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Jenny Walker: Designer of Keisha's ‘Tiki’ Dress

Jenny Walker: Designer of the ‘Tiki’ Dress worn by Keisha Castle-Hughes

“One of my proudest moments” was Jenny Walker’s response when Keisha Castle-Hughes wore her ‘Tiki’ Dress at the IFP Independent Spirit Awards in Los Angeles – a major pre-Oscars event where Whale Rider achieved Best Foreign Film.

The Oscar-nominated 13 year old Keisha “was the best person I could have hoped would wear the dress” said Jenny, who set out to capture the essence of Maori heritage and culture in the dress design.

Created while Jenny was in Canada doing a fashion design course, the intention was “to incorporate a distinctly and wholly Kiwi icon into a dramatic fashion statement, emphasising the individuality that is so much a tradition of our people” says the designer.

“Many hours went into the making of the dress, yet the simplicity of the effect is perhaps the most compelling feature. It was great to have Keisha choose this dress over so many other options to represent New Zealand fashion at these special awards. How appropriate is a Tiki on a beautiful and talented young kiwi showing the World how great our New Zealand is, especially in this year when New Zealand is such a hit!”

On her return to New Zealand Jenny entered her Tiki dress in Westfield Style Pasifika 2003. Taking out the Supreme Award (a $20,000 trip to Versace in Milan, Italy) was, says Jenny, “a fabulous confirmation of my design”. The dress was judged and applauded by such fashion personalities as Denise L’Estrange-Corbett from WORLD and Liz Mitchell. “That Keisha then chose the dress was the icing on the cake!”

Jenny is looking forward to the Versace visit in June this year. “It’s hard to say just what might come out of the trip, but the experience of observing Versace will be an unimagined highlight to my short fashion career, just as absorbing the fashion of Milan will be inspiring beyond words.”

Following the trip she plans to release her own label which has been in the planning for a year or so. “My initial ideas for a specific range developed while I was in Vancouver. I hope to be geared up for that line by late 2004. I believe it’s something new to New Zealand and I will be one of the first to offer it. In addition I am keen to take on any freelance work which might progress my career and my budget”.

At just 27, Jenny graduated with a BA degree in Spanish and Japanese and then taught in Japan for 18 months before embarking on her fashion career with a year at Helen Lefeaux in Vancouver. She is Auckland based and can be contacted by email

For two young promising New Zealanders at the start of their respective careers, the world seems a smaller place and the sky’s the limit.

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