Talk about wardrobe envy.
Fashion designer Juli Grbac was the darling of Brisbane’s fashion scene, having studied at TAFE in Brisbane and then later at London’s School of St Martin’s. After starting her own label, Grbac, in 2002, Juli then went on to win the first season of Project Runway Australia, thus cementing her name in Australian fashion history. After significant success and widespread acclaim, Juli fell off the radar of Australian fashion to pursue other ventures. Style Magazines publisher and fashion editor, Tracy Sinclair, met up with Juli to discuss where she’s been and why airlines, fashion and NYC still inspire her daily.
Check out the video below to watch the interview in full, or read on for the transcript.
So it’s pretty clear that fashion was always going to be in your blood, with your mother being a dressmaker. How has she influenced your fashion career?
Oh gosh, my mum is my biggest inspiration. I always think back to when we were kids – she got herself a sewing machine and taught herself to sew. I watched her progress into an amazing career woman from Macedonia who couldn’t even speak English when she was 21. When I started my own business, she worked alongside me. I always feel like I picked up where she left off, and every win that I have is like a win for both of us.
Ten years ago, you had much success with Project Runway and winning the Virgin Australia uniform design gig, then you just fell off the radar. Where have you been?
Well, I have to say my life has been very exciting, with many ups and downs, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. After I did Virgin, which was amazing – one of the highlights of my career – I moved to New York. I thought it was time for a change, and I lived there for a couple of years, travelling between NY and Brisbane. It was fabulous.
I’ve been stalking your insta feed and I see you have an absolute love affair with New York. When friends come to visit, where do you take them?
Once of my favourite places is Mercer Street. It has the Mercer Kitchen, which is
a restaurant downstairs that has the best burger in New York. I’m more of a downtown girl, so I like to stick around Soho, TriBeCa and, if I do go uptown, it’s always Bergdorf or Saks. New York always has new things opening, and I like to keep an eye out for new places to go.
You designed the original Virgin Australia uniform. Is there anything you wish you could change about the uniforms?
Well, the wonderful thing is I still work with Virgin, so I’m constantly making changes to improve the uniform. We are constantly changing fabrics, improving the scarf or any type of function. But the one thing that I wouldn’t change is the red dress. That’s become a bit of an icon, and that is my favourite design.
Tell me about your new collection, Grace on Mercer. First, how did you come up with the name?
Grace has always been one of my favourite names, and it’s a version of my higher self. So whenever I go into meetings or interviews, I step into Grace and become the best version of myself. Mercer Street is one of my favourite streets in New York. This collection was about making women feel they were stepping into the best version of themselves.
How do you describe the collection’s aesthetic and style?
The collection is very versatile and very easy. What I found myself, and with a lot of women around me, is there’s not a lot of time anymore. You know, someone’s picking up the kids or they’re travelling or there’s no time to iron. So I created a small capsule collection that sort of covered the casual to dressy and made it easy for travelling, so there are some pieces that don’t crease. So it’s all about efficiency and making life easier for women.
So while you’ve been away, what have you noticed about fashion in Brisbane?
I really, really love coming home. I remember thinking, “I’m going to go to New York and everyone’s going to look like Carrie Bradshaw”, and they didn’t. And then I would come to Brisbane and go to Harveys and the women are just fabulous. It’s like straight off the runway. So I just love, love watching Brisbane women.
Choose one brand to wear for the rest of your life.
This is a really hard question. If I had kids, it’s like asking which is your favourite? I dare say Valentino – always. He’s always been a favourite. Between him and Karl Lagerfeld.
When you’ve had a rough day, how do you deal with that?
Look, I always say the glass is half-full rather than half-empty but we all have our down days – it’s a part of life. I’m thankful I live alone so no one gets to see it! Usually I’ll buy some Ben & Jerry’s, sit on the couch and mope. But I give myself one night. I say, “Ok Juli, you can be sad tonight, but when you wake up tomorrow, you have to be a queen again”. Life’s hard, there’s ups and downs, but you need to allow yourself to be sad sometimes. Every time I’ve tried to just push through and think, “I can do this, I can do this”, it just pushes me back further and further. So now I just feel the emotions and get on with it.
What’s the most influential piece of clothing that you’ve owned or created?
Probably the dress that I made for Kelly Rowland. That was a really hard dress to make, but on “Project Runway”, everybody loved it. After “Project Runway”, it was my signature, and I made many more for my label. People still remember those designs, and people still own them.
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