Jacob Coutie_working.jpg

Communicating through clothes on the catwalk

Thursday 24 August 2017

Tackling aggressive masculinity is a tough topic to communicate in any language, but Massey design student Jacob Coutie, Ngāti Raukawa/Tainui, is getting his message out through his clothes.

Mr Coutie won Miromoda’s Emerging Designer award in June and has been selected to show his menswear collection ‘Toa’ at New Zealand Fashion Week’s NZPost Miromoda Showcase next Thursday.

He describes his style as artisanal – a combination of loose and fitted wear mixed with tailoring, blended with utilitarian wear providing functionality and comfort.

“Toa is seen as a warrior in a sort of western sense but I’m trying to extract the concepts of bravery and success and overcoming obstacles to achieve something,” Mr Coutie says. “I’m tackling the big constructs of masculinity – wanting to pull apart these masculine and feminine notions and put them into garments. I have a lot of soft white silky pieces and then I’ll have these hard-core denim/black garments with paint splattered on them so it’s very contrasting.”

Mr Coutie says ‘Toa’ is his most profoundly tikanga Māori-inspired collection and while the garments don’t feature obvious Māori motifs, there are deep concepts he wants to get across. “It’s just tokenism to pop a koru on something and think that’s made it Māori – I want to put a bit more thought into it.”

He says his ‘Toa’ collection touches on notions of rangatiratanga – a mix of chieftainship and self-awareness and identity. “For instance, I have a range of feather jewels that I’m going to be putting onto the male models. They’re made from white turkey flats but they’re identical to huia feathers and this speaks to the concept ‘houhanga a rongo’, to make peace with oneself.”

Mr Coutie says the ultimate achievement for him would be having people comprehend the level of thought that’s gone into every element of his collection.

Jacob Coutie_Toa

Image from Jacob Coutie's Toa collection. 

His interest in fashion design developed early with a passion for character design at primary school. “I was interested in what identities inform a character and one of those identities was dress.” With the help of his Nana, who taught him to sew and his koro (grandfather) who inspired a sense of pride in what you wear, Mr Coutie developed his own sense of style.

“It takes confidence to style yourself how you see fit, especially if that means not wearing what your best mate’s wearing. In terms of design it takes confidence to produce work that people may not agree with, and you know that people may not agree with, but you flourish knowing that you’re doing what you enjoy and what you want to see on a person or on yourself even.”

At Fairfield College in Hamilton his passion for fashion was complemented by a love of gymnastics and diving. He won gold for New Zealand at international age group diving competitions. “If there’s one thing I can recommend for young people, it’s get yourself into a sport where you can discipline yourself to do something every day. Honestly it’s one of the best things and I was passionate about it.”

Following high school, a gap year working at Barkers Menswear in Hamilton gave him an insight into what customers want. "I was astounded how conservative men were when it came to dressing themselves.” Mr Coutie says moving to Wellington to study at Massey University’s School of Design opened up a whole new world of expressiveness. In his final year now, he is looking forward to graduating later this year and hoping for a New Zealand-based job in design.

Jacob Coutie