A career move, an exploration of style and a touching tribute, Kayla Jurlina’s project-based brand is appealingly multifaceted, discovers Phoebe Watt
They say every end is a new beginning. For 24-year-old
Kayla Jurlina — former righthand woman to Dame Trelise Cooper — the end came earlier this year, when she decided to leave the company she’d worked for for seven years.
“I started interning for Trelise when I was at high school — I’d take sick days off to help out,” she says. While at university, she worked part-time in Trelise Cooper boutiques and at the company’s head office, until her final year of study, when she was offered the role of design assistant. In 2015, she was appointed designer for the brand’s millennial label, Coop.
“I had so much fun in that role, travelling all the time to Paris and Tokyo,” she says. “Trelise and I got on like a house on fire
— and still do. I love her to bits and miss her so much.”
Suffice to say, it wasn’t an easy decision to quit. But a culmination of events in Kayla’s personal life caused her to reflect on the direction her career was taking and consider looking for a new challenge.
“Last year was really hard,” she says. “My mum has cancer and at one point it looked like she wasn’t going to make it to Christmas. It got me thinking about how life’s so short, and I realised I want to do something for myself.”
Not one to second-guess a gut instinct, Kayla left Trelise Cooper before she knew what that ‘something’ was. With an empty schedule for the first time in her adult life, she initially occupied her time with lounging around. But within a week or two, the itchy feet kicked in. She began searching for a project, eventually stumbling on it in the form of 150 pairs of vintage earrings she’d recently purchased from her partner’s mother, Judith Slane.
“She used to be a jeweller back in the ’80s and ’90s,” says Kayla. “Then, when she got pregnant with my partner, Andrew, and his brother, Tim, she ended up putting the business on hold.”
The leftover stock was stored away, Kayla learning of its existence shortly after she began dating Andrew three years ago. “One day, Judith pulled out a big black box and it was full of all this vintage costume jewellery, and I was just like, ‘Oh my god!’”
Secretly hankering to borrow pieces but figuring Judith was saving them, Kayla couldn’t believe it when she found out they were being sold. “Last year she had a sale, and I remember walking into the room and seeing everything sitting there on the table and panicking. I didn’t want anyone else buying them.”
Kayla begged for them to be packed away, much to the incredulity of Andrew, who couldn’t fathom why anyone would need that many earrings. Kayla admits even she couldn’t answer that question at the time. “I was just like, ‘Trust me, I need them. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like this is the start of something.’”
Fast forward a few months and it occurred to her that what she had was the beginning of Homage, a project-based brand built around self-contained collections. “It’s not a jewellery brand,” says Kayla. “Yes, the first collection is jewellery, but the next one might be antiques. I’ve designed it as a platform for me to explore different creative pursuits.”
This said, her heart is “still very much in fashion”. And, in fact, it was her obsession with vintage luxury fashion advertising that inspired Homage’s first collection. “It’s that ’80s power-dressing thing. I was looking at this old Chanel campaign and there are all these beautiful women dressed in suits, and they all have jewellery layered on — pearls and huge earrings — and it made me realise that it’s definitely a look that’s happening again. And I think it’s to do with this feminist resurgence and women feeling really empowered.”
Equal parts empowered and empowering, while at Trelise Cooper, Kayla seized the opportunity to give several ‘women in business’ presentations. She says the experience of telling her story to women working in different industries was as inspiring for her as it was for her audiences.
“I think it’s because I want to be known as a woman in business myself. Not a fashion designer or a jewellery designer — a woman in business.”
Homage, she believes, is her key to unlocking that dream, especially if she can secure as her customers the businesswomen she so admires. “I do want to target fashionable women, but I think the brand has a sense of sophistication to it. The whole brand identity is something that I want to see more of a mature woman buy into.”
A black-tie launch event at Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery in the final week of August will go far in setting this sophisticated tone. The evening will centre around an exhibition of prints shot by Robert Hart of photography
“I was just like, ‘Trust me, I need them. I feel like this is the start of
studio Shadowlands, showcasing pieces from Homage’s inaugural collection paired with a mix of high and low food items.
“Half of it is really decadent — think oysters and crayfish, almost
‘power food’, to play up the powerdressing aspect of the brand. And then the other half is things that remind me of my childhood, like
Chex and peanut butter on toast,” says Kayla. “I want everyone to look at the prints and feel a sense of nostalgia, like, ‘My mum had a pair of earrings just like that.’”
Kayla’s own mother, Shona Jurlina, remains a muse and motivator. “When I was little, she was really big on costume jewellery, and [later] she always used to say to me when I was travelling on buying trips, ‘Look out for clip-on earrings, Kayla!’ It’s funny, you never want to do what your mother says, but somehow it’s come full circle.”
Indeed, featuring several pieces sourced from textile fairs in Paris and the south of France, Kayla says her first collection — and, for that matter, the brand itself — is an homage to the woman who raised her. Or should that be women?
“Absolutely,” says Kayla. “I’m paying homage to my mum. And to my grandmother, and to Judith… and Trelise, who has been huge. We all have people in our lives who help us on our journey, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a few. Homage is my way of expressing my gratitude for that.”
Pieces from Homage’s first collection in a print shot by Robert Hart, part of an exhibition to be held for the brand’s launch. Opposite: Kayla Jurlina.