An Auckland academic says a fashion magazine's use of a Maori facial tattoo on a non-Maori model is a "cultural insult".

The Australian edition of Marie Claire features Australian model Gemma Ward with a moko on her chin in a fashion spread in its October issue.

The picture is part of "the golden touch" tribute to fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who was himself heavily criticised in 2007 for using a moko on the faces of his male models.

"The way in which Marie Claire magazine is using these designs on their model is offensive," said Ngarino Ellis, a senior art history lecturer at the University of Auckland.

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"[Gaultier] was criticised then, which is why it is so surprising that Marie Claire want to repeat this obvious cultural insult."

Dr Ellis said only Maori could wear the moko, especially on the face. It identified the wearer's whakapapa, or genealogy, and role in their community and it was not a generic design that could be put on just anyone.

"Moko is complex and serious and not to be taken lightly," said Dr Ellis.

"It is disturbing that Marie Claire is so removed from current discussions globally about the importance of the fashion world to be ethical and culturally inclusive."

Ward is pictured with a painted moko and sporting a mohawk haircut on a fashion page themed "the punk effect". The text says: "Gaultier was profoundly influenced by the London punk scene - the anti-materialistic principles and nonconformist fashions ... here, Australian model Gemma Ward represents the anarchistic aesthetic."

Other high-profile non-Maori users of the moko have included singers Robbie Williams and Ben Harper.

Last month, New Zealand fashion designer Dame Trelise Cooper was forced to apologise for featuring native-American and Canadian First Nations' feathered head-dresses in her fashion show.

The garments were said to have deep cultural significance and drew a backlash from show guests and online.

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The Australian Marie Claire office did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.