Contemporary Rotuman Artists

Rosie Emberson-Semesi

From Fiji Times Online (15 October 2012)

Rosie on a comeback

by Lice Movono-Rova

Rosie Emberson-Semisi
photo from Facebook

ROSIE Emberson-Semisi is no stranger to the Fiji Fashion industry, having featured in almost every important fashion event in Fiji since the 1980s, she has been a seamstress, artist, designer and even written fashion for this this newspaper.

Known for her work with Masi and her loud bold prints which more than anything celebrates Pacific artforms, Ms Semisi-Emberson is a rarity in that while her art comes naturally to her, she has also sought and achieved formal qualifications in both Apparel and Textiles as well as in visual arts and fabric printing.

So synonymous was her name with fashion that there wasn't a fashion show in Fiji, Australia or New Zealand that had a Pacific theme, which didn't include her. She has done it all, made uniforms for delegations, produced fashion shows and nurtured fashion designers and helped grow other labels.

Wife to the late Chief Magistrate, Mr John Semisi, Rosie's life was busy on all accounts, in her work and as a wife and mother.

In past years however, Rosie has faced personal tragedy with the loss of loved ones and her art has understandably become lower priority.

A few months ago, Rosie decided at the beckoning of the London Pacific Fashion Show that it was time for a return to the runway and had set about sketching a collection of up to 50 garments.

"It was to be my come back collection, my best work ever," a sad Ms Emberson-Semisi said.

Despite her excitement and almost complete travel plans, a very close relative of hers took ill and so Ms Emberson-Semisi opted for Fiji Fashion Week instead.

"Im sad and its rather unfortunate that I have not been able to go to London but i know Fiji is well represented in Hupfeld Hoerder, Adi Koila Ganilau and Robert Kennedy," Ms Emberson-Semisi said. "I also know that there is always a bigger show to look forward to next year so I have accepted staying back."

"In fact I am quite excited to be bringing my London collection here and am fortunate to be able to show at FJFW."

The come back collection was based on Fiji's cultural tattoos, a practice quite common in Rosie's native Malha'a in Rotuma.

"While working on my new collection, I have done quite a lot of research into our cultural art practices but especially into Tattooing and the link it creates all over the Pacific."

While looking at the history and origins of tattoo practices in the South Pacific, Rosie was led into reading about Pacific migration trends.

"I found out that actually theres very little pure Rotuman blood left in Rotuma, we seem to be in the middle of Rotuma and carry blood and relationships with various other parts of Polynesia," Rosie said.

"In fact my own people of Malha'a have very strong links to Tahiti, our earliest settlers may have come from there."

The Tattoo designs in Rosie's new line now carry that story and more. Stories of the great migration and the stories behind the various cultures and heritage of Rotuma with a special focus on the islands links to Fiji.

"We were something of a stop over point for a lot of the ancient seafarers so if you research slowly, you will find difficulty locating Rotumans with pure Rotuman blood. We have Tahitian, Tongan, Samoan, Wallis & Futuna and even Fiji. We have myths and legends that tell of a sister that Lutunasobasoba had who was left on Rotuma. So our Tattoo designs tell of these great links."

Entitled the Rosie Emberson Semisi Tatoo designs, the designer is confident to say that what she will show at FJFW is her best creations ever.

"Tattoo designs is not mere body art to me but rather a personal reflection of the events of my life, the journey iv taken which have changed me as a person and as a designer. The tragedies which have occurred and the way they have affected my life."

The prints consists of Tattoo and a combination of silhouettes, war clubs with tattoo. Unlike her usual brigh, loud, bold and colourful prints of yesteryears, the Tatoo Collection are a very toned down version of her signature style.

"I wanted to explore more about Pacific design culture than the common loud bold design the region is famous for. I felt there was more to our Pacific art than that."

Although eager to showcase all 50 of her designs, Rosie has had to choose only 15 garments so its meant also showing some pieces from her Bure label.

"In due course, this line will retail at one of the chain of big department stores so I want to showcase it at FJFW, give people a sneak preview. Bure is on the culture of my adopted country, the culture of Fijian (I Taukei) people - it's a storyboard collection about the village set up, what happens every day, the hierarchy and social systems."

Within the Bure collection, Rosie has created labels such as Burekalou, Tuwawa, Isa Lewa, TuSake, Dilisi, Waikoula and Waisiliva amongst others; all names of people, places and items of cultural significance to the I Taukei forms and traditions.

The TuSake, DiLisi labels are a play on her childrens names (Sake and Alice) and are her childrens wear collection.

Playing with cotton fabric and ensuring the garments are comfortable, fully lined and marketable, Rosie says each label tell stories of Fiji - the Polynesia and the Melanesia of Fiji!

"It has been a very personal journey for me because I have gone back to studying Rotuman lineage and history right back to the 1500s, I have had to do a lot of research into my own background and my tradition and culture," Ms Emberson-Semisi said.

A regular fixture at FJFW, this year though will be the first time that Rosie will stand up to be counted, another feature of this collection that is very new to her.

"I am going to be judged alongside others and that's very new for me. It is almost like a journey of self-discovery," Ms Emberson-Semisi said.

"So much has happened in my life, personal tragedies etc which have changed my outlook on life and its probably reflected in my design style and prints and I just hope people will appreciate this as something new."

Lice Movono-Rova is a Public Relations Officer for Fiji Fashion Week 2012

Contemporary Rotuman Artists