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It was truly a night to remember

Kumbon - 2 of Lisa Arut's designs
Models showcase two of Lisa Arut's original designs at the PNG Fashion Week grand finale


PORT MORESBY – “Last night’s Papua New Guinea fashion week extravaganza was mind boggling.

“It was a night of cultural renaissance, an awakening of another kind. Fashion has never been my forte but last night was a night to remember.”

These are the words I entered in my diary last Sunday morning after attending the memorable fashion week grand finale, named appropriately ‘The Awakening the Night Before’.

The event showcased the work of a handful of talented local designers at APEC Haus on the Port Moresby waterfront at Ela Beach.

In attendance were prime minister James Marape and Enga governor Sir Peter Ipatas, looking on as gifted designers from the four regions – Momase, Islands, Highlands and Southern - displayed their work.

The creations reflected aspects of our cultural diversity and exposed individual talent to a wider international audience in the billion dollar fashion industry.

It never occurred to me that one day I might sit in the front row of such an spectacle beside very important people and surrounded by elegantly dressed young men and women sipping wine at a premier fashion show.

I felt out of place in my weather-worn traditional highlands cap, favourite black collar shirt and matching black trousers. But I’m not the self-conscious type. I was in my own element, that’s my fashion.

I was there to provide moral support to a young Engan girl and her male partner to see her own designs which she had adapted to create distinct outfits. And here they were on show for the first time.

Coming from the highlands, it never occurred to me that such classic fashion shows might be a thing in PNG. I previously considered this as an isolated pastime involving fancy dress and make-up for offbeat local women.

But on this night, I discovered the world of fashion is in a class of its own.

Fashion in essence is the art of transforming simple apparel into attire of elegance.

I had understood a bit about the fashion industry and what it can do to transform young women when I read the book ‘Desert Flower’, it’s still somewhere in my collection at home.

Kumbon - Waris Dirie
Waris Dirie

The book recounts the extraordinary story of Waris Dirie who ran away from her father when he tried to marry her off to an old man for a bride price of a couple of camels.

Waris was born to live a nomadic life in the deserts of Somalia but she was not up for a forced marriage to an man old enough to be her father.

So she escaped into the night and ran for several days without food across the desert. To cut a long story short, Waris travelled the world to finally become a highly rated super model.

And last Saturday I sat through to the end of a fun filled night - 6pm to 10:30 pm – and discovered that fashion is not only good to look at. If properly organised it can employ hundreds of people and contribute towards economic development.

Moreover, it can also keep PNG’s diverse cultures alive by adapting traditional designs to fabrics and thereafter to clothing which could draw attention internationally.

I was glad prime minister Marape and governor Ipatas were there to see how fashion can play a part in ‘taking back PNG to make it the richest black Christian nation on earth’.

In fact those words from Marape’s war cry slogan were repeated by Ellen Whippy-Knight, managing director of Fiji fashion week who delivered the keynote address on the night.

Ms Whippy-Knight explained how Fiji Fashion Week has boosted the local economy and flourished despite initial negativity from naysayers when it was established in 2009.

She said PNG’s fashion industry can also grow and contribute towards nation building because the country has the resources and can easily draw strength from its cultural diversity.

The prime minister responded giving an assurance that his government will support such initiatives and saying he was enjoying the night. (I know he was because he never left his seat until the very end.)

Then the music began to play and wave after wave of smart young men and women graced the catwalk and put life into newly-designed garments from all four regions.

A couple of days earlier, a taste of Russian culture had been on display at Vision City where models adorned in various styles of their national attire were on the runway as part of a week of activities leading to the main APEC Haus event.

Russia like PNG has drawn its fashion inspiration from traditional folklore, handcrafts and architecture.

Kumbon - Lisa Arut
Lisa Arut from Enga - winner of the award for best emerging designer of the year

When the fashion awards were announced, the young Engan girl, Telwan Lisa Arut, won the award for best emerging designer of the year.

Ms Arut said she had not expected to win as she had only recently graduated from a six month course in fashion design.

“I was surprised when my name was called,” Lisa said. “I was also overjoyed to win to make my province proud.

“This is encouraging for a young female designer like me. I will grow from here.

“I hope more designers from Enga will be found. I know there are more talented fashion designers out there waiting to be discovered in my part of the world.”

Stanley Peasaro, whose textile designs Lisa had incorporated into her fabrics, had also been selected to travel to Port Moresby for the fashion week showdown.

So in a sense they were both winners.

PNG Fashion Week was launched in 2016 with a mission to showcase Papua New Guinean culturally-inspired fashion and designs.

I went away convinced that the fashion industry was able to absorb many of the young school leavers who graduate every year from secondary school but who miss out on a place in higher education.

On Monday, two days after that big night of fashion, more than 29,000 Grade 12 students sat for their final national examinations.

I hope some will be absorbed into PNG’s growing fashion industry. And maybe one day some of our people will grace the catwalks of Paris, London and New York.

If a nomad girl from Somalia could do it, is it not possible for a girl from Papua New Guinea?


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Porap Gai

Thanks Daniel for reviewing the fascinating event you came across that night.

I am overwhelmed to read that even the Engans performed to win and were awarded for the night's event.

Need more from you Tat, ambrep ong....

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