Tara Morton: Fashion and Diplomacy, Perfect Together

Ambassador Tara Morton meeting with His Holiness Pope Francis. © Vatican Media

Talk about multi-tasking. Tara Morton (AAS, Fashion Design, ’14) is New Zealand’s  ambassador to Spain. She was recently appointed ambassador to the Holy See as well and was greeted by Pope Francis. Ambassador Morton is also accredited to Andorra, Malta, Morocco, and has had postings in New York, Cairo and Baghdad.

“Every day is different,” she says. “The team at the New Zealand Embassy in Madrid is incredible and it is genuinely lovely to come to work.

“We represent New Zealand in Spain, seeking to strengthen the New Zealand-Spain relationship as well as relationships with other countries in the region.

“We can be hosting an event to raise the profile of New Zealand food and wine and to celebrate the recent New Zealand-EU Free Trade Agreement. Or we can be meeting with Spanish officials to understand their perspectives on global issues, or helping a New Zealander in distress.”

Ambassador and FIT alumna Tara Morton. © Casa de S.M. el Rey

So what inspired the Ambassador to take time off for FIT?

“I have loved all kinds of design, particularly fashion,” she said. “I applied for fashion design school when I was 19 but decided to continue my studies in law, political science and languages. It was always at the back of my mind as a dream I wanted to pursue,” she said.

“I was posted to New Zealand’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York in 2010 and when that posting ended, I saw an opportunity to pursue the dream. I started taking night classes at FIT after long days at the UN. Then in late 2012, I applied for admission and was over the moon to be accepted.”

“I had wonderful professors and brilliant, talented classmates. These days I love watching my FIT classmates’ design careers go from strength to strength.” – Ambassador Tara Morton  

At that point, she had been a diplomat for eight years. She took a sabbatical while her partner Nick was posted to the Permanent Mission in New York. (New Zealand’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations is just a few long blocks from FIT):

“It was incredible! It was also incredibly hard work!” says Ambassador Morton.

“I started the degree thinking it would be a luxurious career break. I graduated with a real appreciation for what a person can get done in 24 hours and the realization that the so-called career break had been harder than law school,” says Ambassador Morton.

“Ambassador Morton’s story demonstrates the enormous value of an art and design education. She ultimately stayed with diplomacy but relies on her FIT training; she shows that creativity is a portable skill. 

“We are proud of Ambassador Morton. She, and all of our alumni, are ambassadors of FIT!”

– Dean Troy Richards, School of Art and Design

“I had wonderful professors and brilliant, talented classmates. These days I love watching my FIT classmates’ design careers go from strength to strength,” she says.

“On the last day of classes, I had my portfolio ready to go hunting for design internships when I got an offer to go to Cairo for 10 months to be New Zealand’s acting Deputy Ambassador to Egypt. In addition to fashion design, this was a dream job for me. I enrolled in intensive Arabic and headed to Cairo a couple of months later.”

FIT gave Ambassador Morton “a lifelong drive to see what is possible, a curiosity to look at a problem from all angles and –- like any FIT student that has had to design and construct a garment overnight — an ability to break a mammoth task down into bite-sized chunks.

“These skills are as invaluable in the world of diplomacy as they are in the world of fashion design.”

© Government of Andorra

The dress code for diplomats varies in different countries and cultures as well, she says.

“New Zealanders are known to be informal and this is also reflected in the way we dress. Spain on the other hand is a place where people dress up a fair amount so these cultural aspects translate into the diplomatic dress code. I wish I had kept a few more of the cocktail dresses I had for UN events in New York!

“I love that Spaniards have an appreciation for fine tailoring and dressing up. At the same time I love that New Zealanders express our culture through relaxed, informal clothing. I see culture influence all kinds of design in this way, from interior design and architecture to fashion.”

As seen on social media, Morton recently wore a Korowai for meeting with Felipe VI, the King of Spain. This ceremonial cloak is made by weavers from the Māori Ngai Tahu tribe.

The King of Spain, Felipe VI, receives the Ambassador Tara Deborah Morton at the Royal Palace in Madrid. The Ambassador wears a Korowai, a ceremonial Maori cloak.

“It is a honor to wear one of the Foreign Ministry’s treasured Korowai-Kākahu when representing New Zealand in official ceremonies like the credentials ceremonies with His Majesty King Felipe, with Archbishop Joan Enric Vives Sicilia (the Co-Prince of Andorra), with President George Vella of Malta and with His Holiness Pope Francis.

“The korowai provides a visible link to New Zealand’s Maori heritage and our identity.”

© Casa de S.M. el Rey

Ah. Diplomatic compromises. Korowai traditionally include feathers and flax, but the Ministry’s korowai use New Zealand wool. “That is so they can travel between our embassies more easily without raising biosecurity concerns,” explains Ambassador Morton.

The Ambassador is excited, she says, by innovative designs using New Zealand wool. These include moisture-wicking performance sportswear by New Zealand companies like Icebreaker, to breathable [wool] sneakers from Allbirds. “Seeing labels like these using sustainable business practices is inspiring!”

To learn more about New Zealand trade and diplomacy visit: New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and on X: @MFATNZ

To learn more about the Fashion Design AAS and BFA majors, go to: Fashion Design at FIT.

All images used with permission.

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