Stepping into Havana Boutique, I was immediately enamoured by the wealth of designers and intricate pieces which are available in-store. Nestled into a side-street in Donnybrook, you could find Simone Rocha’s beautiful pearl-encrusted Autumn/Winter ’14 collection hanging alongside the ruched skirts of American designer, Rick Owens.
I meandered into the store, not to fawn over their garments but to meet London-based Irish designer, Zoë Jordan. As the daughter of Formula 1 driver, Eddie Jordan, it would be easy but untrue to think that Zoë’s success stems from her family’s notoriety. With a background in finance and a clear vision as to what her design aesthetic is and how it may develop, the client-base which she has assembled is because of her own merit.
Collaborating with Havana Boutique, the designer showcases ‘Chicane’, her Autumn/Winter ’14 collection in a two week pop-up shop. Even as one of her first Irish endeavours, it proves promising but I’m eagerly anticipating what Zoë does next.
How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?
Oh gosh, I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I am probably a mixture of being quite balanced and laid-back versus a perfectionist, quite anal, someone who likes to succeed and a person who seeks out challenges and adventure.
Is it easy to balance those two elements of your personality?
I go with my gut and what feels most comfortable on any given day – particularly when I’m making decisions.
When you were growing up, you were surrounded by mechanics and you were the little girl who played with the ants and the worms but what first drew you to the fashion domain?
I have always been quite drawn to the design world, I loved design at school and went on to study architecture in college. My designs are quite mathematical and almost formulaic which perhaps stems from my background in finance and analytics but it is also because of the way I was brought up. From a young age, I was travelling a lot, seeing a lot and I think fashion is something, even without knowing, that my family were quite involved and interested in, in their own way. When I worked in the city, I wanted to feel that I was being taken seriously by people and fashion just felt natural to me.
When people ask me about my interests and discover that one of them is fashion, I often feel that they think that their reaction would be different if I said sport or music. Do you think fashion is sometimes treated as a nonsensical subject and how do we eradicate that connotation?
I think it can be, yeah. I love this world and I like to think of it as more of a design world, rather than a fashion world because the word fashion does seem sort of flippant, in a way but perhaps that’s just the way it has been construed. My collections and designs have a narrative of being design and style-led rather than focusing on ‘fashion’ and trends and we should start to educate people on texture, structure, fabric, rather than ‘the look’ and how to mirror that look.
Depending on the publication that you read, some define you as a British designer, others refer to you as an Irish designer, we’re sitting in Donnybrook so it may be quite biased but do you have a preference and does it matter?
I consider myself Irish but as a designer, I feel very attached to London – it’s a cultural hub and an incredible place. I think there’s something very international about London which I think infiltrates the collections but it’s lovely to be home. I was asking the taxi driver to point out the hospital that I was born in on the way here!
Did he know?
Yes, I was just shouting at him ‘The Coombe – where is it?’ but I’m hoping to make my return to Dublin a more regular ‘thing’. It’s so nice to have family around you and in a world that is quite tough-going at times, it’s great to have a support network so close to you.
Previously, you worked as a broker in Manhattan and as a designer, you have to be a very creative individual but you also must have huge financial knowledge and confidence. Was your previous role a huge asset when you entered the fashion domain?
Yes, it was a huge advantage to me and I think that business aspect is hugely under-estimated. It was beneficial for me as I’m able to think of my business from the store’s perspective – ensuring that a partnership exists and I can support them with information and events. When you’re in the brokering world, you do need to know about politics, the world’s various economies and local and international geography which was a great bonus when we were trying to position ourselves.
You began your career with much more experience than those who have just emerged from Central Saint Martins or Parsons, is this a pathway that you would recommend to young designers?
I don’t know if there is one true way to begin a career in fashion, it takes a lot of resilience, you get one step forward and then you are pushed three steps back – it’s all about getting back up again. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors too and you have to be aware of that!
Being polite to PR people and stockists when you really don’t want to be?
Ha! Yes, exactly. There’s a little bit of pride-swallowing that has to be done every now and again but once you have the passion for it, give it a go. Just follow what you really want to do and do everything you can to make it happen for you.
You showed your Spring 2015 collection at New York Fashion Week for the first time this year alongside British designers such as Victoria Beckham and Jenny Packham but what was the draw of New York for you?
In terms of exposure, New York is a different market for us to talk to. Our collection is a little more day-wear which really suits America as London is more heavily populated with occasion-wear. Our brand fits with that New York sensibility and the more urban feel to design. I’ve missed New York, I haven’t been there for a while – it’s got a great buzz to it. When you get there, you feel that anything can happen; it’s quite compelling and inspiring. We’ll definitely show in New York for February and then hopefully come back to London with a much stronger brand, a more established business and some pretty big stockists under our belt.
You have built such a network of customers and support in London but were you nervous in any way about the possible reaction to the collection whilst showing in New York for the first time?
Not entirely, no but I think that’s because of the great experience that I have had in London. It wasn’t my first catwalk show and I’ve done presentations before too so I think it was because I just had that bit more confidence going over that I didn’t let the nerves affect me. Putting the team together was a bit tricky but when you try something for the first time, there’s always an element of trial and error. We’re constantly learning!
You mentioned your team, some designers keep it very small for practical and financial reasons, others have several departments of staff but how do you prefer to work?
I’m not much of a man-manager, I like to work with people who do their best every day and I notice that they do but I’m not one to ‘mother’ them, in a sense. I hope that by giving people room and opportunity, they flourish. That’s my philosophy and I try to lead by example too!
Previously, the Zoë Jordan girl has been called the ‘grown-up tomboy in the urban environment’ but do you envisage that the aesthetic of that ‘girl’ will change over the next few years?
I don’t think it will change hugely, she knows her own style and she’s very invested in quality and great fabrics. She’s not necessarily involved in the latest trends but style is a much more long-term plan for her. Where we are moving forward as a brand is not necessarily with trend-led pieces but with our colour palette and textures – the shapes and the silhouettes will stay the same. To the naked eye, this collection is quite minimal but when you stand much closer you notice details such as cracked leathers or laminated fabrics.
Which is accessible to the wearer but perhaps not to the audience – mirroring Coco Chanel’s idea that the wearer should know of and feel the luxury but those exterior to him / her are oblivious.
During September’s fashion month, many brands invested great time and money into social media and various online campaigns. Is it a platform that you think is important and how do you manage it?
I think social media is brilliant for upcoming brands; there’s brands now that don’t have to establish themselves through generic routes, you can construct a relationship and dialogue with a customer directly. The other thing is that brands and fashion houses don’t have to rely on magazines as much for coverage and press. In saying that, there will always be room for beautiful publications but it’s quite empowering for the brand.
I think the customer experiences that too – when social media is done well, they feel valued and appreciated. In a sense, transparency occurs too as it’s no longer me looking to fashion editors for opinion or trends, but you can often converse with the designer or their team directly online about sizing, shipping or even faults with the product.
Everyone is still trying to find their feet in this online world – discovering what’s working and what’s not. Perhaps it’s moving away from it because of online but people and brands are still obsessed with the celebrity and bloggers – it’s a little bit predictable and the market is saturated. We need to keep finding new ways and angles for people to interact with both your product and the brand.
What are the biggest challenges for a brand on social media?
We work two seasons ahead and we often wonder if we should engage customers and followers with the collection that is in stores at present or do we offer them an insight into the pieces that we are currently working on. It’s difficult to know where to focus but we plan out all of our posts for Twitter and Facebook – there’s some science to it. We come together every fortnight and discuss the content we want to publish. It impacts upon catwalk shows, photoshoots and lookbooks too as on set we are briefing photographers on the images that will suit our website versus our social media platforms. It’s a lot to digest and plan for but it’s interesting!
My final question for you Zoë, if you had a professional or personal bucket-list for the next year, what would it contain?
I’m thinking of relocating to New York for a few months next year – we’ll see how things go. It’s a good time to move though as I have two daughters and it would be nice to transition before they start primary school. That would be interesting from both a work and a personal perspective! Apart from that, I would love to show my collection in NYC for a few more seasons and I’d love to have a fun summer because I’ve kind of missed out on that for the past few years. Professionally, I would like to open a store in London by the end of next year – something that has a showroom element to it, with an office space. A store front would allow us to carry the conversations we have online with our customers into the physical realm. So yeah, New York, a holiday and a shop!
Thank you very much to Zoë and Tara for all of their involvement in this interview. The Zoë Jordan x Havana pop-up shop spans one more week but you can follow Zoë on Twitter and Facebook to ensure that you are updated on future fashionable developments.