Arielle Mermin is a California-born, New Zealand-based designer on the rise. She talks to Phoebe Watt about faraway places, fair trade and her free-spirited approach to fashion.
FQ: Tell us about growing up in California.
Arielle: My upbringing definitely informed my worldly interests and bohemian style. Both of my parents were avid travellers who really pushed an alternative lifestyle on my siblings and I. At 13 years-old I moved out of the house to attend high school in the Santa Barbara mountains. I chopped wood for heating, worked on an organic farm and took science classes in a building with only three walls. By 16, I was enrolled at Simon’s Rock College of Bard in Massachusetts where I double-majored in evolutionary biology and theatre studies. After graduating college at 19 I worked in Europe, then returned to Los Angeles to start my career as a film and TV stylist. I thank my parents for teaching me to dream big and take risks.
Was working in film always part of the plan?
It was something I was interested in doing, so I gave it a go. I started out in accounting, as I knew it was a department that people rarely tried to get into. From there I made the contacts to move into the art and wardrobe departments, where I learned to work under immense pressure and solidified my love for textiles and vintage clothing. I met the most creative, hard-working people in that environment and I loved being part of the culture, but after a few years the 80-hour weeks caught up with me!
You came to New Zealand on a surfing holiday in 2009, what made you stay?
My parents always escaped to New Zealand to avoid the Northern Hemisphere winter, but all I knew of the country was my mother’s annual gift of possum socks. Possums in the USA look like giant rats, so basically I imagined New Zealand as a Narnia-type place with rats running around, but the moment I arrived, I immediately had a sense of being home. I moved to Taranaki in 2013 after living in Tauranga for almost five years. It’s unique compared to the rest of the country – I understand why people from the ‘Naki have a hard time leaving.
How did your label Arielle Mermin come about?
I have always been into textiles. My parents were collectors of arts and crafts from around the world and I grew up thrift shopping and making clothes with my mum. That – and working in wardrobe – was my initial training. I then learned pattern drafting and industrial sewing at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. Finally, with no formal business training, I took a leap and made it happen. I showed my debut collection at New Zealand Fashion Week in 2012 and before I knew it, I had over 10 retailers.
You have a 1960s-70s aesthetic. Why do these eras appeal to you?
I have a real sense of romanticism about – and nostalgia for – California, and the 60s and 70s were its heyday. It was such an explosive time in politics, arts and music, and fashion highlighted that with its opulent fabrics and textiles, and romantic, free-love silhouettes. Music was at its best, whereas politics and youth were screaming. Fashion was a snapshot of that time.
Are you influenced by the New Zealand environment?
I’m an artist, so absolutely any environment will influence and affect my work. I’m inspired by the New Zealand lifestyle and I think the brand works well here, but most of my collections are inspired by outside references, like art, music and travel.
You’ve just been on an extensive overseas trip, tell us about that.
Since my brand’s inception I’ve wanted to commit to fair trade and collaborate with female-owned companies, so that was the trip’s original purpose. It began in Delhi, where I visited numerous factories. Producing in India requires extreme attention to detail, however it’s one country where the most beautiful textile work can be made both transparently and ethically. My plan was to return to New Zealand after three weeks, but I was given a massive opportunity to work at two major fashion trade shows in Florence and Paris. I am currently in California – a wonderful detour to visit family and friends.
What were some highlights of the trip?
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 in Europe, to jumping into the velvety Mediterranean sea at midnight and, finally, reuniting with loved ones in sunny California, the entire trip has been simply magical. When I booked the tickets my eight-year relationship had just ended. Everything I built my life around – my business, my house, many friends – was woven into my marriage, and I honestly had no idea how I would cope. Meeting such incredibly strong and passionate businesswomen in an extremely challenging country like India, witnessing poverty and wealth, living under new and old architecture and learning about everything from Old World-style artisan crafts to high-end fashion technologies, has given me a level of understanding and confidence I didn’t know I had.
What’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to working with empowered women to create garments for empowered women. I have an amazing and diverse network of retailers, many of whom are working mothers who’ve supported me from day one, and I’m extremely excited to share this next phase of the brand with them, and through them. I’m juggling production for my spring/summer range, which will be dropping in September and October, along with sampling for autumn/winter 2017, and I have other exciting plans for the future as well, but it is still too early to divulge!
@ariellemermin | ariellemermin.com
For more on Arielle’s travels, visit FQ.co.nz/ArielleMermin