You are originally a Brisbane girl, but are currently based in New York. How was the US been treating you, what are you working on over there, and do you think your Brisbane background has helped you with your current pursuits?
I am a very proud Brissie girl, living in NYC. Being Australian has definitely helped me whilst living in the US. Americans love us, and those from Brisbane are even more approachable, with our relaxed attitude to all matters.
I am currently working on a few projects out of New York and Australia, so I am back and fourth between the two. I have loved being a part of the Virgin Australia brand overhaul, as the designer of the current uniform. I have found I love uniform design, so I am bidding for large jobs around the world, and some here in Australia, to do more of this kind of work.
I really miss having my own label and it is something I am looking at launching in the coming couple of years on a larger scale, so I am also currently working on contacts in the US—manufacturers etc.—to help this dream come true again.
You were the winner of the first Project Runway Australia. How did that impact your fashion design career, and the choices you have made subsequently?
Winning the inaugural season of ‘Project Runway Australia’ was a fabulous way to gain exposure, and get my name in the public eye. Winning the show really lifted my brand, which was already stocked in several multi-brand boutiques in Australia.
In terms of impact on my fashion career, winning the show and having my brand in the place that it was, really meant there was a signature to my perceptions of the Grbac woman. I took this respect for the female form from Fashion Week to the Runways of Terminal 1 with Virgin Australia. I really was meticulous, hands-on and incredibly strict about the materials we chose, and in finalising design patterns, because I didn’t want the Virgin Australia team to ever look like they worked anywhere else. It was about looking amazing, fun, and polished. So yes, I believe my experiences have only helped develop ‘brand Juli Grbac’.
Tell us how you came to be interested in fashion…
I have always loved fashion ever since I was a little girl. My mother had her own manufacturing business, making clothes, so I was sewing from the age of 8 years old. Fashion has always been something I have wanted to do, so making it into my full-time career was a natural progression. I started my business from sewing and designing pencil cases in school, which then led to making new outfits for school dances, for my friends.
After school finished, I went on to study at Gateway TAFE for 2 years, and then went straight into the workforce at Easton Pearson. From there, my fashion interests were only heightened after I studied at Central Saint Martin’s in London, and worked for the then-famous fashion house, ‘Voyage’. It was an incredible time being there. In my first week I was making bespoke orders for Ms Victoria Beckham! I learnt so much in my stint in London. I came back to Australia with invaluable experience, and I started my own label at 22 years old.
Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?
I feel really blessed to have grown up in Australia. We are so far removed from the rest of the world. This only means that inspiration can truly be researched, based on genuine passions and loves in life. I truly hone in on inspiration from everywhere. I have always been obsessed with Paris, trips around Europe, and living now in New York—it is truly a feast for the eyes.
Inspiration for me comes from travel, and when I am on trips that have truly inspired me, I can envision a whole collection—30 looks—from one swatch of unique fabric or an interesting colour combination.
What is your most treasured dress-related object or memory?
Those who know me well will know that I always promised myself that if I won ‘Project Runway Australia’, I would buy myself a classic black Chanel 2.55 bag.
After winning the show, it took me 3 months to muster the courage to go into the Chanel boutique in Sydney to even buy that bag! I felt so guilty spending that amount on a bag, however, it now sits beautifully in my New York boudoir.
Give us three words, people or places you associate with Queensland fashion…
Colourful, carefree, and individual.
Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?
I do think there is most definitely a Queensland style. I recently was interviewed as part of the new Uncovering the Brisbane Look short documentary feature, and was proud to speak amongst special fashion personalities speaking up on the matter. Whether Brisbane, Gold Coast, Noosa or up North, Queenslanders are more experimental than those from other states in Australia. We really do what we want, we wear lots of colour, we are fresh and somewhat effortless. There is none of this all-black uniform à la Melbourne.
With that said, Queenslanders are more in-touch than ever, so Melbourne and Sydney can stop giggling at us. We remain aware of trends out there, but Queenslanders generally maintain a relaxed approached. Whether we are chilling by the Brisbane River with a Mimosa and wearing a kaleidoscope coloured Camilla Kaftan; or if we are strutting down James Street, in a pair of Helmut Lang leather leggings and a killer Balenciaga bag on our arms. This is the way we roll, and they love that overseas!
Published in Issue 10, on March 11, 2014.