A passion for fashion, raw talent and hard work have paid off for a Kiwi designer in the competitive industry of lingerie design, writes Jenna Ward.
It’s sheer talent and hard work that has resulted in Chloé Julian’s success in the incredibly competitive world of fashion design. And it was sheer determination that saw her start – against the advice of others – a Diploma in Fashion Design and Technology at Massey University, following the completion of a Bachelor of Biomedical Science from Victoria University.
“I was going to go on and do postgrad medicine, and people kept saying ‘You should get into fashion’. I always made my own clothes; that was normal for me, my mum did it and my grandmother did it. I didn’t really think of it as something you would do for a job. Living in a creative city like Wellington and being around people that were doing that sort of thing, I guess that’s what led me towards changing my mind,” she says.
After graduating from Massey in 2005, Julian was offered a job at iconic New Zealand lingerie manufacturer Bendon, designing for the Hey Sister brand. Just two years later, at the age of 26, she was thrown in at the deep-end when she was appointed lead designer for Bendon’s Stella McCartney brand. Based in London and answering directly to Stella McCartney, she produced six collections in three years.
In 2011 Julian was appointed head designer for David Beckham Bodywear, a collection sold exclusively by multinational retail chain H&M and worn by the football player himself and purportedly, the United States President at the time, Barack Obama.
She later left Bendon to become the head designer for cult lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. The company’s marketing was revolutionary and attracted celebrity heavyweights to front the collections, including supermodels Helena Christensen, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell and singers Paloma Faith and Kylie Minogue, securing the company’s reputation for being at the forefront of “sexy undergarments”. Julian’s ideas were at the forefront: her designs featured on the front pages of international fashion magazines and she was integrally involved with the associated fashion shoots and videos.
Looking back, she says, making the change from biomedical science to fashion wasn’t easy, but the passion was in her blood. “My mum helped me. She is incredibly creative and taught me the basic skills to be able to get into a fashion course. And my great grandmother studied at the London College of Arts. My grandmother said I reminded her a lot of her in terms of how creative I am, the way I make things or do things. I think on my maternal side of the family there is a lineage of creativity.
“My grandmother bought me my first sewing machine when I was 18. At the time it was this unbelievably generous gift, she was always very supportive like that. One birthday she went around to every vintage and antique shop and gave me a collection of about 15 vintage hats. Another year she purchased a box of vintage Woman’s Weekly magazines she saw advertised in a newspaper auction – the kind that used to have women’s fashion tips. That type of support and encouragement has got me to where I am today,” she says.
When she was at high school, Julian spent so much time in the local fabric shop the owner gave her a discount, which was pretty unheard of at the time.
“But even though I was making my own clothes, I didn’t really know fashion was a job, which is why I didn’t go down that path initially. When you have your careers day at school, it’s all about being an accountant, a doctor or a lawyer, those sorts of profession. Even now I think there are so many different jobs in the fashion industry that people don’t really know are jobs. It’s not just design,” she says.
Last year she returned to New Zealand with her partner Matt Wilmar, a senior architect at Fearon Hay Architects, and three-year-old son Ren, to take up a new role for Los Angeles- based fashion house TechStyle Fashion Group. Based in Auckland, she manages a team in LA, travelling to the United States monthly. She’s currently the vice president of a new brand the company is due to launch later this year.
“I have to go to LA and China regularly, so I rely on Matt to be at home with our son, but we manage it. Ren was born in London, so we are used to doing things on our own. It isn’t easy to balance both our careers and Ren, but we make it work.”
While she no longer has the time to design and sew her own outfits, she’s currently working on a patchwork quilt for her son. “He’s a handful, he’s very cheeky and curious. He just drew me an amazing picture of a unicorn, which was very impressive – he must have a creative streak too.
“The quilt is stitched with little pictures of things that are important to him. It’s nice to have something meditative to do in the evenings, but I would love to do more. When I was studying, and had all my sewing stuff around, it did drive Matt mad. Now the rule is I have to put it away each night. I have a huge collection of vintage fabrics and pieces of embroidery that I have collected from flea markets from all over the world – I just need to find the time to do something with them. I still don’t live in the dream home with a sewing room, but maybe one day,” she laughs.