Jacinda Ardern accomplished a lot throughout her five-year term as prime minister of New Zealand. She was sworn in on October 26, 2017, at age 37 — just two months after taking over as leader of the Labour Party. In doing so, Ardern became the country’s youngest leader and the world’s youngest female head of government in history. She also became only the second elected leader in history to give birth while in office on June 21, 2018, becoming a role model for working mums around the world by juggling an impressive work/life balance.
However, the pressures of leading the country through some intense times, including the terrorist events in Christchurch on March 15, 2019; the White Island volcano eruption which killed 22 people and injured 25 others; the Covid-19 pandemic; an ongoing housing crisis and the threat of a global recession. It isn’t hard to see why she announced that it was time to gracefully bow out of the role on 19 January.
“I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not,” Ardern said. “I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”
But it’s not just political diplomacy that she excelled in; Ardern has received plaudits for her lessons in fashion diplomacy throughout her years of leadership. She cut a fashionable figure with her smart-casual sartorial style and penchant for unstructured, timeless designs like blouses, coats, blazers and skirts. Ardern also had unwavering support for local designers, showcasing homegrown talent, including Ingrid Starnes, Tanya Carlson, Harman Grubisa, Emilia Wickstead, Kate Sylvester, Maaike, Karen Walker and Juliette Hogan, on the world stage.
According to designer Juliette Hogan, who has just launched her JH Lounge range in Australia and dressed the PM for her first meeting with the Queen, Ardern’s choices are authentic.
“Jacinda had been wearing our garments for a number of years before she became PM,” Hogan says. “I think her impact to our business and to the wider NZ fashion industry has been significant. I really admire and appreciate her dedication to championing NZ brands wherever possible both locally and on a world stage.”
Ardern also developed a reputation for including traditional Māori clothing in her rotation, including a black feathered Kakahu by designer Kiri Nathan and Kawakawa leaf earrings by Twilight Edwards, which Ardern wore on Waitangi Day 2021.
As we take a moment to appreciate her achievements during her tenure at the top of New Zealand politics, we’re also reflecting on some of Jacinda Ardern’s best fashion moments
2022: Queen Elizabeth II’s State Funeral
At Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral on September 19, 2022, Ardern cut a fashionable and appropriately somber figure in a straightforward yet classic form for her all-black outfit, a fitted dress by local fashion designer Juliette Hogan with long sleeves and a high neckline. She accessorised the look with black tights, stiletto heels, and matching black millinery by Pirongia-based designer Monika Neuhauser. Ardern chose a straightforward clutch from Wellington designer Yu Mei for her purse. She wore the garment with a custom-made feather Kākahu, a traditional cloak crafted for the occasion by Māori designer, Kiri Nathan as an additional homage to Aotearoa.
2022: Opening the ‘New Zealand Design Edit’ at David Jones
Ardern joined key designers, industry leaders and ministerial representatives for the launch of ‘The ‘New Zealand Design Edit’ at the David Jones Sydney Elizabeth Street Flagship store.
“The products that we are showcasing today from Aotearoa, NZ are rooted and grounded so firmly in our nation, who we are, our culture, our heritage, our values,” Ardern said at the launch. “NZ has a rich design culture, and we would like to think that it’s among the best in the world. There is a unique perspective that New Zealanders bring that’s fresh and constantly challenging convention.”
2022: Meeting President Joe Biden & VP Kamala Harris
To commemorate the first visit to the Oval Office by a New Zealand Prime Minister since John Key met with Barack Obama in 2014, Ardern wore a Juliette Hogan coat and dress.
2022: Meeting Boris Johson, 10 Downing Street
In July 2022, when speaking with the former prime minister of the UK, Ardern adopted the popular look of Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales. She accessorised an Emilia Wickstead calf-length cream dress with a high, clean neckline with bare feet, little jewelry, and natural waves in her hair. The outfit was nearly identical to one worn by Middleton in 2016 when on a royal trip to Bhutan and India.
2022: World of WearableArts
On September 30, 2022, Ardern participated in the opening of Wellington’s World of WearableArts show. To commemorate the return of the program for the first time in two years, Ardern modeled a dress that required two fittings, one of which was held on the day. The “specially commissioned sculpture” was created by Dylan Mulder, a 3D artist and industrial designer from New Zealand. The Mulder outfit, according to a WOW spokeswoman, is a nod to the land’s relationship and the mountains of Aotearoa. A spokesperson for Ardern’s office said in a statement that Ardern felt “privileged” to have met the designer and the exceptional WOW team and was “more than happy to take part in an important recovery milestone for the arts sector.” The spokesperson added that Ardern would continue to support activities that increase regional tourism and the economy’s recovery.
2022: Cover of Time Magazine
Ardern wore a white silk top from Ingrid Starnes for her appearance on the cover of TIME magazine to mark the anniversary of the March 15 Christchurch shootings. Starnes and her team shared the news across their social media:
“This white silk piece is nearly three years old, and like many things the PM wears, has been in steady rotation. It was made one afternoon before the debates leading to the last election. We’d put together the suit for the evening, and it felt like it needed a cleaner simpler top, so Ingrid and Alex in our team quickly cut, sewed and finished the piece. We love the way the PM supports local, and how her values always shine through. The cover of Time would probably count as reason enough for a new top, but like all our pieces – that we hope will be worn and loved for years to come – this top, cared for, carefully made and considered, comes out. It’s the kind of sustainability we love, and the kind of quiet approach to just doing things for the right reasons that we are so proud to see on the world stage.”
2019: British Vogue Debut
Ardern dressed in looks by New Zealand designers Emilia Wickstead and Jessica McCormack for her British Vogue debut in September 2019. She was shot by renowned photographer Peter Lindbergh for the cover of the historic ‘Forces for Change’ issue. Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, served as the first special guest editor for the issue that celebrates female changemakers chosen by the Duchess at the forefront of fashion, film, technology, and wellness. Other changemakers recognized included LGBTQIA+ advocate and actor Laverne Cox, body positivity advocate and actor Jameela Jamil, and climate change campaigner and student Greta Thunberg.
2018: Becoming the first PM to be featured in Vogue
When Ardern, then 37, was profiled in US Vogue for its March issue in 2018, she made history as the country’s first female prime minister. Ardern was pictured on a windswept beach in the North Island while sporting a classic beige trench coat from the now-defunct local womenswear company Harman Grubia and a pair of teal pants by the young New Zealand label Herriot. The author of the profile referred to Ardern as the “anti-Trump” and described her as “young, forward-thinking, and shamelessly liberal.”
2018: Meeting the Queen, Buckingham Palace
Ardern wore a Juliette Hogan dress and Korowai by London-based Māori Ngati Renana to meet the Queen as part of the biennial HM the Queen’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Dinner at Buckingham Palace in 2018. She also became the first head of state from New Zealand to attend the event. Despite being a unisex garment, the Korowai shape helped to frame her pregnancy. She recited and then translated a Māori proverb in her speech whilst wearing it:
“He aha te mea nui o te ao? What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. The people, the people, the people.” The visual image was of a young, multicultural, integrated New Zealand.
2018: UN Assembly
Ardern made history as the first world leader to attend the United Nations general assembly meeting with her baby in tow. Ardern appeared with her three-month-old daughter Never at the UN and played with her before giving a speech at the Nelson Mandela peace summit. While she spoke, Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford held the three-month-old baby on his lap. Ardern wore a bespoke rosy-beige coat by Harman Grubisa.
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