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Spotlight on the 'Sulu vakataga' at FJFW24

When I think safari suits I am torn between two images. One makes me cringe when I think of the safari shirt and shorts paired with knee high socks that expats would wear back in the 60’s and 70s then the other image is the dapper Fijian version from my childhood, the safari shirt with pleats and hand or breast pockets with the ‘sulu vakataga’ paired with a polished pair of policeman sandals. 

Source: National Archive of Fiji - (Left) Major General Erskine, UNIFIL Force Commander, Ratu Sir Penaia and Lt Col Rt E. Nailatikau at Fijibatt HQ, Qana, South Lebanon (Right) Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara both statesmen wear the Fijian safari suit.

It was a staple of Fijian elder statesmen such as Ratu Penaia Ganilau and Ratu Kamisese Mara, the ‘sulu vakataga’ in my opinion played the star role in elevating it’s aesthetics and making it uniquely Fijian. This would eventually trickle to our school uniforms, Laucala Bay Secondary and Suva Grammar School ( hums Grammar tu ga) are some that come to mind which brings me to the RTW 24/25 MENSWEAR collection of Fijian mens fashion label TEMESIA.CO which debuted at FJFW24.

And it should be no surprise that the inspiration behind the collection is Ratu Sir Josefa Lalabalavu Vanayaliyali Sukuna, Fijian chief, scholar, soldier, and statesman. A fitting tribute seeing as Ratu Sukuna Day was May 30th the day before the collection debut.

Ratu Sukuna the OG (original) in an impeccably cut jacket with a 'sulu vakataga'

It’s believed that the formal version of the sulu, the sulu vakataga was designed for formal wear by Ratu Sukuna. The casual or everyday unisex sulus are known as sulu vaka-toga (meaning Tongan sulu).

“My vision for TEMESIA.CO was to bridge the gap between the western world and Fijian culture. Ratu Sukuna did that first by designing the 'sulu vakataga', said the designer.

Source: Fiji Museum - Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna in the library of Borron House.

When I met Temesia last October at a Wearing Fiji event, I immediately did a double take because he was wearing a well cut and sharp looking ‘sulu vakataga’ with a safari shirt complete with pleats and dual breast pockets paired with polished shoes and dare I say it was a 'viri lesu' to an era that harkened back to bespoke clothes and suits where everything was handmade to fit so I am giddy seeing the transition to this collection.

“I love a well cut suit and well tailored. Another quote I live by is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this fast pace world the cover is as important as the inside, so in saying that it has inspired me to always present myself well even when I go to the shop to buy bread!”

Temesia grew up in a middle class family in Suva Fiji and wearing a sulu to church, funerals and events was mandatory.

Temesia Tuicaumia in Temesia.Co custom suits

“I didn’t like it because it was always dictated by my folks but once I took time to research and learn more about the history of the sulu vakataga it aligned with my menswear vision for TEMESIA.CO and I fell in love with it knowing how it came to be a staple piece for menswear in Fiji. I get to carry a piece of my people, the men of Fiji and our story when I wear a sulu. I have never owned so many sulus in my life”. 

Ironic isn't it? The thing we buck at so hard as children we end up embracing as adults and eventually loving and making it our own.

Photograhper: Iker Illbana

The RTW 24/25 MENSWEAR collection hovers between formal and streetwear. Who knew a white pair of sneakers with a ‘sulu vakataga’ would work but it’s the risk taking with the pink, cream and black lace shirts and satin ‘sulu vakatagas’ that evokes a contrasting image of masculine and feminine energy that works. His combinations of crop shirts, vest and morning jackets, ties and the 'sulu vakataga' marries the modern and indigenous.

Temesia also had signature masi motifs that were part of the collection and his collaboration with accessories brand MAWI designs for the simple clutch and tote bags speaks to his belief in partnerships .

"Collaboration is key, I’ve always believed in the African proverb, if you want to go fast, go alone and if you want go far, go together" For his RTW collection at WFJ20 at the Grand Pacific Hotel Foyer he also collaborated with jeweller Anastasia Georgiou commissioning genderless chunky necklace and earrings.

His impeccable styling with the leather bags, sunglasses and body and chest harnesses made it the standout mens collection for the season.

Photograhper: Iker Illbana

Temesia is now the official stylist to the President of Fiji, Ratu Wiliame Maivalili Katonivere.

"I dressed the president for the Lau Education Charitable Trust Fundraising Gala and he fell in love with the pattern and cut of the sulu and shirt since then I have started designing his wardrobe".

I want to see more of this look on our Fijian men on the streets of Fiji, at weddings, graduations and all the soqos because it's a throwback that pays tribute to our statesmen from a bygone era while remaining true to the designers aesthetics.

Congratulations Temesia!


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