India, Italy, France, California…sounds like a dream holiday by anyone’s standards. But for Cali-born, Taranaki-based fashion designer, Arielle Mermin, it was the inspiring work trip to end all work trips.
In Fashion Quarterly’s spring issue, Arielle gets us up to speed on her brand and then shares some trip highlights with us. We of course wanted to know more, so we asked her for a full rundown of the eight week expedition. If you haven’t opened a WebJet tab by the time you’ve finished reading, you’re stronger than us…
Eight weeks abroad with Arielle Mermin
My trip began in Delhi, where I visited numerous factories. The trip’s original purpose was to fulfil my personal need to commit to fair trade and to collaborate with female-owned companies. Since the brand’s inception, I have wanted to work with producers in India and I have spent the past few seasons learning the trade domestically and in China to prepare for the shift. Producing in India is known to require extreme attention to detail, but it’s the one country where the most beautiful textile work can be made both transparently and ethically. My first week in Delhi (during one of the worst heatwaves in recorded history) I inspected factories, sourced fabrics, trims and block prints. Between my factory visits I was able to sneak in a bit of sightseeing. I toured around in a tuk-tuk and frequented several bustling markets.
Next, I travelled to Jaipur – known to be India’s central hub for artisan crafts. I learned about block printing, different methods of dying fabrics, and weaving, and saw craftsmen and women at work with gemstones, ceramics and metal. I spent the entire week scrounging through markets, picking up an assortment of inspirations for the new-season collection. I was lucky enough to meet other up and coming Indian designers, which I loved.
I was travelling during the off-season. This meant I was literally the only westerner around, as most people avoid India during periods of extreme high temperatures. It also meant I managed to book my stay at the incredibly beautiful family owned hotel, The Pearl Place. The construction of each room took a year to complete, each one decorated with handcrafted mirror work, marble, and intricate wood carvings. I felt like Indian royalty.
My final week in India, I ventured to Rishikesh, the ‘Gateway to Himalaya’ where the temperature was a bit cooler. While there, I visited the Ganges, many temples, and witnessed quite a scene it being a holiday destination for Indians during that time of year. The area was full of yogis, wannabe yogis, hari krishnas, river rafters, and families all making their pilgrimage to the holy river. It was an amazing sight and inspired me to finish designing the collection.
My original plan was to return to New Zealand after three weeks of travel, but I was given a massive opportunity to work at two major fashion trade shows in Florence and Paris. The first show was Pitti Immagine Uomo in Florence, where a collection of over 1200 menswear labels exhibit to buyers, distribution companies and bloggers from around the world. It was quite a spectacle and truly illustrated how the fashion world works in Europe. The next show that I attended was the Man/Woman show in Paris, which has a curated selection of only 100 premium brands. While there, I met high profile retailers and incredibly inspiring designers. Both trade shows exposed the strength and complexities of global fashion commerce while demonstrating to me how incredibly humble, intelligent and down to earth people are in the industry.
Between these trade shows, I had time to explore Rome, Milan, Sestri Levante and the streets of Paris. I took advantage of the sightseeing opportunity, visiting every possible fashion and modern art exhibit/museum, enjoying the vintage and flea market shopping, and, not to mention, eating everything in plain sight. I found a particular bakery that made pistachio chocolate rolls that blew my mind (and probably my pant seams!)
The entire trip was simply magical. From stumbling across a shop in Jaipur filled to the brim with vintage Afghani and Pakistani embroideries (my ultimate textile heaven), to rubbing shoulders with fashion’s elite, to jumping into the velvety Mediterranean sea at midnight and now, finally, reuniting with my family and friends in sunny California, every bit of the journey has been incredibly cool.
Of course, with any trip comes a level of disaster. I assumed that this would be food-related in India, but during my whole stay, I was careful about eating street food and managed to escape without any stomach upset. My first week in California, however, I got food poisoning from a salad. So there you go, you never know where disaster can strike!