She’s uber talented, smart and beautiful and if you don’t her name yet, chances are, you will become very familiar with Juli Grbac soon. A fashion designer hailing from Brisbane, Juli was the first winner of international TV show Project Runway Australia (pictured below) in 2008. She famously designed a dress for singer Kelly Rowland which the ex-Destiny’s Child chanteuse wore at a concert for Prince Albert of Monaco in Cannes.
Taught to sew by her dressmaker mother, Juli developed a love of fashion at a very young age. She studied fashion design in Brisbane and London before working for several big fashion names, including luxury Brisbane-based label Easton Pearson, before starting her own label, Grbac, in 2002, at the tender age of 22.
And as part of her Project Runway Australia prize, Juli had her designs showcased at the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Week in 2009, which received rave reviews, as well as a six-page spread in the now defunct Madison Magazine.
A darling of the fashion set, Juli showed at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival Brisbane, her label was stocked in top-end fashion retailers and she opened a stand-alone store in Brisbane’s funky Fortitude Valley which closed one year later.
Juli’s recent successes include re-designing Virgin Australia’s crew uniforms in 2010. The glamorous and elegant uniforms (pictured) were unveiled in 2011, with a catwalk show featuring Elle Macpherson and 60 Virgin Australia crew members.
Here, Juli talks SHESAID readers through her amazing success and plans for the future, having relocated to a glamorous bachelorette pad in bustling New York.
What drew you to NY? Are you living the dream? I was 33 and came on my own to New York for a holiday, just after Christmas. On my second day here, I felt like I had truly arrived home. I knew that this was where I was meant to be at this time in my life. I made the move within nine months, and I haven’t looked back. I am very blessed that I get to travel back and forth between Brisbane and NYC. I come back to Australia every two months, to check-in on my clients, which offers me opportunities to see my family and friends in Brisbane. The travel can be exhausting, but it’s really the dream situation.
Please describe your amazing NY apartment and how you came to find it? I live downtown in the Financial District, one street away from Wall Street. I had a broker find this apartment for me, and when I saw the place, I knew it was the one for me. André Balazs, famous for designing The Standard hotels and The Mercer Hotel in SoHo, designed the apartment building, so the style factor is seriously there. It is a chic place to call home! I live alone (pictured below) – my life is truly ala Carrie Bradshaw right now: a closet full of shoes, cocktails for dinner and I’m enjoying dating in the Big Apple.
Your Instagram followers recently got to see you at NYFW (main shot above). What were some highlights? Fashion Week is such a great time in New York! It is a lot of fun and I get to see all my fashion idols at the shows and parties. I have made many industry contacts, so while attending the shows as a new local, it definitely ends up being a mix of both business and pleasure.
From designing a dress for Kelly Rowland to uniforms for Virgin Australia, what’s been your career highlight to date? I will never forget dressing Kelly Rowland! It was one of my favourite moments on Project Runway Australia. After also having the opportunity to show at Australian Fashion Week and the Brisbane Fashion Festival, it was surreal to also win the bid to design the uniform scheme for Virgin Australia (pictured below). I also love being a part of the Virgin family, and seeing the crew looking fabulous whenever I board a VA flight. You would think nothing could top that, but being blessed to work now from New York, for Virgin Australia and my other collaborations, is a dream come true.
What’s best about designing for Virgin? Designing uniforms, as opposed to a collection of ready-to-wear, totally took me out of my comfort zone. I have always embraced a challenge and have loved this experience to fuse the needs for an international airline with my signature designs. My favourite part is getting on a VA flight and the girls thanking me for their new uniforms. That, for me, makes everything worthwhile! For the uniform, we developed our own Virgin Australia red – I even had to fly to Shanghai to approve it!
What new, exciting projects have you been working on? My design business has shifted from a ready-to-wear line – which I of course loved creating for my customers, to now purely consulting for several brands. I can’t wait to share my designs again with the public. I have been working on a chic line of travel accessories for the past year, everything from travel clutches right through to luxe luggage. We will be launching it next year and I am dying to see these pieces floating around the Virgin Australia cabins and lounges! I know what every jet set woman needs: I travel so much myself that I have a packing routine and know that there is a gap in the market for what I want to create. Think jet set chic, with spectacular hardware. I plan to bring the same attention to detail I had with my garments to my new travel accessories. I can’t wait to share the collection with SHESAID readers next year. Watch this space!
What do you love most about being a fashion designer? I love transforming the way a woman feels about herself. When my business was more focused on made-to-measure garments, I used to love the moments where a client may have just had a baby, and had her first post-baby event to attend, like a wedding. Seeing the joy on her face was the ultimate repayment.It is truly not just how someone looks in my designs, but how I can make them feel. That is my true reward.
Who are your style icons? My ultimate style crush is Olivia Palermo. I have always been a fan of her style. She tasks risks and gently pushes boundaries, while always maintaining femininity. I love her eye for putting looks together! I always love what Kimye, Ciara and Miranda Kerr are wearing at the airports. The check-in counter is the new street style and I look forward to sharing my upcoming collection of travel accessories.
Who are your favourite fashion designers? Valentino is the ultimate for me. He is the king of feminine and beautiful shapes, without going over-the-top. I also love what the girls at Marchesa are doing. They share Valentino’s aesthetic, but their designs are so whimsical and dream-like and their latest London show was to-die-for!
How do you balance business and pleasure? Working for yourself is the greatest challenge. You need to ensure self-control and self-motivation. It can be hard to get into the work-zone, when you’re living in the fabulous playground that is New York! However, I have worked for myself for the past 12 years, so I get the work done. I schedule one night a week to focus on getting organized. On that night, I will clean, organize my week ahead and pay bills and… Spray tan! Living in NYC is challenging at times – it is the city that never sleeps and there is always something going on. When I first got here, I would always try to go to every event possible to socialise and network. That novelty wears thin, very quickly. It gets exhausting, so I am a lot more selective with events now and really choose to spend time with people who lift me up and support me.
Do you ever pinch yourself because of your amazing success? Every morning, I wake up and thank God, not just for the success I have had so far, but for my health, my family and my friends. It has been challenging, but I never gave up and I knew it would pay off. I always pushed myself, with all the successful projects that have been shared with the public, and many that didn’t see the green light. At times, I still find it to be a struggle, with so much I still want to achieve and share, but after so many years, I am grateful to keep feeling inspired. I love my work, but cannot wait to slowly develop a lifestyle approach with my brand.
What are your favourite NY landmarks? Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys! Those two department stores are one of the only reasons I go uptown here in Manhattan. I also love having lunch on top of Bergdorf’s and that surreal view overlooking Central Park!
What do you miss most about Australia? I miss my family. I have always had the most supportive family and being alone in a big city can get hard. So, when I land back at Brisbane International, I already feel the love! I also love our laid-back lifestyle, we don’t take the bad things in life too seriously, especially in Brisbane, and we just live in the now. Australia will always be home however I am just enjoying this international lifestyle while I can.
What advice would you give to other aspiring fashion designers? Never give up. This is, of course, not new advice, but even when you have no money and you feel there is nothing more you can do… There is always something! Get a part- time job (anywhere) for regular income, and then spend the rest of your time perfecting the craft you believe you can shine in, and gain as much work experience as possible. I pretty much worked for free for eight years, as making money in your own self-funded fashion line is near impossible in a small local market, but I worked part-time at a pharmacy to maintain my dream. It is lots of hours, and the hustle is real; but if you stick with it, it does pay off. Truly believe in yourself. Always believe in your dreams; and always trust your gut feeling, when going into business with anyone.
What personal sacrifices and obstacles have you had to overcome?
One of the biggest obstacles was dealing with the business side of things. I am naturally a creative, however managing the books, doing budgets, selling to wholesalers and general running of the business was really hard. I couldn’t afford anyone to help so it was all just me learning as I went along. No regrets though, I have lost all my money twice and bounced back both times so if anything it’s just made me stronger. As for sacrifices, when I was 22, I was slaving away with my mum in the work room under my parents’ house. I was never out with my friends. I worked and worked and worked. Sacrifices are all part of the journey, knowing you are moving towards your goal makes everything that much easier.
Project Runway image via www.smh.com.au and VA uniform pic via www.boudist.com.