Jacinta Demetriou has left no luxurious stone unturned with the inception of her eponymous label, Jacinta James. Before living in fashion capitals Paris and New York, Jacinta graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts from Monash University specialising in textiles and installation art, followed by a Bachelor of Fashion Design at the prestigious RMIT, where she graduated with Honors as the Dux of her graduate year. Jacinta was awarded the highly regarded TISA prize, receiving a scholarship to study haute couture techniques in Paris under Madame Gres Couturiers and has been shortlisted for the Australian Fashion Foundation Awards two years in a row.
Couturing spoke to Jacinta about the international design heavyweights she’s worked with, her advice for aspiring fashion designers, why trends don’t matter and how she sought inspiration from the Wooly Bear Mammoth…
Tell us how you entered the fashion industry. Has fashion always been a big part of your life?
My grandmother is a very talented dress maker and I grew up literally in her sewing room. I love and looked up to her so much, so as a young child I came to love the process involved in making clothes and it really became something quite sentimental. I grew up always wanting to be a fashion designer and developed an affinity for fabrics and texture, so that always stayed with me. Back in high school I focused on photography and costume design heavily and then after that, pursued broader study through a visual arts degree which really did act as a foundation. I focused on installation art, the human form and was obsessed with anything tactile, creating and manipulating organic materials myself to achieve certain moods – this was when I really realised what I could do with fashion. From there I focused on a fashion design degree with RMIT while working a few part time design roles. Once I graduated, I was so fortunate to be granted a scholarship prize through TISA to further my study in Paris – this is where I really fine-tuned my skills into luxury detailing.
From there, things just snowballed and without really being aware of it, I grew into the industry. Living in Paris, as a fashion epicentre, was so eye opening and living in NY thereafter really gave me a comparison of the industry through different cities. Interning in Paris and then working for some of my heroes in those two cities really made me realise the depths of this industry, but also that these large global businesses are still run by designers with hopes and dreams and a small team behind them – it helped me realise how real this industry is and helped me to separate that from the hype and sensation.
Tell us how your label came to be.
To be honest, the label has been a work in progress, in my mind, forever – it’s something I have always dreamt of. I have spent my whole life making clothes for myself and friends and slowly investing more hopes into this dream. It was always where I wanted to be, but once I arrived in Paris, I just followed experiences as they unfolded, where I was quite lucky but also worked really hard and around the clock. At that stage I didn’t know where or how I wanted to play things out but that was the best part really…I became so determined to experience the industry from different countries, through different labels and roles that I let myself get distracted for a while – and I really enjoyed it.
Once in Sydney I was working in the industry but also making some couture pieces for friends every now and then and I just felt ready to work on my own. I guess in coming back to Australia I started to realise how much I had learnt and I really wanted to dedicate time to my own ideas and play around with doing things my way. I kept trying to find time to make more of my own clothes and I felt that I couldn’t quite find a label that celebrated things the way I like to. So I decided to invest more time in that and enjoy the process and things just unfolded from there.
You’ve worked with the likes of Rick Owens, Donna Karen and Kit Willow. What advice did these design heavyweights pass on to you? And do you have any advice for aspiring fashion designers?
I really believe the best way to learn from such esteemed leaders is from their example. Everyone I have worked for have been so different in the way they create, work, lead and inspire, but the consistent thing that is a credit to each of their individual success is that they really believe in what they do, with such a strong, unwavering vision. The consistent thread I have found is to trust your instincts and creativity and work hard to make your dreams become a reality.
Really, at the end of the day in this industry, your instinct (backed by knowledge and experience) is all you have to ride on. In fashion we are always trying new things, looking forward into the unknown, always creating – and that is driven by instinct. One thing I loved about working for Rick Owens especially is how much he thinks outside the square, where the entire business is run in his own unique way, unhindered by norms in the industry. He taught me that we can write our own rules, as long as we believe in them.
My advice to any aspiring designers is to work hard and then work even harder. Listen, watch and learn. As challenging as this industry may be, opportunity arises when you give it your all and love what you do. Follow your dreams and the rest all falls into place in the end and sometimes in ways you didn’t even know possible.
Your new collection, Arctic Willow, takes inspiration from the Wooly Bear Mammoth. How do you settle on a key idea to work through your collection? How does the design process begin for you?
Well, with the Wooly Bear Mammoth in particular – I was really taken by the way it hibernates. It’s this tiny little caterpillar that lives in the Arctic and freezes itself every winter to then thaw out and live through the summer…I was caught up in all these romantic ideas of a small delicate creature that survives such a vast harsh landscape and the extremes it endures to do so…loving the idea of its stillness while frozen, juxtaposed against this active, summer life it lived, evolving into a mammoth and flying through the icy air. I just love contrasts like that which can be found in nature because it creates such beautiful tensions, so this sense of scale – small and vast, light and dark, cold and light, movement and stillness, harsh and soft – is what drives my work.
I love finding these dramatic and romantic contrasts and celebrating that through clothing. I am driven by fantasy, romance, the ethereal and the empoweringly dramatic. I love the meditative qualities in movement, the grounded-ness of earthy tones and tactile beauty in building texture. I am a fan of fantasy films and am a bit of a nature documentary addict! I have recently become obsessed with my little garden too. So I try and make the time to look around me, watch and listen really. I keep a journal and draw. I collect images and anything I find interesting at second-hand markets…I collect ideas and other snippets …when you notice something that strikes a cord and creates all these visuals as to how to express it, you just know when to go with it.
How would you describe the quintessential Jacinta James woman?
It’s important that our clothes make women feel good. We are about celebrating the female form, allowing it to move in all its fluidity and curve. So in this aspect, she’s feminine but gutsy and free. She is grounded, real and a risk taker. She knows who she is and if she doesn’t yet, she’s willing to explore and figure it out. She’s unique and tries to go with that. She likes to look at the stars. She’s a day dreamer but a go getter. She doesn’t let clothes wear her but wears what will express who she is. She’s strong but sensitive and she takes the time to breathe and enjoy life.
Tell us about your favourite pieces from the Arctic Willow collection.
So many! It needs to be winter already so I can layer all that mohair and leather! I personally love the cocoon coat. I made a similar one a few years ago and it saw me through some very intense NY and Parisian winters, but I lost it on my return to Australia. I have so many memories of being bundled in that coat running around to get collections together. So that one has sentimental value.
I also love the cocoon jacket with the cocoon sleeveless coat layered over it – perfect for trips to visit family back in Melbourne this winter. I can’t wait to wear the arctic print story for its softness and all of that dreamy, floaty movement and the inertia split dress is something I will live in once it cools down too. It will be so easy with sneakers or boots.
Are there any trends you’re looking forward to seeing and embracing this season? And are there any trends you’d like to see put to rest?
I’m not a huge fan of trends generally, just because I love clothes with longevity and that are special because they feel unique or a bit of an expression of you… like when you discover an item of clothing and it feels like it was made just for you… I love clothes that last the distance, where you get so attached to them you don’t know how you lived without them. Those clothes that start to go with everything you own and make old pieces look new. I think that’s hard to achieve if you worry too much about trends.
As far as trends to put to rest, I guess that’s just about personal taste. I think as long as you wear what you love and feel good then that’s all that matters – and if it can be a bit different and not look like what everyone else is wearing, then it might just reflect a bit more about you.