What does is it take to successfully dress the nation? We speak to designers Juliette Hogan and Francis Hooper about the ins and outs of New Zealand’s fashion landscape.
They are both fashion designers and bearers of French names, but not much else pins Juliette Hogan and Francis Hooper to the same mannequin. This week, the spotlight is on New Zealand Fashion Week and it's hitting Juliette full-steam, while Francis and the team at fashion house WORLD hum away in the shadows. Always one step away from the mainstream, they've opted not to show this year.
The designers could not colour code their brands more differently if they tried; Juliette’s designs consistently represent the delicate and playful side to femininity, and WORLD represents… well, whatever the heck they feel like. Despite being poles apart, both designers are celebrating major milestones this year ─ Juliette Hogan is celebrating her 10th anniversary of fashion design, while Francis Hooper is celebrating 25 years with his beloved brand.
Donning a purple beanie and carrying an iPhone adorned with a McDonald’s fries case, Francis is not afraid to show the world who he is and what he likes. He’s self-assured and poised, but always willing to crack a joke or two ─ a trait that flows on into WORLD’s quirky clothing.
Francis started WORLD with Denise L’Estrange-Corbet 25 years ago, claiming fearlessness as their key to success. This success has a history of being fuelled by passion, with the designers championing freedom through their clothing.
“WORLD was never scared as a company to have an opinion, so we would champion gay rights, we would champion women’s refuge. We would actually incorporate issues into our fashion collections and sell them; WORLD stood out because we stood for something,” says Francis.
With New Zealand’s small market, Francis says the only thing that is going to make you get to the top is hard work.
WORLD's Francis Hooper
“Even though New Zealand is at the end of the earth, our isolation is a really great strength. With so few of us, if you really want to do something you’ve got to be really into it, because if you’re just playing with it, you won’t survive, you’ll go under.”
Juliette has the same approach, yet is more unsuspecting. WORLD’s studio is filled with sequinned, colourful attire, complete with a filing system stacked to the rooftop. Juliette’s workroom is a minimalist space with delicate shafts of light illuminating the pale wooden floorboards. Vases filled with intricate flower arrangements are dotted around the room, and we sit at a bare table in front of a grey linen couch. On her desk rests one item: her sleek silver MacBook.
“I don’t ever remember wanting to be a fashion designer. Mum taught me how to sew when I was about 12 years old, and I sewed right through high school, my own dresses and that sort of thing," says Juliette. "It wasn’t my plan to study fashion, so I did textile design. Then it kind of just happened.”
Juliette’s business approach is said in fewer words and at a slower pace than Francis, but they both get to the same core idea of taking a hands-on stance. “I think because I understand business and have done the business side of things for so long, I know what happens in my business inside and out. I’ve got a really great handle on it," she says. “Whereas I think if you don’t have that business sense and you let someone look after your business for you, you never really know how your business is tracking and how external things are influencing the way it grows and develops."
Designer Juliette Hogan
Reaching a decade is a milestone for any business, and fashion can tear seams for the strongest of designers; Juliette says she feels very lucky with where her business has come. “I think over the last two to three years I’ve become a much calmer person, like I try not to sweat the small stuff. Part of that is that the business has proven itself and I feel very comfortable with where we are in the industry at the moment.”
She also pins her success to the people surrounding her. “I also think it works because I surround myself with really good people. I’ve got great staff that alleviate a huge amount of pressure off me,” she says.
Francis says he grew up in a darker era, where protests were the norm and New Zealand barely existed on the fashion radar. “New Zealand in the 1980s was a shithole, it was Albania… it was very controlled, the economy had only just opened up; there was nothing to do, nothing to buy, nothing to enjoy in the sense of consumer products and fashion,” he says.
While WORLD’s designs have always been streaked with a flair for protest and rebellion, Juliette’s design process has a calmer approach. “In terms of the actual design process, I’m reading magazines and blogs and seeing films and just talking about fashion all the time, so that is kind of a progressive inspiration ─ you know we’ll be talking about one thing and that leads to other ideas and that’s how we design,” she says.
Francis says he couldn’t care less whether people like his clothes or not, as money is secondary to personality. “We still are a very opinionated brand, so when we first opened our store we had lots of people saying, 'Oh my god, who buys this?' Well we said, 'Fuck off, what the fuck are you doing here then? This is private property, I don’t give a shit what you think.' We just talked to the people who liked us. With successful businesses, you just focus on the positive and ignore the negative.”
This armoured approach has given WORLD a cult-like following, with Francis saying some people have been their customers for almost 20 years. “What we realised in the late 80s is that in the world, there are enough people that are different that there will always be people that love what we do,” he says.
He sees the Internet as a progressive way of the future with fashion. “The Internet is an amazing wild west for international trade; we’ve started selling back in Europe again, because we stopped for a little bit during the recession.” With the responsibilities that come with being a bigger brand, Francis says WORLD has matured since their earlier days. “WORLD has become a little more mainstream, but we still have an incredible streak in our DNA which is irreverent, eclectic and revolutionary.”
While Juliette’s brand is comparatively a baby, her level-headedness is sure to push her brand a long way. She knows how to do classy, but her designs consistently keep the edginess that seems oh-so-Kiwi. When looking back at when she first started out, Juliette now wishes she had known the tough times wouldn’t last forever. “I wish I had known that it gets easier, to just persevere. It’s been a really good 10 years, it’s been challenging, but I love what I do and I feel very fortunate.”