Meet Madeleine Harman and Jessica Grubiša of the widely celebrated Harman Grubiša brand. Here, they talk about what’s driven their success in the fashion design world and how their creative process has evolved over time.
When you first meet Madeleine Harman and Jessica Grubiša, the dynamic creative duo behind Harman Grubiša, you can’t stop yourself from jumping to automatic conclusions about these two contrasting personalities — putting their success down to yin and yang.
Vivacious brunette Madeleine is rifling through the racks of Harman Grubiša clothing in the brand’s workroom. She settles on a classic white wrap shirt and instantly looks like Jackie O; glossy straight hair pulled into such a carefree half-tuck — that hairstyle mere mortals can never quite pull off — it almost makes you think she just glides through life. It’s an assumption that her ease and warmth of manner do nothing to dispel.
Meanwhile, witty and well-spoken Jessica, with her wild platinum locks, penchant for mirror selfies, and today, self-described “Mr T vibe” of accessorising with layers of chunky vintage Dior necklaces, has an air of self-assuredness that puts her well beyond her 28 years. She speaks about business challenges — and life in general — with the insight of someone who has been there, done that. And you get a sense from her go-getting attitude and full-on schedule, she probably has.
Delve deeper and that instant yin-yang assumption you just made grows legs. For despite their polar opposite personalities, personal styles and design aesthetics, these ladies are like two puzzle pieces that, while completely different in essence, have complementary characteristics that mean they fit together just so.
It is this collaborative synergy that has propelled them to the top of the New Zealand fashion industry in such a relatively short time frame. Since launching their eponymous label in 2014, they have received rave reviews for their debut show at NZ Fashion Week, opened a flagship boutique on Auckland’s exclusive Jervois Road, received the prestigious Mercedes-Benz Presents accolade in 2016 and been nominated twice for the International Woolmark Prize within Australia and New Zealand, missing out last year but taking out the regional title in 2017. They will travel to Florence in early 2018 to compete for the grand prize, previously won by elite fashion legends including Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.
Fashion Quarterly sat down with the pair to talk about their unique dynamic, the future of Harman Grubiša, and how their constant reinvention has led to a partnership with tech brand HP.
FQ: How did you make the decision to go into business together?
Madeleine: There is something in Jess and something in me that just really works. I’ve had it once before when I was living overseas and working with a designer and I said when I left “you’ll find someone else Emma” and she said to me: “no, it doesn’t work like that – you just really understand my design language.” And I think for Jess and I, that’s what it was. We also had the same work ethic — we work really hard and towards a common goal. We had both been thinking about [starting a label] and turned to each other late one night and just… well, we didn’t really have to say anything, we both knew what was happening here.
What do you admire in each other?
Jessica: Madeleine’s unbelievably kind and selfless and giving. She may be the nicest person I’ve ever met.
Madeleine: Jessica’s very inspiring as a woman in terms of her personal and professional self. She’s strong and funny.
Do you like each other’s dress sense?
Jessica: I think that every woman would want to look like Madeleine. It’s that’s classic, effortless Audrey Hepburn look.
Madeleine: Jessica’s style is iconic. Customers will say of an item: “I have nowhere to wear it.” Jess will say: “Wear it to the dairy!” Fashion should be fun.
What do you each bring to the business that the other doesn’t?
Madeleine: I would probably be a person who tends to ruminate on things — thinking about “what’s the best way to do this?” whereas Jess would be like “let’s just do it” and will get the ball rolling.
What has changed in the industry since you first started out?
Jessica: Social media. When we first started out, Instagram and Facebook didn’t have any relevance. The way in which consumers shop and consume imagery now is completely different. You have to be constantly talking to your audience.
How does technology play a part in the daily running of the business?
Madeleine: Tech is significant for any business, but for us, where it has caught me by surprise is as designers it has become a significant part of our processes of creation. Where we would typically be really analog, we’re able to use our HP Spectre to be more efficient. We’re travelling a lot so being able to capture ideas, document everything and process images on the road is crucial.
Jessica: With the Spectre you can physically use a pen to write on the screen of your computer. For me that was life-changing because I’ve always designed with a pen and paper and that’s just not feasible these days. If we’re travelling, I can draw a print on a dress and send it to Madeleine.
How do you innovate and reinvent to stay ahead of the fashion game?
Jessica: We push ourselves all the time to go out of our comfort zone. I feel that naturally we are very ambitious and very hard on ourselves. Fashion reinvents itself every season. We’re consistently looking for change and the way forward — even though fashion often looks back.
Madeleine: You do things you’ve never done, go somewhere you’ve never been, listen to music you’ve never listened to – because it’s different and it challenges you. In terms of our design process, existing in a different space — whether that’s a physical space [or a mental space], helps us reinvent each range and helps us reinvent ourselves.
What are you currently working on?
Jessica: Right now, we’re finishing up production of summer, we’re sampling and selling winter and we’re also designing and prepping for the global final of the International Woolmark Prize – what can only be described as the Fashion Olympics.
What are the keys to success?
Jessica: Perseverance and courage. If you work hard and you’re honest, you’re going to be successful. You’ve got to persevere no matter what anyone says. And maybe you need a little sprinkle of insanity? You’ve got to be able to work until 4am and still love it.
HP POWERING THE SHOOT
To create the futuristic fashion shoot in the latest issue, Fashion Quarterly teamed up with HP to create inspired projections of current season Harman Grubiša prints overlaid on models wearing current season collection.
*This article originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly Issue 4 2017.