What we wear, the language we use, where we live, whom we make friends with, whom we mate with, all defines and separates us into different groups. Jane Phare and Ricardo Simich infiltrate six urban
tribes of the times.
The ‘we’ve-made-it’ tribe
Drowning in cash, they throw birthday parties for themselves and insist on the guests wearing a specific colour, even if some of them don’t own anything in that colour. Of course, the hosts stand out in the Insta-photos because they’re wearing something completely different.
They love “themes” – pink, Mexican, 1970s, Scarface, with every detail matching: napkins, food, drinks, even the sheepish-looking bouncer. They use on-trend caterers – grilled halloumi, not sausage rolls – and hire mixologists to make lurid-coloured cocktails with bits floating on top.
The newly moneyed hire chefs for their dinner parties, who explain each complex course to the guests, even though the guests don’t really care because they’re way too drunk by then.
They splash the cash and who knows what they’re really worth, dosh mostly made in tech or property. The IT tribers create apps consumers didn’t know they needed and the developers cram four-storey blocks of townhouses with no parking in gentrified streets full of angry neighbours, but well away from the ones they live in.
This tribe uses interior designers to buy their ECC and BoConcept furniture and cushions – lots of cushions. They hire people to design their gardens, and plant and weed them, and to tell them what Sukabumi tiles they need for the pool. They have experts who help them buy, or rent, art and tell them where to hang it. They install enormous wine cellars, home theatres and gyms which they rarely use. Well … perhaps the wine cellar.
They wear their Givenchy or Gucci sunglasses pushed up on their forehead, so the label can be clearly seen. Their wrists are stacked with Cartier Love bracelets and a Rolex Submariner or GMT. They love Balenciaga and the Louis Vuitton handbags have their own room.
They money-drop – gossiping about who paid how much for what and how much money a mate made in a one-off business deal.
If they don’t already own one, the newbies hire big launches to party on and buy at least one look-at-me car. There’s a new Tesla plugged in next to the Lambo and, outside, a Range Rover that was used last weekend to go off-roading to a vineyard and then the Matakana Market. They’ll rent helicopters and even … gasp! … private jets. Of course, they’ll photograph the action on board, air miles above mere mortals.
They just can’t help showing off. They Koru Club tag themselves on Facebook, posting the route to their next exotic destination. They share photos of luxury hotel resorts, the pool and themselves outside famous landmarks. And lots of glasses of champagne in fabulous places like Ibiza and St Tropez. They pay someone to massage their faces and paint their nails.
The ‘we-made-it-last-century’ tribe
Their parents and grandparents had baches at Manly, the Bay of Islands and at “the lake” – Taupō, Tarawera or Rotoiti. Or they went to the Coromandel – Hahei or Whangapoua – long before Tripadvisor told the world about Cathedral Cove and New Chums. They have old surfboards, kayaks, and wooden yachts too heavy to lift that are stacked under the bach.
They have accounts at Smith & Caughey’s and try not to stare at people who hold their knives like a pen. They would never lick their cappuccino spoons.
They speak “nicely.” They would never pronounce “my” like “moy.” They never talk about money. There are trust funds for sure, but they control what the offspring get. Education, braces, a trip to Rome, a second-hand Beamer, quite acceptable.
They see no reason to visit design stores to replace Mother’s furniture. The handwoven silk rugs in the lounge look old because they are old, antique in fact. They invite their upholsterer to Christmas Eve drinks.
They don’t need advice on what art to buy or where to hang it. It’s been on the walls for as long as they can remember.
They play bridge and golf, and the book club and mahjong groups are quite fun. They can’t believe how crowded Business Class is these days or how many Australians there were on the last Rhine cruise.
They often live in big, stately homes in the same suburbs, and often the same houses, in which their parents and grandparents lived. They rarely renovate. Who needs an en suite when there’s a perfectly good bathroom down the hallway?
They keep a silver cake knife and server in the drawer underneath the crystal whisky decanter and always have a fresh lemon on hand for the G & Ts. They never pay anyone to massage their faces or paint their nails – mainly because they never paint their nails. They would never wear a Rolex. They’ve never been to Ibiza.
The Doodle tribe
They dominate the off-leash parks, beaches and outdoor cafe tables. They’re the besotted owners of a bewildering array of dogs bred with poodles of varying sizes. These tribal owners can, at one glance, instantly recognise the “oodle” in the approaching doodle.
Beaming they ask, “What sort of dog is yours?” But they’re not really interested; they just want to show off their own doodle – mine’s a Cavoodle, a Goldendoodle, a Bidoodle, a Schnoodle, a Froodle, a Poogle. Really? Mine’s more of a poo, as in a Cockapoo, a Maltipoo, a Westipoo, a Peekapoo, a Pugapoo, a Papi-poo.
Did the late Queen know about Corgipoos, they trill?
They form groups on social media (the Chicago Doodles is a good one), and won’t hear a word said about the bat’s**t crazy part of poodles – hyper and notoriously disobedient.
Tribal owners happily fork out thousands for their mixed poo-ches. Dog breeders chorus “no breed too tricky” and point to the Great Danoodle and Bernadoodle as proof.
Now, oodles of doodles and queues of poos (where is Dr Seuss when you need him?) are trotting and tripping wherever you look. They have names like Pippy, Poppy, Monty and Oskar-with-a-k. Not a badass Boss, Bullet, Boss, Boxer or Brutus in sight.
But even the badass dogs have been doodled. There’s a Rottle (crossed with a Rottweiler), a Pit Boodle (Pit Bull), a Mastidoodle (Mastiff) and Doodleman Pinscher (Doberman).
Exhausted poodles in kennels across Aotearoa have one message for the doodle tribe: “Enough already”.
The Wellness tribe
Their bodies are temples, to be tanned, toned and titivated as a full-time preoccupation. Their walk-in wardrobes have allocated drawers for the 2XU or Lululemon and racks for the Air Jordan 3 Retros and Adidas X Gucci trainers.
They have full-length, multi-faceted mirrors to admire the tight-butt back view before heading out to a chic café for a green smoothie and a kale-and-quinoa salad. Organic is the word de jour.
They belong to gyms but sometimes don’t find the time to go. They’re too busy booking a wellness retreat in the Coromandel or a four-day spa in the Bay of Islands. Breathe in, breathe out.
They prefer spirituality over religion, posting photos of themselves doing a yoga pose on a deserted beach gazing at the sunset. Well, not quite deserted because someone had to be there to take the photo.
They have the numbers of their naturopath, osteopath, masseuse, dietician, yoga guru and Pilates teacher loaded under “favourites” ahead of family members.
You’ll find them at the Next Gen Health Club in Parnell, but probably having a sauna or a swim rather than working out. The more serious gym goers sweat their Nike and Under Armour at Les Mills and F45. Their men folk wear Adidas because, well, the All Blacks do.
They mutter about those who hog the machines while texting, checking their social media and taking selfies, or take conference calls on the treadmill so everyone knows how important they are.
Their kitchen cupboards are dedicated to supplements, anti-oxidants and green tea. Their blenders work overtime. The really serious wellness tribers will book intravenous vitamin infusions at their favourite clinic.
They’re not averse to some cosmetic “tweakments, ” fat-reduction injections, and red-light therapy beds. They’re worried about the environment of course but they’ll still fly to LA for a dose of anti-ageing hormones. They post advice like “Take time to love yourself” to friends who just need a hand to build a garden retaining wall.
The Insta-glammers tribe
Getting prepped for today’s selfie is SUCH hard work: the contour makeup takes forever, one of the Shellac nails has chipped, this morning’s blow wave went wrong and is the fake tan starting to fade?
No matter, that’s what FaceApp and filters are for. Insta-glammers live in a carefully-manufactured world of illusion, all rainbows and unicorns. They must always emerge looking like super-models, despite the odd bad-hair day.
They thrive on the “likes” – what else is there to life? They have enviable numbers of followers, but are they real, or bought? They’ll share a beauty tip or a Kardashian-style pout, but never one of putting out the wheelie bin.
One day, someone in brand-land will notice and then they’ll be able to write “influencer” as their occupation on official forms. After that the favourite part of the day – apart from this morning’s stylised selfie – is waiting to see what gifts will turn up with the courier. The trips and staycations, skincare, clothes, household decor, free meals and booze will keep coming as long as they keep posting.
They post not-so-handy hints about 5-star restaurants they’ve allegedly eaten at while in Europe but never about local drive-throughs or takeaway joints they frequent. They always seem to be in Fiji – or is it just a backdrop? When things get a little tight they sell the free loot on Instagram.
The Northern Slopes (Remuera) tribe
They can recite the Northern Slopes streets off by heart. All their friends live there … or Herne Bay. Anyone living on the Southern Slopes doesn’t count.
Their children know how to ski, eat sushi and start the iRobot Roomba by the time they are 4, around the time they start at the local private schools. A few of the more grounded ones go to Victoria Avenue Primary School but only because their parents were smart enough the buy in the right part of the right street. The two kids living right across the road can’t go because they live in an odd-numbered house, haha.
Their children are experts at remembering numbers – the codes to their iPhones, the massive driveway gates, their front doors, the lockbox for the beach house, not to mention and the PIN numbers for Mum and Dad’s credit cards.
They don’t go to kindy or daycare, they have nannies and housekeepers.
The younger Northern Sloper mums loiter outside the private school gates, iPhone 14 in one hand (with a Swarovski phone cover), trim soy latte in the other, envious of those who bought the VIP parks at the school auction.
They wear really white sneakers, and their dark roots NEVER show thanks to three-weekly trips to the hairdresser. Regular appearance medicine means when they pose with their teenage daughters at the pre-ball, their friends squeal, “Oh, gorgeous! Which one’s the daughter?!!”
They wear their three-carat diamond engagement rings and diamond studs from Partridge Jewelers most days, even to give the landscaper instructions.
Northern Slopers buy their fruit and veg at Lum’s or Farro and stock their pantries at Sabato. They lament the lack of parking in their hood – too hard now to pop into Brown’s for a club sandwich.
Their houses used to be big and draughty, but now they’re even bigger and not draughty thanks to the $3 million renovation. Their tiered gardens used to have lily ponds, wisteria and a grass tennis court. Now they have tasteful flowering natives, heated pools and artificial turf on the court.
They don’t know the name of their neighbours but they know lots of lovely people at Tara Iti, Millbrook and Royal Auckland golf courses. And the lovely tribe who all holiday homes at the same beach.
They rarely go to the movies – certainly not to Hoyts at Sylvia Park. They like the Silky Otter in Ōrākei though; the locals never throw popcorn there.
Why we form tribes
Forming groups is what humans do, says anthropologist Bronwyn Isaacs.
“We are fundamentally dependent on each other not just for our food and sustenance and getting through the day, but also in terms of the rich spiritual and political aspect of our lives.”
Creating or joining that group expresses our unity and dependency, she says. Western society doesn’t have a vocabulary to talk about this rich aspect of our lives, so “tribes” becomes a commonly used term.
Isaacs, a lecturer at the University of Waikato, says that in the end, the tribal behaviour can become comical.
“Like we’re all wearing white linen and sitting in our expensive beach houses, drinking mocktails or whatever the colour of the month is because we’re not doing alcohol.”
Or, people fork out big dollars for a Birkin bag when there are plenty of cheaper bags that would be just as good if not better. That’s because expensive, material objects visibly distinguish those who can afford to be in the group and who cannot.
In other cases it might not be an overt display of wealth, it could be a more subtle signal that speaks to the amount of money in the bank.
“Because it can be a matter of taste. It speaks to the education, the way you’ve brought up your children. The shabby chic of the British royals. There’s a way they know how to put their particular look together,” Isaacs says. Think Lady Diana in her Sloane Ranger days.
Does she think different groups or tribes judge each other?
“Absolutely yes,” she says. “As humans, we express our safety in defining who’s in the in-click and who’s in the out-click. We’re making a statement about our own value by whom we include and whom we don’t.”
And yes, she thinks people will change or adapt their behaviour to fit into a group. A child from a different country starting a new school will quickly adapt to a Kiwi accent to fit in, she points out.
In adults, there are endless tribal cues – accents, gestures, fashion, body stylisation, possessions, vehicles, what karaoke song we choose, where we live and how we arrange our house.
“Food is a big one, she says. “There’s a lot of judgment around what you eat.”