Catwalks and kidnappings: Fashion designer Kharl WiRepa on his rise from rock bottom

Kidnapped, beaten, tied to a chair with an electric cord and a steak knife stuck in his thigh.

This wasn’t how 2018 was supposed to be for Kharl WiRepa, who had achieved an incredible first in fashion less than a year earlier, becoming the first Māori designer ever to see her work on the pages of the influential British Vogue fashion bible.

In view of the broadcast of the Dresses and geysers TV show that goes behind the scenes of the whims, tears and tiaras of the Miss Rotorua pageant she revived in 2018, and her return to the New Zealand Fashion Week runway, WiRepa sat with Stuff to discuss a roller coaster of a few years.

It’s a conversation that embraces fashion, faith, Princess Diana, $ 1000 meth binges, runways and courtrooms – once as a victim, once as a defendant.

Misan Harriman became the first black male photographer to shoot the cover of British Vogue after editor Edward Enninful noticed his shots of Black Lives Matter activists.

* Red carpet in Rotorua at the start of the 2021 Indigenous Beauty Contest
* Tiaras and Whims at Miss Rotorua 2020
* Fashionista’s personal mission to bring back the glamor
* Miss Rotorua is aiming for the reality show crown
* Kiwi stylist Kharl WiRepa was convicted of fraud
* Designer Rotorua secures Vogue at New Zealand Fashion Week

In a curious change of timing before his show at New Zealand Fashion Week on February 8, it’s that show, in 2017, that WiRepa believes he put on show. Rowing radar – not that he believed it at the time.

Since the call came Rowing Condé Nast publisher, “I really didn’t believe it”.

“I thought well, this is a telemarketing scheme, or it will result in a ‘Nigerian prince’ asking me for a credit card number.”

In any case, he “played along” and sent some photos of his projects by e-mail, then he immediately forgot about them.

Four months later they got back in touch and wanted more photographs.

WiRepa laughs when he admits that he still thought the “Nigerian prince” was the most likely person on the other side, but that changed when a few months later a magazine package arrived.

“I turned the pages and saw the dress. In that moment, for me, it became very real. “

The Kharl WiRepa design that appeared in the September 2017 edition of Vogue UK, making him the first Maori designer to have his work in the fashion bible.


The Kharl WiRepa design appeared in the September 2017 edition of Vogue UK, making him the first Maori designer to have his work in the fashion bible.

However, he admits that the victory was clouded by other events going on in his life at the time, including a series of fraud allegations.

“We were fighting for the suppression of the name and that was the only thing that crossed my mind at the time when all these great things were happening.”

Eventually WiRepa lost that battle and was convicted of 14 counts of benefit fraud totaling $ 11,844.16 and ordered to repay that cash to the Ministry of Social Development.

The allegations stemmed from time spent studying fashion at the Waiariki Institute, now Toi Ohomai, and referred to a two-year and eight-month period starting in 2014.

They included creating forged documents while failing to disclose the organization of life, which allowed WiRepa to claim much more in student living allowance than it was entitled to.

Talking with Stuff at the time, he said he accepted that he made a mistake and was optimistic about the publicity he knew would inevitably follow after Judge Marie McKenzie refused the deletion of the name.

Kharl WiRepa promised a speech on the

Tom Lee / Stuff

Kharl WiRepa promised an “open book” speech and was true to her word, with topics including her historic Vogue appearance, runways, courtrooms, and getting back on the runway.

“It’s not my role to hide this fraud from the national and international fashion communities,” she said at the time.

WiRepa is sincere about the stress of those times. He describes how a fashion world awash with drugs and alcohol set the wheels in motion for his next encounter with the fields, this time as a victim.

“So, for me, going to the races and snorting a line of cocaine in the bathroom, going out on Saturday nights and smoking $ 1000 worth of meth was not unusual.

“There has definitely been a relapse on drugs and alcohol.”

He says exposure to the media has caused a loss of credibility, sponsors and clothing sales.

“I went back into alcohol and stayed around with the dark side of my colleagues.”

Kharl WiRepa admits that it wasn't there a few years ago

TOM LEE / STUFF / Waikato Times

Kharl WiRepa admits that a few years ago there was “nothing unusual” about smoking $ 1000 worth of methamphetamine on a Saturday night. He’s since cleaned up and when he spoke to the Sunday Star-Times, there was nothing stronger than green tea on the menu.

In 2018, a woman chose not to mention the name, pleaded guilty to illegally detaining WiRepa and injuring with intent to cause serious personal injury.

She emerged from under the covers of a bed in a house where WiRepa had been invited. He was holding a 6-inch long steak knife and asked for drugs and cash, telling WiRepa, “I’ll cut your eyes off and I can get you killed.”

WiRepa was then tied to a chair, attacked and stabbed.

The woman and her associates took the methamphetamine she was wearing, her cash and jewelry, and only left after he agreed to draw a map to guide them to a “pharmacy”.

WiRepa agrees it was the bottom.

“At this point there is no money left, I was kidnapped. The day of the kidnapping, that was the last of the money. The drugs, the jewels … they had taken it all. “

The experience left WiRepa with post-traumatic stress disorder and he has since undergone counseling, but it has also given him the spark to change things.

“One thing I’ve always had is my talent, so I always knew I could bounce back,” he says.

“Sobriety was something I needed, but I needed to surround myself with better people. There are a lot of toxic people in the fashion and entertainment industry; it is very superficial, so many false reports, so many claims ”.

He says his Mormon faith also played a role.

“I want to go back to the church and all those things my family is built on, that area of ​​my life, to rebuild myself spiritually, mentally and physically.

“Leaving the church was the biggest mistake I made.

“Relieved with pride, you become disconnected. Sometimes the Lord gives us a life lesson where he takes things away so you can learn again. The whole thing was a spiritual experience, even the rapture.

“I wouldn’t change it. Now I’m in a better position ”.

Fashion designer Kharl WiRepa is gearing up for a busy 2022, with the return to the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week and the airing of the behind-the-scenes TV show of her Miss Rotorua pageant.

Tom Lee / Stuff

Fashion designer Kharl WiRepa is gearing up for a busy 2022, with the return to the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week and the airing of the behind-the-scenes TV show of her Miss Rotorua pageant.

Now, while sipping green tea, WiRepa is healthier and fitter than ever.

He is excited about the release of Dresses and geysers on TVNZ on request on January 22, and is watching Mt Maunganui and Taupō versions of the show.

“In every city and iwi, until I rule the nation,” he jokes.

He’s proud that the contests have raised more than $ 150,000 for 30 charities and the diversity and inclusiveness they promote – these aren’t your old-school bikini show events.

“Former prostitutes, drug addicts, spina bifida patients, Chinese competitors, Indian competitors”.

He also tells the contestants about one of his icons, Princess Diana.

“I grew up in a world where Princess Diana was the quintessential fashion icon and the best way to be a person,” he says, citing her charity work.

“Contests are a way for us to create a Princess Dianas world.”

Then there is the return to New Zealand Fashion Week.

WiRepa has spent the past three months working on her collection of 65 different looks and promises an antidote to the dark, grungy and sexualized shows that sometimes grace the runways.

“I want the audience to feel like they are in heaven,” he says.

“This is the collection for what goddesses wear.”

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