Madeleine Har­man and Jes­sica Gru­biša are em­pow­er­ing women to take wardrobe risks with their epony­mous label. The pair talk to Lucy Slight about the brand’s wild ride, their yin and yang and why you can’t define the Har­man Gru­biša woman

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A pre-fash­ion week chat with Har­man Gru­biša

One could ar­gue that in fash­ion, two heads are bet­ter than one. There’s Jack McCol­lough and Lazaro Her­nan­dez of Proenza Schouler, Domenico Dolce and Ste­fano Gab­bana of Dolce & Gab­bana, and of course, sis­ters Kate and Laura Mul­leavy of Ro­darte, who cat­e­gor­i­cally prove the point. For Jes­sica Gru­biša – one half of New Zealand label Har­man Gru­biša – launch­ing a brand with a part­ner in crime was the agenda from day dot, be­cause, as she says, “it bal­ances out your crazy cre­ative. You need to share this jour­ney with some­one else.”

It’s four weeks out from New Zealand Fash­ion Week and Jes­sica and her busi­ness part­ner and best friend Madeleine Har­man have an air of calm as we chat over cof­fee at a café near their Pon­sonby, Auck­land store. Ear­lier in the week, Har­man Gru­biša was named the Mercedes-Benz Presents de­signer for NZFW 2016 – an ac­co­lade pre­vi­ously be­stowed upon such lo­cal fash­ion stal­warts as Kate Sylvester and Trelise Cooper, and in­ter­na­tion­ally, Carolina Her­rera and Bad­g­ley Mis­chka. It’s a huge hon­our for the brand, con­sid­er­ing it’s a mere two years since Har­man Gru­biša burst onto the scene. The part­ner­ship means a big­ger show than last year’s fash­ion week de­but (both in terms of the col­lec­tion and the guest list), and Jes­sica ad­mits it’s go­ing to be a “sprint to the end.”

“If you’ve seen the Raf [Si­mons] doc­u­men­tary [Dior and I], that whole range was started six weeks out, it’s kind of how it works,” ex­plains Jes­sica. “Non-fash­ion peo­ple hear that there’s six weeks be­fore the show and they’re like, ‘What? You’ve got so much to do!’ And fash­ion peo­ple are like, ‘you’ve got heaps of time, have a hol­i­day!’”

It’s been a re­mark­able year for the duo. Launch­ing their AW16 col­lec­tion, ‘Dakota,’ at NZFW 2015 put them on the map. The brand’s Ti­betan lamb­swool jack­ets and stoles, exquisitely tai­lored work­wear and pen­chant for the finest fab­rics and fin­ish­ings made headlines and win­ter wardrobe wish lists across the coun­try. Mere weeks be­fore their run­way de­but, the Har­man Gru­biša flag­ship store on Jer­vois Road in Pon­sonby opened its doors, and as an­other pres­ti­gious nod to their de­sign prow­ess, the brand was named an Aus­tralasian fi­nal­ist in the In­ter­na­tional Wool­mark Prize for 2016.

Madeleine and Jes­sica work seven-day weeks and for the most part, it’s just the two of them. But the syn­ergy be­tween them is un­de­ni­able and pos­si­bly the key to their col­lec­tive com­po­sure. Their dy­namic is some­thing they both saw from the start, as stu­dents study­ing to­gether at White­cliffe Col­lege of Art and De­sign in Auck­land. Asked if they re­mem­ber the mo­ment they de­cided to join forces, it’s an im­me­di­ate “Yes, 100 per­cent,” from Madeleine and a nod in agree­ment from Jes­sica. “She was work­ing on her paint-spilled skirt and I was hand sewing a crazy amount of gems,” re­calls Jes­sica. “I think I’d been think­ing about it prior and so had Madi. Maybe I said it? I don’t know. I al­ways wanted my own label, I al­ways wanted to have my own thing, but I never wanted to do it alone. I’m smart like that – rope some­one in.”

Despite their con­trast­ing style aes­thet­ics (Madeleine’s is clas­sic and re­fined, whereas Jes­sica’s style could be de­scribed as 80s power b*tch meets Yeezy sea­son 3), they both had the same vi­sion for Har­man Gru­biša. “We al­ways wanted to make beau­ti­ful, well-made cloth­ing,” says Jes­sica. “Our per­sonal style is not nec­es­sar­ily what’s pro­jected in the brand…”

“But it in­flu­ences every­thing,” adds Madeleine. It could be that this jux­ta­po­si­tion is part of the rea­son they’re loath to define the Har­man Gru­biša woman – be­cause, like Madeleine and Jes­sica, she’s hun­gry for some­thing dif­fer­ent, which the girls agree is what gives them the con­fi­dence to think out­side the square and take risks. “It’s hard to put her down to just one thing,” says Jes­sica. She’s a cor­po­rate lawyer with a keen sense of style, she’s 75 and she’s 16, she’s from down the line and

“I al­ways wanted my own label... but I never wanted to do it alone. I’m smart like that – rope some­one in”

Above, from left: Madeleine Har­man and Jes­sica Gru­biša of Har­man Gru­biša. The cloth­ing brand is

the Mercedes-Benz Presents de­signer for New Zealand Fash­ion

Week 2016.

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