Article Title:Lindah E and the birth of Pacific Couture
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:15th February 2003 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:65
Text:Lindah Le Pou's life and work is all about challenging assumption. She is fa'afafine, and a live performer under the name Lindah E, but she doesn't lip-sync, she writes and sings her own songs. People often are expecting to hear a disco number when she gets on stage, but once again she defies stereotypes - Lindah is an r'n'b soul diva. When it comes to fashion, Lindah doesn't model, she designs, and it is this aspect of her career that has put her in the media spotlight recently, after becoming the nationwide joint winner in the "Innovation" category of the Modus Operandi Fashion Awards with her stunning and sexy coconut-shell kimono design. It's been a challenging journey to get to this point, though. Although Lindah was born in New Zealand and raised in Porirua, Wellington, her family moved to Samoa when she was eight. She already had a number of ambitions, including a desire to be an internationally-recognised singer/songwriter and fashion designer. She also wanted to be a pilot. "There's a stereotype that goes round about queens that we all like to play with Barbies," she says. "That's true in some cases, but with me, I loved cars as well. My grandfather made me a gas station where I could put all my cars and I had Star Wars action figures too. But I never saw this as a masculine/feminine thing, it was just an opportunity as a child to be imaginitive." When Lindah graduated from high school at 15, she had won a scholarship to a university in Hawaii to study business. She knew then that fashion was the career she wanted to pursue, and that that would mean coming back to New Zealand, but she felt obligated to please her family and take the scholarship. She was there for two years, but her aspirations in the world of fashion were not put on hold. "I did modelling as a woman. I went on trips to the US behind my family's back with my friends to appear in shows," Lindah explains. "It was great, I learned how it all works behind the scenes, watching designers perfecting their garments, learning about what designers need from models and how to communicate that." It all came to an end with a call to the head dean's office. The school was strictly religious, nevertheless Lindah was shocked when he asked her if she had been having sex with other men. She said no, withdrew from her scholarship and went back to Samoa. Her family were disappointed, but Lindah was all the more determined to get to New Zealand. She was unable to afford the flight, but an opportunity came up that would not only see the start of her career but also ensured a very public "outing". "A few weeks after I got back, there was a fa'afafine pageant at a local hotel where I was working as a tour guide. The first prize was a trip to Hawaii, and second prize was a trip to New Zealand. I told my parents that I was going to do it, and they said it would be an embarrassment to the family." Lindah's aunt owned a very popular boutique, but she refused to sponsor Lindah for the pageant, as her extended family were also concerned about bringing "shame" to the family name. Lindah found sponsorship elsewhere and entered the pageant, which she won, swapping her Hawaii trip with a friend who won second prize. Her family were all there on the night. "When they were there watching, everything changed. When I won, they were so proud. My mum called out, 'When are you going?' and I yelled back 'Next week!'", she laughs. She moved to Wellington and studied at the Bowerman School of Design for two years before moving to Auckland to start her own label, Dencium Compri. Although she had been nominated in the Smokefree Fashion Awards almost every year from 1994 on, she had never taken out a fashion award until winning "Innovation" at this year's Modus Operandi awards. Part of the prize package involves showing a collection at the high-profile New Zealand Fashion Week, a trade fair attended by international buyers and media which can result in massive international exposure and orders. It is a make or break event. "It was very important for me as a designer to win 'Innovation', because to get that means you are labelled as a designer who is forward-thinking. Now that I have that title, I can use it to launch myself internationally." Lindah now has eight weeks to produce her collection for Fashion Week, which she has launched into with the enthusiasm and drive that pervades all her work. It will bring her a step closer to her ultimate goal of producing an exclusive exhibition of Pacific couture gowns that will put Pacific fashion on the map. "I was grateful to be recognised at the awards because it is rare for mainstream events to recognise Pacific fashion. Pacific couture is where it's at for me because it's about pushing boundaries, doing things that have never been done before," Lindah says. "I am driven by making history as opposed to money. Money is just a result of what you do."     Chris Banks - 15th February 2003
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