Mana wahine – Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan

Cover of Whetu Tirikatene-SullivanWhetu Marama Tirikātene-Sullivan passed away in July. She is renowned as the first Māori woman cabinet minister. But she also had a major influence in the world of fashion and design, as this article Snapshot: A Māori Fashion Designer in the Berg Fashion Library reveals:

She commissioned a large number of garments incorporating Māori motifs by contemporary Māori artists, such as Sandy Adsett, Para Matchitt, Cliff Whiting, and Frank Davis. She wore these at her many public engagements, and they were generally regarded as her signature style. For many New Zealanders this was the first time they had seen such traditional elements in a new context.

Mrs Tirikatene-Sullivan (M.P.) at art exhibition (image on Kete Horowhenua from Horowhenua Historical Society Inc.)

9 thoughts on “Mana wahine – Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan

  1. Keri Hulme 22 September 2011 / 3:57 pm

    Decades ago, one of my younger sisters was given 2 beautiful Whetu Tirikatene formal dresses. They were voluptuously velvet, with kowhaiwhai patterns, and both were different but striking in their design and colours.
    I must check out what became of them…the Tirikatene whanau is whanau
    for us, albeit on a cousin line. I respected and admired Whetu (who I last met at a Motoitoi-Driver family reunion.) It was good to read this post her many abilities deserve a lot of recognition.

    • Doris de Pont 16 November 2012 / 12:01 pm

      Hello Keri – just doing some research about Art and Fashion for a potential exhibition and wondered if you followed up with your sister about these garments – wwe would love to know more if you can help please?

      • Dawn Bennett 28 March 2014 / 1:23 pm

        Tena koe Doris
        I have just come across this site. I adored Aunty Whetu. My Mother was very close to her.
        I was fortunate to be given Aunty Whetu’s designs some years ago.
        I am coming home next week. I would be happy to make contact with you in regards to your exhibition.
        Na mihi
        Dawn Bennett

  2. Haneta Pierce 23 September 2011 / 2:03 pm

    Kia ora Keri
    nga mihi aroha ki a koe, Thanks for your comments we hope that they will generate more conversations and memories of a much admired and loved Wahine toa


  3. jane 23 September 2011 / 5:12 pm

    I remember Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan’s clothes vividly -perhaps more than her politics! (Which says a lot more about me than her…) It was the first time really that we saw someone wearing Maori designs in such a contemporary way. She was very stylish and regal.

  4. pukekochick 20 October 2011 / 2:18 pm

    There is also a lovely article in the latest editon of Te Karaka magazine (No. 51, Spr 2011) about Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan. Check the CCL catalogue for the libraries which hold copies of Te Karaka or reserve a copy.

    As a footnote; The first 24 issues of Te Karaka are now available on-line at

    Here’s the link to the very first edition published in 1995. Can you find the article that mentions Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan? (Hint – page 5)

  5. pukekochick 13 January 2012 / 11:34 am

    See issue #52 of Te Karaka for an interview with Rino Tirikatene who successfully campaigned for the seat of Te Tai Tokerau in the last general election. Rino is a nephew of Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan. He discusses the family’s long involvement in politics starting with his grandfather Sir Eruera Tirikatene

    Here’s the link;

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