new zealand takes new york

Harman Grubiša, New Zealand's best-kept fashion secret, is about to go global.

by Isabelle Hellyer
30 August 2017, 5:32am

The Minnie Heel was a perfect shoe, really. A low, square block heel, long straps wrapping up the leg like a legionnaire, and the sort of elegantly pointed toe that's recently returned to style, all rendered in vivid jacquard. If a bigger label made the shoe, it probably would've come to be the season's it-shoe, the Knife Mule of autumn/winter 17.

But its maker Harman Grubiša didn't play in that league. In fact, despite the brilliance of their designs, few outside of their native New Zealand know the young luxury label. Design duo Madeline Harman and Jessica Grubiša have been adamant they build a solid foundation at home before taking their designs overseas. The strategy has served them well, they've become one of New Zealand's most awarded labels; claiming Woolmark Prize Nominations and Mercedes Benz honours. Still, it's difficult to ignore the clear appeal of their aesthetic to markets in Europe and America.

Now it seems Jessica and Madeline feel ready. Their latest campaign for spring/summer 18 was photographed on location in New York by Jakob Landvik. There was a neat symmetry of a new, undiscovered place and a sense of home, with fellow Kiwis — and old friends — Thistle Brown and Lili Sumner styling and starring, respectively. It appears the wheels of the long-awaited international push have been put in motion.

With a beautiful campaign positioning Harman Grubiša to win over the fashion set beyond New Zealand, we speak with the pair.

It's been a long time since we last sat down together in New Zealand! I feel like there's a lot to catch up on. Run me through the biggest milestones I've missed.
Jessica: I'm going to start with Mercedes-Benz Presents, of course — we opened NZFW as recipients of the accolade last year. We were nominated for the International Woolmark Prize, we actually just got back from Sydney where we won the Regional Finals. We're the first New Zealanders do it, and we're off to Florence to compete on the global stage in January. And somewhere between all of that, I got on a plane to New York to shoot Lili Sumner for our most recent campaign, Panama.

When we last spoke, you were sort of toying with the idea of expansion — plotting out where to go next, and how to best get there. Where did you get to in those discussions?
Madeline: We're in conversation with an international sales agent at the moment, and we've had a lot more overseas interest of late. After being conscious about putting our foundation down here, we're approach the jump off point. It's exciting.

Panama is a departure from your older imagery, you've tended to shoot digital. I am reading too deeply into the move to film, or is there a sort of conceptual shift going on at Harman Grubiša HQ?
Jessica: Luxury at the moment feels a little undone. The brand is evolving, and our imagery is doing the same. We worked with Jakob Landvik on these, he chases light and only works on film. It felt like the perfect mood for the Panama girl.

And I imagine you both know Thistle and Lili from back home. How was reuniting on the other side of the world?
Jessica: Thistle is my best friend, and Lili is like family. Tommy Stayton, another best friend, flew in from London to do beauty just for us. Working together on Harman Grubiša with this team, for me, it's a moment I've always dreamt of.

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