So everything that follows is just a footnote.

Jacinda Ardern does not own the dress, which of course was never a prerequisite for wearing anything.

It was made available to him, the implication being that it could be made available to others.

The designer of the dress, Tanya Carlson, hints at it. She regularly lends pieces to people doing photoshoots or making videos, she says.

She was pretty happy to see him on the PM though.

Her friend, singer Julia Deans, texted Tanya to let her know this was happening, in real time.

The occasion was a music awards ceremony in Auckland in 2019. A magazine covering the event called the dress elegant. Another news source wrote that “her evening gown was a classic choice for the red carpet.”

Both descriptions confirm how rushed journalists are and how short of time these days.

The photos from the occasion appear to show a sunny day and not at all the kind of conditions Carlson had in mind when designing the dress.

Indeed, she qualifies the piece as “moody and brooding” when asked.

She is right, but the context is critical.

The piece, or more exactly the pieces, can be found in the Otago Museum’s exhibition “Fashion FWD: Disruption Through Design”, in the section dedicated to Dunedin fashion godmothers.

It floats, the black mannequin on which it rests fades into the background. Tightly fitted and slightly whimsical, its manly gray flannel embraces the female form, nodding to the genre.

The effect is not quite this world. Maybe that’s part of why it looked so good on Jacinda Ardern, her pale skinned, raven haired girl.

It was designed pro bono publico for the iD Dunedin Fashion Week 2016 poster with the aim of capturing the landscape.

“Everyone always talks about the creators of Dunedin, whom we all refer to notions of isolation, mood swings, a sense of obscurity – that accompanies life in Dunedin, whether it is music, l ‘art or fashion. “

This was to be captured in the clothing, dress and bodice, cut at an angle, the pleated flying train, and the sleeves rolled up. (Jacinda just wore the little dress.)

Photos for iD were to be taken at Cargill Castle, on the town’s exposed southeast lip.

“With the windblown macrocarpas,” Carlson said, the original idea still vivid in his mind.

Carlson was thinking about Gothic and Wuthering Heights and “Heathcliff, it’s me I’m Cathy, I came home …”

Jacinda Ardern would she have been the perfect model? Her brow furrowed as she considered climate change and the shrinking share of labor in the economy.

“The winds are always blowing there, so I designed it to have this fan tail – piwakawaka, you know,” says Carlson. “We would be up there and the train would fly from the back, even if it’s pleated wool. And the sleeves would do the same.”

That day, however: “Blue sky forever and not a breath of wind. Dunedin threw a gem of a day. But the picture was still beautiful.”

The piece still captured how Carlson felt about the southern landscape – built as well as natural.

“It also pays homage to some of our Victorian details.”

Carlson, now based in Auckland, was back in Dunedin to judge the iD International Emerging Designer Awards.

It was, as always, the X factor, she says.

“Like any talent, it shows, there is something in there …”

Beyond that, sustainability is now at the heart of the work of all young designers, a smaller and lighter footprint. Preserve the planet.

They are all on board. It’s a priority for everyone, says Carlson.

“We have to figure out how many clothes we need,” she says.

When asked, she says some people suggest 30.

“I think about 30 is probably doable.”

It would be interesting to know how much Jacinda Ardern has. She wouldn’t need to count Carlson’s coin, because she returned it.

The exhibition

“Fashion FWD >> Disruption Through Design” runs at the Otago Museum until October 17th.

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