Designer Jeanine Clarkin in Paris. Image supplied.
Jeanine Clarkin has had a life-long love of fashion and founded her eponymous label in 1994. Her unique design style draws from her Maori culture and enjoyment of travel and art. During her career she’s also been a costume designer for dance and theatre, a fashion show producer and creative director as well as a curator for art exhibitions. This year, Jeanine showed at New Zealand Fashion Week 2019 together with designer Shona Tawhaio in a group show called AHO supported by Auckland Council. Jeanine’s beautiful designs were a clever blend of the past and present in a delightful rainbow of hues that brought a lot of joy and vibrancy to the runway.
We caught up with Jeanine to find out more about her label, what inspires her and what you would never catch her wearing!
Tell us about your latest collection?
My latest collection celebrates the natural beauty of Papatuanuku (Mother Nature). My love of landscapes and travel took me to Spain where I felt an affinity with the art and culture, from the shades of Segovia, the vast Spanish desert and the countryside, and the grace, energy, and colours of the Flamenco dancers, the music and the Torero capes, where I found similarities within the Maori culture. This cultural element is blended with New Zealand’s diverse colonised history, farmland, the forest and the sea. The vibrant colour palette of my collection is a reflection of these cultural influences.
Due to my love of soft tailoring I’ve initially produced a set of bespoke, tailored pieces, made with vintage recycled wool blankets. Although designed in wool my intention is to offer these garments in linen, silk and denim as a ready to wear collection in the near future.
What made you become a designer?
All the women in my whanau made their own clothes and clothes for us kids, my mother would buy mail order fabric from Wales and Mckinley and make the same blouse for me and three of my sisters, then all four boys would end up with the same shirt.
Our family had a recycling centre in Taupo with hordes of ‘ragbags’ second-hand clothes that I could dive into and revamp into my outfits for school mufti days. I couldn’t afford new clothes from Shanton or even the JAG outlet store in Taupo so that what where it was at for me. I quickly wised up to saying I had ‘designed’ my clothes rather than saying they were ‘home made’.
My aunty had a bridal boutique so I was lucky enough to be sent there every day after school where Aunty Marlene would let me use her left over bits of satin, silks and tulle to make my ‘Paris Originals’ as we would call them.
When I was 16 I entered the Wool Awards and the Benson and Hedges Design Awards, but had no luck. The following year I got into the highlights show of the Smoke Free Awards though.
I never really knew you could actually become a designer, I wanted to be a hairdresser as they wore the coolest clothes. I ended up a motor trimmer and upholsterer, then eventually went to Wellington Polytechnic to do Fashion Design and Technology.
What inspires you?
I find travelling, sharing my Maori culture and making personal connections through fashion to be an extremely inspiring way to experience the world. When I go to other countries I like to go under the invitation of the indigenous people in the first instance then after that I feel ok revisiting which I tend to do repeatedly. I’m one of those 100 photos a day type tourists. I like to revisit the images and look in deep appreciation of the arts and culture to draw inspiration which I can then interpret towards my own unique collections.
Designs by Jeanine Clarkin from her NZFW 2019 show.
Describe your personal style and how it influences your designs?
My personal styles is diverse and is activity based on the rich variety of things I do in my day.
My Waiheke Island lifestyle means I start most days at the beach, I’m not a big fan of “activewear” so in the winter I have a selection of my sustainable vintage blanket dresses or hoodies, then in the summer I produce a few pretty beach dresses that are feminine and correspond well to the cafe lifestyle in the mornings. From there I could be working in my studio, attending corporate or community meetings on the island or in the city. In the evenings I’m also often involved in or supporting Arts events.
I hate getting changed too many times in one day so I try to select pieces that can last the distance of the day. like a soft tailored dress, a lot of blazers and coats. I enjoy wearing colours and fabrics that keep me feeling positive. This year’s collection contained nice bright monotones or hints of gold.
I love to wear silk scarfs preferably, gold, pink or navy, as it keeps me warm and enhances my skin tone and my feeling of being properly dressed. I’m more likely to be over dressed than underdressed. When we were growing up we had ‘home clothes’ and ‘town clothes’. Now I have ‘island clothes’ and ‘city clothes’.
What is your all-time favourite purchase?
This would have to a vintage, peach coloured wool Dior El Jay coat that I bought when I was a fashion student that has stood the test of time and still feels wonderful when you wear it.
What wardrobe item should everyone invest in?
Everyone should support sustainability and slow fashion by investing in a beautiful bespoke piece. In fact, I recommend one of my original pieces from this collection.
Do you have a style rule you always obey?
The first rule would be to find your style, this can be done by finding your best feature, accentuate it. Then consider the impact it is going to have both on your enjoyment of wearing it and the environment. It will hold your attention, is it sustainable, is it easy to care for, is it made well. Sorry! That IS a list of rules and values to consider.
Designs by Jeanine Clarkin from her NZFW 2019 show.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Everything has been amazing so much more that I would ever have dreamed. Every collection has continuity and is an improvement of the previous collection. So this year’s NZFW collection is “the best one yet”. I’ve been lucky to show in London, Paris and Melbourne, however one of the absolute bonuses of showing at NZFW was having family and friends in the audience mixed in with the fashion hierarchy and of course our amazing sponsor Auckland Council.
Going forward I feel I am able to formulate dreams and activate them with the assistance of supportive people I have met on my journey so far.
What can’t you live without?
My classic navy blue Louis Vuitton scarf. I just gives a good finish to every outfit and can elevate denim from looking casual to looking formal.
Finish this sentence – You would never catch me wearing…
Pyjamas to the supermarket.
Editorial images by Grant Triplow.