23 Aug 2015

The Business of Fashion: Harman Grubiŝa

From Standing Room Only, 2:30 pm on 23 August 2015
Jessica Grubiŝa and Madeleine Harman

Jessica Grubiŝa and Madeleine Harman. Photo: RNZ/ Sonia Sly

New Zealand Fashion Week kicks off in Auckland from 24-30 August, and this year, Jessica Grubiŝa and Madeleine Harman are showing their label, Harman Grubiŝa for the first time. Sonia Sly caught up with the pair in the lead-up.

So this is your first fashion week, how did the model castings go and what were your expectations?

Madeleine: This is actually my first casting. It was good, it was long. An interesting experience and to have someone walk in front of you and you to be like "yes", or "no". We’re doing 20 looks at fashion week [so] we’ll cast probably 12, maybe 14 girls and then they get an outfit change.

Jessica: You also have to keep a cohesive look. When a good girl walks in the room you know. Their confidence or persona and their walks help.

What are you looking for in terms of an aesthetic for New Zealand Fashion Week?

Madeleine: Something we always try to do is cast a woman, not a girl. She’s really confident, she has a presence about her, she’s got a certain sense of  attitude and that’s really important to us; that she sort of holds her own and sort of knows herself and often that comes across really quickly. We also have girls that we’ve worked with before that exude that. And height’s important to us. A tall girl can carry clothing  really well. 

Jessica: But yeah, it’s not like a specific facial look or anything. It’s more about the confidence.

So when did you decide that you wanted to work together?

Jessica: University. 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. She can tone me down and I can ramp her up.

What can you tell us about the collection that you’re showing at Fashion Week and has it be completed two weeks in?

Jessica:  Can’t tell you that. Hahaha.

Madeleine: It’s always up to the last minute. This year we’ve opened a store, we’ve just produced summer; we’re just producing a new season for winter, so literally our workload is the biggest it’s been.  

How does it feel sitting alongside designers that have been in the industry for decades?

Jessica: It feels good but we’ve also worked a lot with them before [so] it’s always friendly and nice. I was an assistance fashion editor for a while so I’ve worked with them on other levels. It’s always great to be sitting next to people who you’ve like grown up watching their ranges and [seeing] how amazing their collections can be.  

Madeleine: It’s strange to be on the designer side of the coin, I think. I’ve worked with different people in this room.

You’ve come into the industry at a time when digital media and Instagram makes marketing that much more accessible. Has that helped you to some degree?

Madeleine: It’s exhausting! It’s all the time. Social media is hard. I think that our woman is a bit more distinguished. Obviously it works with younger, contemporary street markets really well. Like, 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. And that’s why we had the store, because we just felt that it needed a physical outlet and it needed a home. But social media is hard and it requires 100 percent of your energy.

How would you describe the Harman Grubiŝa aesthetic?

Jessica: Luxurious fabrics are always important to us, like silks and like rich colours. But we also want to design clothes that are classic and timeless that can be reinvented in our women’s wardrobe season to season. We don’t want to be a throw away, or you regret that next season. So I would say, timeless modern luxury.

Madeleine: I think it’s really sophisticated and we always try to do off-beat colouring. I think colouring and textiles are a bit of a strength of ours. It’s what resonates with our clients. They love that a piece is something they can understand because it’s a trench coat or something like that, but they would never have perceived it to be in that colour, or that fabric and that that would work for them.

Jessica Grubisa and Madeleine Harman look through model headshots at NZFW model castings.

Jessica Grubiŝa and Madeleine Harman look through model headshots at NZFW model castings. Photo: RNZ/ Sonia Sly

Madeleine, you have a background in trend forecasting. How has that fed into your design process?

Madeleine: I worked for a company called Edelkoort Inc. in New York [and] it’s French based by a Dutch woman called Lidewij Edelkoort. At one points she was one of Time magazines’ 25 top creatives. [It’s] a non-commercial way of trend forecasting [and] she is very objective in herself and  she travels around the world all the time. All her colours are dyed in-house; it’s not something that’s she pulls from a Pantone so it’s all very organic from how they produce it, and from how they see trends happening in the world. And it’s not just necessarily clothing, it’s upheavals of cultures…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.   

That’s how it’s influenced me, and our conversations when we’re thinking about the mood of a collection.

Outside of fashion week, what is the inspiration behind your Spring/ Summer 15 collection?

Jessica: It’s probably our most resort collection. It’s like boucle’s and soft silks, and whites and creams and stripes. The inspiration behind it was different holiday locations. Different pieces are called Plaza Pant, we’ve got a Monte Carlo trench coat…maybe because we needed a holiday… Also, when you’re designing for a New Zealand woman, especially for summer, you need to understand what they’re going to do during a Kiwi summer...

Madeleine: I think we really lived vicariously through this one. I suppose summer as we know it, is such a celebration. Like 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 the collection into holiday, and it all kind of rolled out.

Listen to the audio story where Sonia Sly also speaks to Murray Bevan, Director of fashion PR agency Showroom 22, about the business of fashion and why he’s taken Harman Grubiŝa  under his wing.

Sonia Sly will be on site in Auckland covering New Zealand Fashion week, so stay tuned for her reviews on the Radio New Zealand website. She will also be updating her blog Sly on the Wall during the week to provide a glimpse behind the scenes.