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The Jacinda Effect - How PM Brought The WOW Factor for Kiwi Creative

23 Jan 2023
Award-winning designer Dylan Mulder explains the impact the outgoing Prime Minister made on his career by wearing his garment at last year's World of WearableArts show.

Jacinda Ardern leaves the Prime Minister’s office having left a big impression on Aotearoa.


A prime example - she made worldwide headlines last year for her appearance at one of the marquee events in New Zealand’s creative community, the World of WearableArt Awards (who are in the middle of calling for creatives to enter this year’s spectacle). 


Ardern took to the stage to model WOW veteran Dylan Mulder’s specially commissioned piece, Digitally Grown.


The reaction was a tidal wave of online commentary at both ends of the spectrum - much of the negativity crossing the line into personal, vitriolic social media insults.


Much was said about Ardern’s involvement and if it was appropriate for her to be involved amid accusations of being ‘out of touch’.


But to understand the true impact of her presence that night - the real person to ask is the designer himself.




When quizzed by The Big Idea about how it felt to see the (then) Prime Minister wearing his garment, Mulder replied “Surreal! It actually didn't sink in until two days later that I yelped in excitement at the realisation.


“We had our second and final fitting with Jacinda at 10am on the day of Awards night. As she walked from the changing room towards me with the garment lights on, a big smiley grin, and it fitting just as it was intended - I would say that was the most impactful moment for me - I was touched that she suited it so well.


“I had the AI design it to fit her body so up to that point it was all theory. I was confident it would work, but it was good validation to see it fit!”


The reaction


Mulder is acutely aware of the widespread and polarising reaction of Ardern’s pairing with his garment.


Jacinda Ardern wearing Dylan Mulder's Digitally Grown at 2022 WOW Awards Show. Photo: Getty Images.


“For myself the experience has been nothing short of positive, and it's an honour to design for anyone who is well recognised in the media. Media has been kind to me, and I think that makes sense too, as I'm not and never have pushed any kind of agenda.


“It was naturally important to myself and the WOW creative team that we didn't imply any kind of bias political agenda. Colour, for example, could easily imply things. It was never about that. Far from it. If anything it was about the strength of women in society, new ways to discuss perceiving what Māori design could look like into the future using the latest technologies and elevating the perception of that.


"This was my intention in my 2019 WOW garment Natural Progression too, so this garment was a follow on. I feel WOW honestly chose me for my style that suited the category's theme, which had a modern, digital take on it."


Mulder continues “the experience I am disappointed about is how mean (a minority) peoples’ comments were, directed at Jacinda in comments sections via the articles about this WOW garment. I understand that different sense of priorities are to be expected, but I was saddened to see how attacking and personal commentary can be directed at Jacinda. It didn't seem the right context to just step past the article and attack a person. To me it stood out that people like to be mean.


Jacinda Ardern wearing Dylan Mulder's Digitally Grown at 2022 WOW Awards Show. Photo: Getty Images.


“Meeting and talking with Jacinda, she was down to earth and normal like us all, and she even spoke of how she just wants to make sure she does a great job with celebrating my design on stage and getting the choreo right.


“I found her very sweet, and caring. We talked nothing to do with politics or anything and for the record, the window of time we had together was so short, I'd class it as a lunch break or even a smoko break so i didn't consider any of it outside of her priority list.


“Jacinda has been through a lot and done her best during a pandemic, and that's all you could ever ask of someone.”


Opening doors


The benefits of having one of the most well-known female leaders on the planet model your design have been astronomical - opening plenty of doors almost instantly for Mulder.


”My social media started to go off like a rocket - family and friends as you’d expect, but then what seemed an unfathomable amount of design studios, designers, artists, followed by any and all kinds of people. Then the interview requests, asks for collaboration from all over the world and more insight into how it was made.


Dylan Mulder. Photo: Instagram/


“This is really exciting as it instantly garnered a lot of potential in what I can do, and with who. One distinct realisation is that I want to continue creating substance behind my work. Creating quality conversations and contributions to NZ/Māori/global spaces to empower and create opportunity for others.


“As for personal growth, I have some fantastic industry friends and connections abroad in the likes of LA and New York high fashion scene and galleries where I will be embedding my work into. I will of course be placing my works in galleries around New Zealand and abroad to further my practice in this space.”


Mulder's next move


Mulder’s playing his next moves close to his chest and is excited about what lies ahead in an already impressive career. “I appreciate Kiwis that have big dreams to create positive impact and by virtue share our unique NZ and Māori identity on the global platform that do it with joy and a friendly presence. We are really cool and unique.


“Most importantly, I want to be a positive impact on younger generations, continue pioneering creative use of technology, and empower Māori to think of themselves on the global platform.”


As well as Ardern’s involvement, Mulder’s full of praise for the WOW team, describing them as “great role models and an incredible platform of opportunity for us designers to project outwards onto the global stage. My situation has been case in point.”


The World of WearableArt, which has helped open doors for Mulder and many others, is accepting entries for the 2023 event until 2 March. For details on categories and requirement of entries into this world-class competition held annually in Wellington, click here.