Made of Haute Couture Embroidery

Jackie Yoong

Fashion and Textiles Senior Curator, Asian Civilisation Museum Singapore

ACM Fashion and Textiles Senior Curator Jackie Yoong (JY) interviews Andrew Gn (AG), Singaporean fashion designer based in Paris; and Pauline Chan (PC), donor.

JY: Why did you bid for the Prestige Singapore charity mask by Andrew Gn and donate it to ACM?

PC:  The Prestige charity mission resonated with me: “In the spirit of giving back, Prestige is collaborating with three Singaporean fashion designers to create exclusive handcrafted face masks for a fundraising campaign.”

It had all the elements that I hold dearly and support – charity, the media Prestige and Singaporean fashion designer. When I saw a picture of the mask, I knew it would be just too difficult to pass up. Happy to donate the mask as it can then be seen and appreciated by more people and for a long time to come. A beauty to be shared!

JY: Why did you partner Prestige Singapore to make this creation during the pandemic?

AG: Because it was part of a drive for a charity

JY: How does the design capture your thoughts of the (pandemic) moment?

AG: I designed my SS21 collection during the heart of the 1st pandemic wave, when all of us were living in anxiety and fear. I named the collection “May There Be Light” because I wished it would simply bring joy, pleasure and hope. Times were very grim, but I was confident we’ll be celebrating again someday. This is why I thought of white, which symbolizes purity, cleansing, rebirth.

JY: Please share more about the creative and technical processes behind your exquisitely crafted creation

AG: The white looks in that collection were worked with contrasting textures and materials: guipure, silk, lace, tweed, fringe… Smooth and knobby, matte and shiny, soft and structured. I used similar couture techniques for the mask: appliqué guipure flowers and braiding on a double layer of silk organza.

JY: How do you feel about the successful auction bidder donating the work to ACM and for the work to be included in an international exhibition on pandemic facemasks?

AG: I’d like to thank very warmly Ms. Pauline Chan for generously bidding for the mask and then donating it to ACM. It’s also an honour for me to be exhibited in this ICOM Costume exhibition alongside works from other international museums which I love, admire and have visited.

Image credit

Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore

Made with tradition

Isaac Te Awa (Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Ngā Puhi)

Curator Mātauranga Māori, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa


*List with definitions of Māori terms at the end of the article.

Purewa MacGregor (Ngāti-Tama-Rongo, Muaūpoko) is a Māori weaver currently based in Hastings, Aotearoa New Zealand. Her mother Tracey, Aunt Pare, and sister Niwa are all accomplished weavers with strong links to whiri techniques. Despite coming from a whānau of competent weavers, Purewa has only been weaving for four years. She credits her sister Niwa with initially teaching her the foundations of raranga before she was taken under the wing of well-known master weaver Fiona Jones.

Purewa’s development of the concept of the harakeke mask was in direct response to what she saw on television and in person in the build up to Alert Level 4 lockdown in March and April 2020.

”I saw Māori everywhere wearing scarves, bandanas, hats, and all sorts of things looking for a way of protection during the pandemic and I decided to create something for them. I wanted a way to help my community in a way that allowed them to be safe and be Māori.”

Purewa MacGregor, 2020

The foundation of the raranga mask is woven from boiled harakeke and lined with fabric which can be hand washed and air dried to ensure cleanliness. Purewa noted that all the construction techniques used are those she uses regularly in other woven taonga, therefore the adaptation to a mask was very easy. In order to make a product that was functional she liaised via email with Associate Professor for the University of Auckland Doctor Siouxsie Wiles who kindly offered advice on how to make sure the lining had adequate protection. This was important for Purewa who wanted to ensure she did her best to produce a quality mask. Although there is no formal study to demonstrate that these specific masks adequately protect from covid-19, the response from the Māori community has been significant and positive with Te Ao Māori News producing a story on Tuesday 7 April 2020.[i] Although she was part of the consulting for these masks Doctor Siouxsie Wiles also advised caution with their use.[ii]

In the past many of the visible aspects of Māori culture were suppressed by colonisation. With Covid, it feels like masks have the potential to supress our visible identities. Having items, like masks, that loudly identify with Māori practices continues the reclamation of culture and identity.

Purewa MacGregor, 2021

Purewa describes the response and demand for her masks as overwhelming. Initially priced at $50.00 each, Purewa was forced to raise the price to $100 in order to justify the time required by her to keep up with demand, as their production is time consuming and not based on making profit. The masks have been predominantly purchased by Māori men and the feedback she has received indicated that they are being worn by essential service workers, or people who feel they are in need of protection. During the initial lock down period, Purewa produced and sold at least 40 masks and is still asked to make them over a year later.

*Definition of Māori terms[iii]

Māori: indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Aotearoa: indigenous Māori name for New Zealand.

Whiri: Braid or plait.

Whānau: extended family.

Harakeke: Phormium tenax. New Zealand flax.

Taonga: treasure or prized possession.

[i] Te Ao – Māori News. 2021. ‘Hawkes Bay artist makes facemasks from harakeke’.

[ii] Sadler, R. 2021. ‘Coronavirus: Siouxsie Wiles warns harakeke face masks may not be protective’. News Hub.

[iii] Moorfield, John. 2003-2021. Te Aka Online Māori Dictionary.

Image credit

Purewa wearing her Raranga Mask, 2020. Courtesy of Purewa MacGregor.