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

This was not how 2018 was supposed to go for Kharl WiRepa, who less than a year earlier had achieved a stunning fashion debut, becoming the first Maori designer to see his work in the pages of the influential fashion bible. British Vogue.

Before the broadcast of Robes and Geysers television show that goes behind the scenes of the tantrums, tears and tiaras of the Miss Rotorua pageant which he relaunched in 2018, and his return to the catwalk at New Zealand Fashion Week, WiRepa sat down with Things to discuss a roller-coaster a few years ago.

It’s a conversation that spans fashion, faith, Princess Diana, $1,000 meth binges, the catwalks and courtrooms – once as a victim, once as a defendant.

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In a curious twist of timing ahead of his February 8 New Zealand Fashion Week show, it was this show, in 2017, that WiRepa says put him in the limelight. vogue radar – not that he believed it at the time.

When the phone call came from vogue Condé Nast publisher, “Actually, I didn’t believe it”.

“I thought OK, this is a telemarketing ploy, or this is going to result in a ‘Nigerian prince’ asking me for a credit card number.”

He still “played the game” and emailed a few photographs of his creations, then quickly forgot about it.

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

WiRepa laughs when he admits he always thought the ‘Nigerian prince’ was the most likely person on the other end of the phone, but that changed when a pack of magazines arrived a few months later.

“I scrolled through the pages and saw the dress. That’s when, for me, it became very real.

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

Provided

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

He admits, however, that the victory was clouded by other events unfolding in his life at that time, including a slew of fraud charges.

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

Ultimately, WiRepa lost that battle and was convicted of 14 benefit fraud charges totaling $11,844.16, and ordered to repay that money to the Department of Social Development.

The charges stemmed from her fashion studies at the Waiariki Institute, now Toi Ohomai, and related to a period of two years and eight months from 2014.

They included fabricating false documents failing to disclose living arrangements, which resulted in WiRepa claiming far more student living allowances than it was entitled to.

Talk to Things at the time, he said he recognized he had made a mistake and was optimistic about the publicity he knew would inevitably follow after Judge Marie McKenzie refused to have the name removed .

Kharl WiRepa promised an “open book” talk and delivered on his word, with topics including his landmark Vogue appearance, the catwalks, courtrooms and getting back on track.

Tom Lee / Stuff

Kharl WiRepa promised an “open book” talk and delivered on his word, with topics including his landmark Vogue appearance, the catwalks, courtrooms and getting back on track.

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

WiRepa is candid about the stress of this time. He describes how a fashion world awash in drugs and alcohol set the wheels in motion for his next run into the courts – this time as a victim.

“At the time, for me, going to the errands and snorting a line of cocaine in the bathroom, going out on a Saturday night and smoking $1,000 worth of meth, that wasn’t unusual.

“There was definitely a relapse from drugs and alcohol.”

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

“I went back into booze and hung out with the darker side of my associates.”

Kharl WiRepa admits that a few years ago there was “nothing unusual” about smoking $1,000 worth of meth on a Saturday night.  He's since cleaned up and when he spoke to the Sunday Star-Times, nothing stronger than green tea was on the menu.

TOM LEE/STUFF/Waikato Times

Kharl WiRepa admits that a few years ago there was “nothing unusual” about smoking $1,000 worth of meth on a Saturday night. He’s since cleaned up and when he spoke to the Sunday Star-Times, nothing stronger than green tea was on the menu.

In 2018, a woman chose not to name, pleaded guilty to unlawfully detaining WiRepa and causing injury with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

She emerged from under the covers of a bed in a house WiRepa had been invited to. She was holding a 15cm long steak knife and demanded both drugs and money telling WiRepa, “I will cut your eyes out and I can have you killed”.

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

The woman and her associates took the methamphetamine he had on him, along with his cash and jewelry, only leaving after he agreed to draw a map guiding them to a “drug house”.

WiRepa agrees that was the background.

“At this point there is no more money, I have been kidnapped. The day of the abduction was the last of the money. The drugs, the jewelry, they had taken it all.

The experience left WiRepa with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he has since taken counseling, but it also gave him the spark to turn things around.

“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’s very superficial, a lot fake relationships, a lot of pretension.

He says his Mormon faith also played a role.

“I want to go back to church and all of those things that 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.

“Raised with pride, you become disconnected. Sometimes the Lord gives us a life lesson where He takes things away so you can learn again. It was all a spiritual experience, even the rapture.

“I wouldn’t change it. I am in a better position now.

Designer Kharl WiRepa is gearing up for a busy 2022, with a return to the New Zealand Fashion Week catwalk and the broadcast of the behind-the-scenes TV show from his Miss Rotorua pageant.

Tom Lee / Stuff

Designer Kharl WiRepa is gearing up for a busy 2022, with a return to the New Zealand Fashion Week catwalk and the broadcast of the behind-the-scenes TV show from his Miss Rotorua pageant.

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

He is delighted with the release of Robes and Geysers to TVNZ on demand on January 22, and watches the Mt Maunganui and Taupō versions of the show.

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

He’s proud that the contests have raised over $150,000 for 30 charities, and the diversity and inclusivity they promote — these aren’t your bikini-parade events at the old one.

“Former prostitutes, drug addicts, spina bifida sufferers, Chinese candidates, Indian candidates.”

He also talks to contestants about one of his icons, Princess Diana.

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

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

Then there’s the return of New Zealand Fashion Week.

WiRepa has spent the last three months working on its collection of 65 different looks, and it promises an antidote to the dark, grungy and sexualized runways that sometimes adorn the runways.

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

“It’s the collection of what the goddesses wear.”