Emerging designer Jess Grindell is bringing a powerful feminine energy to the local fashion scene with her eponymous label, Jess Grindell Couture.
Known to insiders for her equestrian-inspired silk shirts, we’re obsessed with her Victorian silhouettes and bold colours, which we think you’ll start seeing everywhere - we've spotted Benee wearing one of her Joker mini skirts on tour, which means 602,000 others have too.
Grindell recently exhibited a small edit of her designs and campaign photos by Finn Bowman at Auckland’s Lucky Strike cafe/gallery, where she stood on the counter in riding boots and a Barbie pink ensemble (of her making, of course) and had the full attention of the crowd.
Not many young women embody that level of confidence so early in their career, but it is infectious - and if wearing her designs gives her that feeling of power, we want to know more.
We spoke to the exciting designer-to-watch about her strong feminist ethos, her fight to unlock her creativity and the question we all need to know: how do we become a Jess Grindell Couture girl?
Your signature designs - the Riding Shirt and Joker Skirt - both have historic style references. What drew you to these silhouettes?
I am always drawing inspiration from Victorian garments and I see clothes as a way to disrupt society and show the power that women carry is often taken away from us by men.
I'm in love with all the intricate detailing of these older garments, it just makes them so much more interesting and thoughtful. I feel as though clothes back then were created to serve a function and highlight the body in a way that reflected the normalities of a specific time period, rather than following a trend to be profitable.
I love the design of clothing because it can change the power that a person can feel when wearing them. I try to create powerful silhouettes that make a woman stand out and feel confident when they wear my clothing.
What has the response to your designs been like?
I started selling garments about a year ago, and it's been an interesting process. The more 'avant garde' garments have actually been more popular than the more wearable items I have released.
The local fashion industry is quite small and I feel as though a lot of people are scared to put clothes out that they really like, because consumers here have always tended to dress quite safe. It's crazy going places sometimes and there will be a group of girls all wearing the exact same shoes.
I've actually been quite surprised that people buy my clothes, which sounds so weird, because I just assumed they may be too wild for people. I am really enjoying this more avant garde, experimental and playful space in fashion that is growing in New Zealand.
What stands out as your first fashion memory? Did you always want to be a designer?
When I was really little I would stand in the mirror, drape the towel around me and wrap it in different ways after I had a shower and create different shapes and silhouettes. I didn't really know what I was doing but now I understand it was related to my love of making.
I was the only person who loved mufti days at primary school, and would take it so seriously that I would make my mum take me to Urban Angel and try to convince her to buy me that piece I had seen in the catalogue.
I actually lost my creativity during primary school and high school. I think going to Catholic schools really tried to mold me into a completely different person: you were looked at like a failure if you took an art class rather than history or economics. I convinced myself I liked all these other subjects and never actually followed what I wanted to do.
When I left school it took me a few years to mold myself back into the creative person I once was. I went to study graphic design at Massey and took one of the fashion papers and just felt so happy so I switched my degree. I didn't know how to sew before I went to university but I wanted to succeed so badly in fashion I just pushed myself.
What’s the reality of starting out as a fashion designer - how are you currently juggling your creative endeavors with paying the bills?
I honestly have no idea. I've always been such a hard worker, I am extremely competitive by nature and always wanted to be one of the greatest at what I have chosen to do.
After my 9-5 job at Fabric Merchants, I come home and work on my own things until bedtime. All the creative people I am surrounded by are doing exactly the same thing. I feel like we don't get the credit we deserve. So many people come home from their well paid corporate jobs and actually relax. I don't think I could be that person though, I have so many things and ideas I want to do.
Has working at Fabric Merchants influenced the way you think about the industry and the materials you choose to work with?
University doesn't really teach you anything about fabric, so 100%. I have so much more knowledge over what fibres I like, the countries of origin and how the actual world of fashion works. It's made me more aware of the things I consume and has made me make better choices when buying my own clothing. It's also made me love quality items which are not good for my bank account.
It has also taught me that people are so green-washed by this whole 'sustainable' trend in the industry right now. Like how is a fabric organic or ethical when it's been made in a country that pays well below living wage, or how is a garment ethically made when workers are working in extremely poor conditions?
A lot of ‘organic' fabrics that come out of countries like China or India have been found to not even be organic. I now always look at countries of origin as this reflects the quality of the garment itself.
Before we continue, in your words who is a Jess Grindell Couture girl?
A girl who wants to be seen, she's got a bit of an attitude. She's confident, which others dislike her for but deep down they are just jealous of her.
She's sick of the world being run by men. She's financially independent and doesn't need a man to bring home that 'bread'. Right now she's extremely mad and confused at the way the world is going with the abortion laws.
She spends most of her money on overpriced cocktails and vintage designer items because she thinks she deserves to be living a life she cannot yet afford. She's not sure if she has been convinced by society that she wants lip fillers or she actually does.
Who are the most exciting designers in Aotearoa right now?
I have so many favourites and they all do such different things! Ria Bhogal is definitely one to watch, I went to fashion school with her so I am definitely a bit biassed. But I know her process and how curated she is with her work.
Last but not least, where can people buy your designs?
I have just switched from a made-to-order model to a pre-order model to try and keep up with demand, and give my carpal tunnel affected wrists a break. I will be announcing the pre-order starting dates very soon! Around mid July. Designs will be available to order on my website jessgrindell.com. I've also got a few special pieces in stock and ready to ship at Sabotage, Bara (Auckland), and Bizarre Bazaar (Wellington).