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

by HomeDecorBeauty


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

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

The way he sees it, Kerry Trent Ranginui (Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi) was always going to end up behind a sewing machine.

Some of his first clothing memories involve his mother sewing her own clothes to save money. “It always fascinated me that she could turn a folded piece of fabric into a dress,” explains Ranginui, who some may recognize from the 2018 reality show Project Runway New Zealand (he placed third).

Undoubtedly, says Ranginui, witnessing his mother’s sewing savvy was a catalyst for his own career in fashion.

By day, Ranginui heads up the Karen Walker sampling room in his role as head pattern maker and designer at the fashion brand. Outside of work, Ranginui funnels his fashion skills into his drag persona Miss Kerry Berry, who performs regularly at Caluzzi Cabaret, a seminal 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 garments in my wardrobe is my Caluzzi uniform,” Ranginui reflects. “Some of New Zealand’s biggest drag queens have spent decades serving, performing and entertaining there. It’s a privilege to be asked to work there and it’s a job I do with easy duty. I’m very proud to be a Caluzzi girl.”

While he happily dons the Caluzzi uniform, Ranginui doesn’t generally abide by dressing rules. “Obviously dress to the occasion, whatever it may be, but it’s most important to dress for yourself. I personally choose to use fashion to make a statement.”

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

My culture is definitely present in my jewelery and accessories. Most of my jewelery is pounamu or bone, and I prefer manufactured diamonds over real. My friend Nick Von K is my go to for all my jewellery, he really understands balance in design and isn’t afraid of scale. He also encapsulated the use of pounamu with great mana. I love his huia beak earrings.

I carry a kete with me most days. My favorite being a rainbow kete made for me by my artisan harakeke weaver cousin. As a proud gay man, I wear the rainbow unapologetically. 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 pinpointed to a moment in time or an era. One good example in my wardrobe is a carpet bag by Wynn Hamlyn. I worked for Wynn for two years when his label was just starting.

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

Left: A Zambesi dress Kerry wore to NZFW.  Right: A carpet bag by Wynn Hamlyn.

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Left: A Zambesi dress Kerry wore to NZFW. Right: A carpet bag by Wynn Hamlyn.

My wardrobe would definitely read as fun, bold personalities. It’s half Kerry wear and half Miss Kerry Berry’s drag closet. My day wardrobe consists of lots of color and print, versatile mix and match pieces that create a solid wardrobe. Kerry Berry’s closet has a lot more volume to it, lots of reflective fabrics, sequins and sparkles. She’s kind of there to create a bit more attention for herself.

Although I do love to wear a good suit, I’m probably more happy and authentic in a gown. My favorite of my gowns is an organza creation I made a few years ago. It’s a modern take on a Victorian wedding gown that is on display at Whanganui Museum. It was one of my favorite gowns to see as a child so I decided to make a version for myself.

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

When I started working for Karen 12 years ago, it was a real dream to own a Karen Walker trench. They are so timeless and the style never fades. This was the first of about 14 I’ve purchased throughout the years.

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

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

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From left: 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 did have a bad friend encouraging me. I tried it on and didn’t want to take it off. It’s super camp and covered in gems and sequins. It’s one of the few pieces I own that I wear in and out of clothes. I’m pretty sure it’s fake too.

When my grandfather passed, some of his wardrobe was given to me as we were the same size. He wore this Swanndri almost every day I saw him, often paired with a cheesecutter. I wear it when I go home for Christmas as Palmerston North is really cold, family members always smile when they see Koro is still with us every year. My guess is it’s over 50 years old.

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