Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

NZFW: Meet model, body positive activist and opera singer Isabella Moore

Photo / Natalie Dent
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Alice Lolohea | Reporter/Director/Videographer

With NZ Fashion Week in full swing, Alice Lolohea speaks to some of the Pasifika models strutting their stuff on on the catwalk this year.

Isabella Moore
Age: 29
Ethnicity: Kiwi Samoan
Occupation/s: Model, Body Positive Activist & Opera Singer

Tell us how you were first discovered

About 5 years ago I was scouted at Westfield St Lukes, Auckland by my agent Ursula (Unique Model Management) while I was shopping with my mum. Ursula asked me if I would be interested in doing some plus size modelling, and although I had never thought of myself as a model and had no experience at all, I decided to give it a go, and I’m so glad I did! 

Name 2 fashion or modelling inspirations.

Over the last few years images of supermodel Ashley Graham started appearing in the media. Seeing a woman with curves (and thick thighs – like mine!) was so empowering! She was most definitely my first ‘body confidence’ role model who helped me on my self-love journey towards feeling good about my own curvy body – the body I’ve been blessed with!

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with the beautiful, fierce Tongan Sports Illustrated model Veronica Pome’e. Hearing about her story and her successes has been so inspirational! She is really killing it internationally in the fashion world. Seeing a fellow Pacific Islander doing well in an industry that can still be rather exclusive makes me so proud and gives me hope for the future! Veronica is very supportive of her Pacific Island sisters and brothers, and I’m so happy to be able to call her a friend. 

Photo / New Zealand Fashion Week 2018

You’re not only a model but also a talented opera singer – what experiences or skills as an opera singer do you take with you into modelling and vice versa? 

Both modelling and performing require huge amounts of confidence, courage, self-belief and resilience. My chosen careers come with a significant level of uncertainty, rejection and living in the ‘unknown’, so I believe both have built up my resilience, self-confidence and ability to navigate life without much job security. 

An opera singer is basically a singing storyteller. Having the ability to express emotion is so important, and this has helped me a lot with expression in my modelling shoots and on the runway. On shoots, I will channel a character or emotion and it definitely helps get the shot! 

I’ve found the biggest difference with these two industries is the planning. Opera tends to be planned in advance, unlike the fashion industry where things generally happen quite last minute! Because of this, I’ve had to learn to relax a little around planning and have become better at going with the flow (something I’ve struggled with in the past, haha!) It has been very good for me! 

You’ve spoken in the past about your own insecurities – what was that journey of self-love and self-acceptance like for you?   

I’m still on the self-love and self-acceptance journey! “It’s not about the destination; it’s the journey.” This is a huge lesson I’ve learnt over the last few years – the beauty is in growth and the lessons you learn along the way.

I used to struggle with body dysmorphia and I think a lot of women have and still do because of a lack of diversity of models shown in the media. Modelling has helped me deal with my own self-image and self-confidence issues. Growing up, I always felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t look like the women I was seeing in the media. I couldn’t fit into the clothes I wanted and when I took the risk to wear those clothes, I was told they didn’t look good or weren’t flattering by society’s ‘rules’. Although modelling has helped me feel more confident in my self-image, what really helped was when I worked internally on my mindset. Once you realise there are no rules and all that matters is that you feel good and you stop trying to fit into someone else’s version of what is acceptable, you’ll learn that you are SO worthy and there is NO reason not to accept and love yourself! 

I get upset hearing women say, ‘I can’t wear that sleeveless top because I don’t like my arms’, or ‘I don’t have a bikini body so I can’t wear a bikini’. A select group of people and the media have influenced those negative thoughts and have set those rules (that you don’t have to live by). Why spend any more time bullying yourself with unkind self-talk? There’s no such thing as a ‘bikini body’! Wear the bikini! Be a boss!

Photo / Garth Badger for We Are Bodied

You’ve been touted as NZ’s “top curve model”, which is a great recognition of what you’ve achieved! What does that title mean to you? 

Oh wow, I didn’t know that’s the title I’ve been given! I am humbled and feel very honoured. Honestly, I have been learning to model on the job and have at times felt like I’ve been thrown in the deep-end. So to hear that people think I’ve been doing a good job so far is really great, and I appreciate it very much. I hope to keep doing a good job and hopefully inspire some people to give modelling a go. 

As a Pacific model, have you faced any obstacles during your time in the business? How have you overcome them? 

I have been rather fortunate, as my experience so far has been a very positive one. I’ve been mostly welcomed warmly into the industry and have felt accepted by everyone I’ve worked with thus far. 

The only obstacle I’ve faced so far, which is a little disheartening, has been when it comes to runway shows. In the past I have cast for a few runway shows, been selected and made it to the fitting only to not fit any of the clothes, resulting in being cut from the show. At the time I was so upset and felt like a failure, but since then my mindset has changed. I now know that it’s their clothes that don’t fit me (not me that can’t fit their clothes), and that it is their problem not mine, which is most definitely their loss! 

Now that the mould for the ‘traditional’ model is changing – what does it actually take to be successful in the business?

The future is already looking brighter for size inclusivity, cultural diversity and body positivity. To be successful we need to be present, work hard and empower one another to go for it. We need to support each other by putting Pacific Islanders forward for opportunities as well as creating our own opportunities. I am very lucky to have a little network of Pacific Island model friends who look out for me and I for them. It was actually model Louis Ova who connected me with Veronica Pome’e, and because of that, Veronica and I ended up shooting together! I’m so grateful to have their support, and I would be happy to support and encourage any aspiring Kiwi/Pacific Island models. I’m here if you’d like to chat opera or modelling or even just about feeling good and empowered!

Fabric / Plantation House, Samoa. Designer / Seraphina Lakatani. Photo / John Moore

Name 3 of your favourite Kiwi / Pacific designers you have worked for or would like to work for. 

Recently I sang for the closing of the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, and I was generously gifted hand-printed fabric from Plantation House in Samoa, which designer Seraphina Lakatani created a stunningly beautiful custom gown from! It fit me perfectly and was so well made. I hope to own more of her wonderful creations in the future.

Sammy Salsa is an amazing Pacific Island stylist and is now a NZFW ambassador. I have always wanted to be styled by him for a creative fashion shoot! His style is so fierce and unique. 

In 2014 I won the Lexus Song Quest (one of New Zealand’s most prestigious singing competitions for classical/operatic singers). A few days later I received some beautiful gold and garnet earrings from designer Karen Walker, who had been at the final concert and saw me sing! I would love if I could model some of her clothes one day. I am a huge fan of her jewellery, sunglasses and clothing.

I couldn’t just list 3… I have always loved Juliette Hogan’s designs, and this year my dreams came true and I walked for her in Fashion Week! Love her work!

I also have to mention Trelise Cooper! She has always been size inclusive and her designs are so fun and beautiful. I get to wear some of her designs this Fashion Week!

What’s one piece of advice you’d share for anyone who’s considering a career in the fashion industry?

Don’t live by strict confines set in the past by the fashion industry! Times are changing. Be a part of this new, inclusive ‘self-acceptance’ movement! Be your own role model and change people’s minds about what is ‘acceptable’ by loving and accepting yourself. 


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