Rule breaker, pattern maker: how designer Kerry Trent Ranginui makes a style statement

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When he's not designing for Karen Walker, Kerry Trent Ranginui creates dazzling outfits for her drag character, Miss Kerry Berry.

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When he’s not designing for Karen Walker, Kerry Trent Ranginui creates dazzling outfits for her drag character, Miss Kerry Berry.

According to him, Kerry Trent Ranginui (Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi) was always going to end up behind a sewing machine.

Some of her earliest sartorial memories involve her mother sewing her own clothes to save money. “It’s always fascinated me that she can turn a folded piece of fabric into a dress,” says Ranginui, who some might recognize from 2018’s reality show Project Runway New Zealand (he placed third ).

Without a doubt, says Ranginui, witnessing her mother’s sewing skills was a catalyst for her own career in fashion.

By day, Ranginui runs Karen Walker’s sample room as the fashion brand’s head pattern maker and designer. Outside of work, Ranginui channels her fashion talents into her drag persona Miss Kerry Berry, who performs regularly at Caluzzi Cabaret, a landmark venue that has been part of Auckland’s queer history on Karangahape Rd for a quarter of a century.

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“One of the most sentimental pieces of clothing in my wardrobe is my Caluzzi uniform,” Ranginui recalls. “Some of New Zealand’s greatest drag queens have spent decades serving, performing and entertaining here. It’s a privilege to be asked to work there and it’s a job I do with ease. I am very proud to be a Caluzzi girl.”

While he happily dons the Caluzzi uniform, Ranginui generally does not follow dress rules. “Obviously dress for the occasion, whatever it is, but it’s more important to dress for yourself. Personally, I choose to use fashion to make a statement.”

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“As a proud gay man, I wear the rainbow shamelessly.”

My culture is definitely present in my jewelry and accessories. Most of my jewelry is pounamu or bone, and I prefer manufactured diamonds to real ones. My friend Nick Von K is my go-to for all my jewelry, he truly understands balance in design and is not afraid of scale. It also encapsulated the use of pounamu with great mana. I love her huia beak earrings.

I carry a kete with me almost every day. My favorite being a rainbow kete made for me by my harakeke weaver cousin. As a proud gay man, I wear the rainbow shamelessly. Every year, Converse releases some really cool pride designs.

Architecture and history are my biggest inspirations. Like fashion, the shapes, cut and style of architecture can be identified with a time or era. A good example in my wardrobe is a carpet bag from Wynn Hamlyn. I worked for Wynn for two years when his label was just getting started.

His Axminster collection was based on rug designs, I remember how difficult it was to sew a rug on a sewing machine. I had to stand with the mat resting against my body as I tapped the pedal with my toes. One of those late night fashion week memories that will live with me forever, I’m so grateful to own an original from the show.

Left: A Zambezi dress that Kerry wore at NZFW.  Right: A carpet bag from Wynn Hamlyn.

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Left: A Zambezi dress that Kerry wore at NZFW. Right: A carpet bag from Wynn Hamlyn.

My wardrobe would definitely read like fun and bold personalities. It’s half Kerry’s clothes and half Miss Kerry Berry’s dressing room. My daytime wardrobe consists of lots of colors and prints, versatile mix-and-match pieces that create a vast wardrobe. Kerry Berry’s wardrobe has a lot more volume, lots of reflective fabrics, sequins and sparkles. She’s kind of there to create a bit more attention for herself.

Although I like to wear a good suit, I’m probably happier and more authentic in a dress.. My favorite of my dresses is an organza design I made a few years ago. It is a modern take on a Victorian wedding dress on display at the Whanganui Museum. This was one of my favorite dresses to see as a kid, so I decided to make a version for myself.

I loved the story behind it: the bride wore black as her father had died a few months before, many people during Queen Victoria’s reign wore black during mourning. Even though it was pretty morbid, I always wanted to get married in something similar. I have always been influenced by royal dress.

When I started working for Karen 12 years ago, it was a real dream to own a Karen Walker trench coat. They are so timeless and the style never fades. It was the first of about 14 that I have purchased over the years.

I bought this Zambezi dress to wear to fashion week for Zambesi’s 40-year retrospective. I bought it from Designer Wardrobe for a low price. I’m always amazed that a label can exist for so long and still have very relevant classic pieces. The pattern of this dress is so simple and effortless.

Left to right: A Swanndri jacket that belonged to Kerry's Koro, Kerry's first Karen Walker trench coat, a Bob Mackie jacket.

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Left to right: A Swanndri jacket that belonged to Kerry’s Koro, Kerry’s first Karen Walker trench coat, a Bob Mackie jacket.

This Bob Mackie jacket was my most expensive impulse buy. I had a bad friend who encouraged me. I tried it on and didn’t want to take it off. It’s super camp and covered in gems and glitter. It’s one of the few pieces I own that I wear in and out of drag. I’m pretty sure that’s a fake too.

When my grandfather passed away, part of his wardrobe was given to me because we were the same size. He wore this Swanndri almost every day I saw him, often paired with a cheese slicer. I wear it when I get home for Christmas as it is very cold in Palmerston North, family members always smile when they see Koro is still with us every year. I guess he is over 50 years old.

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