Melbourne-born, Paris-based Martin Grant is an internationally acclaimed designer. His designs have been worn by Cate Blanchett, Juliette Binoche, Tilda Swinton, Blake Lively and Kate Hudson, and are stocked in high-end department stores around the world, including Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue. This week, David Jones announced it will stock his new season collection on an Australian department store- exclusive basis as from February 2014, and Qantas staff and crew this week bid farewell to the Peter Morrissey dresses and suits they have worn for 10 years and donned new uniforms designed by Grant. I caught up with the designer to chat about living abroad, his inspiration behind the Qantas uniform and the criticism his shift dress received from some staff for being too figure-hugging.
The Qantas uniform is so iconic; was there a lot of pressure when designing it?
Absolutely, because it’s part of Australian history and it’s part of Australians’ identity. It’s something that has to last at least 10 years. You have to do something that is classic but modern but will stand the test of time, but I tend to approach my work like that anyway. I’m always trying to come up with something fresh and modern while trying to come up with something chic and classic.
What was your inspiration when designing the uniform?
The inspiration was the tail of the aircraft, the fantastic Qantas logo. Being an expat it really resonates with me, whenever I travel back to Australia and see that logo on the aircraft. I feel at home again.
It’s been reported that not all staff like it. How did that make you feel?
I’ve had overwhelming positive reactions but I think that change for people is always difficult. I think sometimes there is one voice that gets a lot of airplay and I think that is what has probably happened in this situation. It’s more that someone has stepped out and said, ”I don’t like it”, and then [the media] have grabbed on to it. But when we launched the uniform, across the board it was overwhelmingly positive and at the actual launch, the majority of people in the audience were staff members and they were standing up and cheering, so it was a fantastic response.
Some have said it is more suited to supermodel and Qantas ambassador Miranda Kerr. How do you respond – do you think it is a style that suits all shapes and sizes?
Yes, and that is why I designed it that way. I specially got rid of, for example, that waistline, because people are different shapes, sizes, heights, etc, so if you fit something at the waist, it becomes trickier to fit different people. So this way it is a shift that is not tight, it just skims the body and then they have the belt where they can define their waist wherever they are comfortable, so all of those things were really taken into consideration. Also we tested out the shape in working environments, so we had staff wearing it in different sizes from 8-18 to test out the style and how it worked in the cabin, so it was pretty well tested. We specially wanted the staff’s input because they are the ones who have to wear it and work in it.
You recently signed exclusively with David Jones – how did that come about?
Yes, this week was the launch. They approached me and said they were interested in buying the collection and it was timely, I think, and a great thing for me; another great Australian icon to be associated with.
So many Australian designers have been struggling in this financially tough climate. What is the secret to your success?
I think it’s just grim determination. I have the advantage that I’m still independent and that has always been a very specific decision of mine because I’ve been approached by many different groups. I’m not going for the global takeover; what I do is a little bit more couture, a little more specialised and has a slight hand touch to it and I want to keep that about it. I think it’s just consistency but it’s definitely a much tougher climate than it was five years ago. Ten years ago was the heyday; everything was booming, and five years ago it really changed and you have to adapt to that.
What made you originally leave Australia and move to Paris?
I think in the beginning it was to broaden horizons; my closest friends had moved to London, so I wanted to see what was going on over there, but once I was there it just felt right and I never came back.
Do you have plans to move back to Australia?
In the last two years, it’s the most I’ve been back to Australia in 25 years and it is very tempting, I have to say. It’s more a question of my business, which is based in Paris, and it’s perfect because you have all these international buyers who come through there four times a year to see the collection, so you have them there on your doorstep, whereas in Australia you have a very different way of working. It’s possible but I would have to change a lot of things and I can’t quite get my head around that.
Do you have a favourite red carpet moment?
One of my favourite moments – it wasn’t a red carpet but it was a defining moment – it was my first show in Paris and Naomi Campbell came and modelled for me. She turned up completely by surprise, and I had three models in the show and 10 editors [in the audience]. She walked in backstage and said, ”What am I wearing?” She literally slipped on this dress and walked onto the catwalk; it all happened in a second and that was quite an incredible moment.
WE WENT TO the Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney Airport.
WE ATE Salt and pepper squid with green chilli dipping sauce and aioli; tagliatelle with asparagus, prosciutto, fresh peas, lemon and parmesan; salmon sashimi with daikon, pickled cucumber, salmon roe and ponzu; homemade ricotta with tomatoes and grilled sourdough.
WE DRANK Sparkling mineral water.
MARTIN WORE A tailored suit.