Noelle McCarthy: Style queen for the nation

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Fashion icons do not abound in New Zealand. Adventurers, yes. Innovative entrepreneurs, certainly. Writers, quite a few. And the place is positively bristling with philanthropists and provocateurs. There are even a few good rugby players.

But when it comes to cutting a dash in clothes, New Zealanders are yet to make their mark on the world.

We have bred a model who's quite good at wearing clothes, it's true. Rachel Hunter. "Our Rach," commonly referred to as the homegrown supermodel. Which makes her sound oddly like a crop of vegetables. Or pot.

Rachel is very good at wearing other people's clothes. She's been paid millions for doing so. Not bad for a slightly bovine-looking blonde from the North Shore.

But as anyone who saw her or her swimwear show at fashion week last year will attest, she's hardly Coco Chanel.

Of no matter perhaps that we do not possess a Kiwi version of Coco, a woman who in life and in style embodied the concept of chic.

Unlike the French, we do not worship at the feet of the well-dressed. Perhaps it goes against the rabidly egalitarian nature of the Kiwi to elevate other people simply because of how they look.

In fact, as Paul Little proposes in the Listener this week, maybe we value our heroes even more because of their plainness, their scruffiness, their awkwardness.

We cooed when Peter Jackson shambled up to collect his Oscars looking like somebody's drunk uncle. We cherish the memory of Janet Frame with her furry jumpers and orphan Annie hair.

The recently departed Sir Ed was loved as much for his rangy awkwardness and crowded smile as he was for his exploits on the roof of the world.

This celebration of the quotidian, the veneration of ordinary looking people is not so surprising really, in a country where a black singlet constitutes smart casual and the Jandal reigns supreme. Let the rest of the world obsess about hemlines and fascinators and haute couture, New Zealanders will get on with things here at the bottom of the world with devil a care for what Galliano's doing with hemlines at Dior.

The upside to this fierce independence of spirit is that when New Zealanders do bother to make a fashion statement the results are likely to be quite spectacular. Chloe of Wainuiomata anyone?

Who knew that furry slippers could be such a radical look?

I was reminded of this earlier in the week watching footage of the pre-Waitangi Day festivities at Te Tii Marae.

There was Tame Iti, making his own statement in festive cammo gear, jauntily accessorised with full moko, there was Hone Harawira, Dirty Dog glasses glinting devilishly in the sun.

There was John Key, sober yet approachable in conservative blue. But wait!

What vision was this, walking alongside Honest John? Who was this apparition, with her oversized sunnies and eggplant-coloured hair?

Watching Titewhai Harawira sashaying on to Te Tii Marae hand-in-claw with a discombobulated-looking Key, it was clear New Zealand was having a fashion moment not experienced since Donna Awatere Huata went blonde in prison.

Move over Alexis Colby, hang back Jackie O, Titewhai Harawira put together a Waitangi Day look so flat out it must have had the fiercest drag queens crying into their make-up bags.

It soon became clear that this was no sartorial flash-in-the-pan either. She followed it up the next day, appearing on Close Up in a splendidly bizarre symphony of colours and sparkles topped off with a corsage that would have done Carrie Bradshaw proud.

Colourfully crazy New York stylist Pat Field is currently dressing the Sex And The City girls for their new movie. If she ever feels like a sick day, our Waitangi celebrations have revealed a worthy stand-in waiting fashionably in the wings.

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