New Zealand Fashion Week is a highlight of the fashion calendar. It’s a chance for designers to put their best foot forward, showcasing their creativity and talent before local and international buyers and media.
A couple of weeks ago, I met up with Jessica Grubiša and Madeleine Harman, the designers behind eponymous label, Harman Grubiša. After sitting through a four-hour session of model castings they were gracious enough to talk me through life in the lead-up to their first ever show at New Zealand Fashion Week; finding their way through the dizzying haze of social media, and living vicariously through their soon-to-be-released, Spring Summer 15 collection.
Yes, the girls have been busy, and they’re run flat off their feet.
Despite it being their first show, Jessica and Madeleine aren’t new to the fashion industry. Jessica has worked as a stylist on previous fashion week shows, whilst also rubbing shoulders with top-tier New Zealand designers through her work as an Assistant Fashion Editor for Black Magazine.
Meanwhile, Madeleine spent time working in New York for high profile trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort of Edelkoort Inc, an experience she says that has indirectly influenced her approach to design: “It just makes you that much more aware of the way everything influences fashion and we see it really holistically. We always look at the way people live, as opposed to what they wear.”
Madeleine and Jessica met whilst studying fashion at Whitecliffe College—both recognising very early on that they could balance each other out.
“Madeleine and myself were in our last year, and we both worked equally as hard. I saw an element in her, and vice-versa, that was missing in each other,” says Jessica. “She can tone me down, and I can ramp her up.”
While we chat, it’s very clear that Madeleine is the softer yin to Jessica’s very direct yang, and together they have built strong collections that have garnered the attention of Conde Nast who have referred to label as, ‘One of the seven wonders of the shopping world.’
Murray Bevan, Director of fashion PR company Showroom 22, calls them a shining light after the onset of the global financial crisis which left designers too afraid to launch their own labels. He had taken note of the talented designers throughout their period of training at Whitecliffe and readily took them on as a client.
“You just get a sense of who has got what it takes [and] whose got the class and sophistication to make a commercially viable design business as well. They had a sound business acumen and we saw them as a new market in the industry.”
Murray is quick to point out that Showroom 22 doesn’t take on every single designer in the business. “We don’t have the time or space to do that,” he says. But he is adamant that his company has been built on the foundations of budding talent and he keeps a watchful eye on designers entering the industry.
Harman Grubiša have set themselves apart in a competitive and fast growing arena; their identity harnessed by an assertion of who they are as individuals—strong, intelligent women who know what they can offer. They have cut through the banality of mass consumption, designing sophisticated garments that emphasize form with the intention of lasting beyond the current season’s wear.
But when it comes to marketing and accessibility, social media and the digital age hasn’t necessarily been so beneficial for them as it might be for more commercial or street wear designers.
“It’s exhausting,” says Madeleine. “Social media is hard. I think that our woman is a bit more distinguished. Obviously it works with younger, contemporary street markets really well. If you look at the I Love Ugly boys, they have an amazing instagram online following, and I would say that that ticks over into sales. For us, it’s not necessarily the touch point of our brand that most resonates with our client.”
Opening a physical store, rather than relying on their online presence has been key for the brand, allowing customers to have a space to shop and experience the ethos that belies their namesake label.
Jessica refers to the aesthetic as timeless, modern luxury.
“Luxurious fabrics are always important to us [such as] silks and rich colours. But we also want to design clothes that are classic and timeless [and] can be reinvented in our women’s wardrobe season to season. We don’t want to be a throw away.”
Their most recent AW15 collection comprised of navy blues, coppers and muted tones executed as sharply tailored shift dresses, bell-shaped skirts, fashion-forward flared trousers that merge seamlessly into stylish suiting—remiss of the clichéd or boring weekday uniform—they offer statement pieces with wow factor.
Madeleine says that their strength in design comes from their use of offbeat colours and textiles.
This year they are presenting their fourth season, ‘Dakota’ at New Zealand Fashion Week, which they refer to as an ode to women who can hold their own. Think, lucid gem tones and chalky pastels with the range inspired by an historic apartment block ‘The Dakota,’ situated on the Upper West Side of Manhatten; once home to the likes of Roberta Flack and Lauren Bacall, among many other notable leading ladies.
Their fashion week collection is one of two collections under way, with Spring Summer 15 due out very soon. Jessica and Madeleine have not had a break since the label’s inception and admit to living vicariously through what they call, their most ‘resort’ collection to-date.
“The inspiration behind it was different holiday locations. Maybe because we needed a holiday!” says Jessica.
Madeleine continues on the same stream of thought: “We were dreaming up this dream: if you were on a boat in the Mediterranean, what would you want to wear? It’s like all of those fun holidays. It’s fun to dream [and] it’s fun to dream in fashion, so I was pulling all those textiles in and all of those vicarious emotions that we were living through in the collection.”
To find out more about Harman Grubiša, head to their website: www.harmangrubisa.com and stay tuned for my thoughts on their AW 16 preview collection.
AW 15 Look book images by Russ Flatt for Harman Grubiša
Photos of Jessica and Madeleine by Sonia Sly