Kiwi designer Karen Walker is no stranger to collaborations and has her finger on the pulse of how to communicate through fashion, working across a multitude of platforms with makers and craftspeople.

Karen Walker team members Libby Spring (left), Kerry Ranginui and Kelsey Kosoof with model Anmari Botha. Image supplied

Karen Walker team members Libby Spring (left), Kerry Ranginui and Kelsey Kosoof with model Anmari Botha. Image supplied

This time, the designer has taken part in an international design and craft showcase featuring 53 countries of the Commonwealth as part of The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, created and managed by Eco-Age and developed in partnership with Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MATCHESFASHION.COM with the support of the Commonwealth Fashion Council and the British Fashion Council.

The project celebrates the talent, power and potential of artisans and designers and encourages new partnerships, trade networks and sustainability.

The reception was hosted by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. Walker represented New Zealand alongside other international names and luxury labels including Stella McCartney and Burberry for the United Kingdom.

Designers were partnered with artisans to create one-of-a-kind looks that were showcased at a special reception at Buckingham Palace during London Fashion Week.  Karen Walker has collaborated with craftswomen from the Cook Islands, the Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās based in Māngere in Auckland, to create a gown that combines her chic-meets-eccentric handwriting with traditional Cook Islands tivaivai.

“Being part of such a significant project has been a really special experience for me and seeing all the designers together at Buckingham Palace, alongside my new life long friend Tukua, was the icing on the cake,” says Walker who calls it one of her career highlights.

Karen Walker X Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās, image supplied.

Karen Walker X Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās, image supplied.

73-year-old Māmā Tukua Turia was the lead artisan from the Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās in attendance at Buckingham Palace with Walker as their collaboration was unveiled amongst 30 other dresses.

Tivaivai are central to Cook islands culture and although the origins derive from traditional bed covers, they are traditionally gifted to friends and family on special occasions and are a manifestation of love and honour. For the women of the Cook Islands who create these masterpieces which require several months to complete, it is said ‘you are not a woman without a tivaivai.’

Listen to the podcast with Karen Walker

The Karen Walker X Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās tivaivai dress created for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange is a strapless formal gown with a complex bow and pleated bodice replete with six metres of fabric gathered and tucked into a full-length skirt. Crafted in dusty pink Italian wool flannel, the dress is covered in claret coloured embroidered flowers.

Walker says she came away from the collaboration with a sense of awe, having shared and learned so much about the history and culture of the tivaivai.

“There’s a freshness to the collaboration [in] working with these artisans on a completely handcrafted piece,” she says of the skills that had been applied and lovingly passed down through generations.