If Adrienne Whitewood were to have words implanted on her forehead they'd read "profoundly Rotorua proud".

This multi-talented home town woman's heart, mind and soul is ingrained with love and respect for her birthplace; it's where she's carved out a career that's garnering international recognition.

"I think my strength is I don't just do one thing to do with design."

Her fashion label's on many a tourist's shopping list - just watch them come through her shop door and see, as we did, the couriers who whiz in to collect piles of online shoppers' orders.

Adrienne Whitewood's Ahu collection is modelled at the Te Puia fashion show Tiki Ahua last September. Photo/File
Adrienne Whitewood's Ahu collection is modelled at the Te Puia fashion show Tiki Ahua last September. Photo/File

In addition Adrienne makes puipui-inspired fringe jewellery, she screenprints and collectors are clamouring for her artwork. Hinemoa's her inspiration; her model, district councillor Tania Tapsell, is a direct descendant of Rotorua's legendary lady of love.

Whitewood T-shirts feature outlines of her friend's face - one a stunning profile mirror image.

This indisputably creative craftswoman's aim is to "keep it local". Where possible she sources her fabrics in the city, her sewers (there's no longer time to sew herself) are locals, as are those who tread the catwalk in shows and parades in which her designs feature. Her contribution to last year's Te Puia parade was a show-stopper.

Choosing local models is a no-brainer. "Rotorua has some extremely beautiful, stylie women, Te Arawa business women are particularly glamorous." She's chuffed mayor Steve Chadwick's a dedicated Whitewood label wearer.

She dressed Maori TV's anchor woman, Ohinemutu's Kahurangi Maxwell, for February's Te Matatini Festival.

"My website crashed with the pressure of so many people ordering the motifs I used for her."

The statement's frankly spoken, unlike some designer luvvies there's not a trace of arrogance about it. We'd challenge anyone to find a boastful bone in Adrienne Whitewood's body; she's far too grounded to inflate her self-image.

Proof comes in the first thing she tells us about herself, it's the admission she had to have two goes at 7th form (Year 13) exams. She needed them to get into AUT for the Bachelor of Design and Fashion she subsequently obtained.


"I never won academic awards, I always had this passion for fashion."

The trait's an inherited one. "I guess you could say our whole family's been in the clothing workforce one way or another."

Her grandmother, Lucy Whitewood, was a seamstress, her grandfather a presser in ex-All Black Allan McNaughton's dry cleaners.

"My mother always went to school perfectly pressed".

Her father, Darren Brown, sewed in a local factory, her mum, Michelle Brown, made her daughters' special occasion clothing. Of her surname's disparity with her parents' Whitewood is her grandmother's last name. "It's my legal name."

Adrienne and her sister, Natasha, were born 11 months apart, as tightly-bonded as twins.


"We wore matching outfits as our mother and her sisters did before us."

With such an impressive fashion-related whakapapa she doesn't quibble with our suggestion her career was pre-destined.

"When I was about 8 my grandmother Lucy taught me how to sew, make dolls' clothes; from then on I would be drawing my own designs and using my grandmother's scraps to make things, I simply loved it."

 Adrienne Whitewood pictured back in 2013,
Adrienne Whitewood pictured back in 2013,

Her youthful grounding in all things clothing-related led her to AUT's winner's podium for its Head Of Fashion school award.

Her garments have been first down the runway in Auckland's Rookie fashion show, and she's a four-time New Zealand Fashion Week veteran.

"I was flabbergasted to be there, it was definitely inspirational, the audience realises this person is reputable."


Regardless of the big city offers that flowed in from such high-profile showcases, Adrienne never shook off her homesickness during her three years away from Rotorua.

"The Auckland lifestyle wasn't for me, I never appreciated it here until I left and realised how many more opportunities I had at home."

In 2011 she was selected for a summer arts residency at RAVE and was sufficiently "blown away" by the response to quit her job behind a local fashion store's counter to move into Eruera St's Tiki Villa, then on to an artists' collective.

"It was an awesome opportunity to grow but when my $40 tees began to conflict with $40 seats it was time to do my own thing."

She moved across the street from Tiki Villa, opening Ahu. The store's name's a derivative of the Maori word 'kakahu' meaning 'clothing' or 'to dress'. She shares floor space with fellow Maori-inspired designers. They take turns 'minding the store'.

Away from it Adrienne has launched a Vlog interviewing designers throughout the Pacific, the inspiration coming from an indigenous conference she attended.


A couple of weeks ago she was in Hawaii for her newly-launched Thread of the Pacific Vlog. This week she's headed for Samoa, next month it's Fiji's turn. "I'm concentrating on how these Pacific people make their textiles."

While in Fiji her work's to be the local fashion week focal point.

A trip to Europe last year inspired its own series. "I did little Vlogs of me wearing my clothing in front of landmarks like Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower."

With sponsorship from the Snowberry skincare range, there was a "so amazing" tour of a leather factory in Florence; in Austria she was "blown away" by a John Paul Gautier exhibition.

"It was in Swarovski House, their crystals were an integral part of his exhibition, I was just 'wow, wow, wow', getting to see a top European designer like that was hugely inspiring, I would love to aspire to that level of excellence in everything the European fashion houses do."

Of her work on the other side of the world her self-description is of being an unselfish designer.


"I'm a jeans and T-shirt girl, but when designing I always have my customers in mind, what reflects who they are in multi-cultural New Zealand, women who work in an environment making conscious decisions on what they wear and what they want to represent."

Born: Rotorua, 1987.
Education: Malfroy Primary, Rotorua Intermediate, Girls' High.
Family: Parents, sister, grandparents.
Interests: Fashion, church. "Growing up in a Christian family's influenced what I do". Food "My sister and I've always been foodies". Walking "I walk around Tikitapu [Blue Lake] a couple of times a week." Member Inner City Focus Group.
On her designer style: "Directional high-end, Maori-inspired women's wear."
What's next? "Air New Zealand's invited me to stage a Maori-themed fashion soiree for its female heads of staff next month; my sister's doing the food."
On Rotorua: "We're seeing the city boom with creative, boutique and retail culture. What's not to love about it?"
Personal philosophy: "Live with passion."