Style Liaisons: In Conversation With Artist & Fashion Designer Hannah-Lee Jade

By Julia Gessler
Hannah-Lee Jade wearing her own designs. Photo / Supplied

The fashion designer and artist constructs ecologically minded clothes and immersive spaces through her eponymous art project Hannah-Lee Jade.

Her body of work is a cumulation of her vested interest in nature that has seen her create around the world, from cycling to find deadstock fabric in Berlin to an artist residency in Iceland.

Describe your personal style.

I gravitate towards fun, eclectic, colourful clothing. Each piece I wear has a unique story, either passed on from a friend or family member, or through an interesting experience, or I have made it, which is often the case, and there is usually a story for why I made it.

A model wears the Hexagonal top and trousers. Photo / Lilly Alexander
A model wears the Hexagonal top and trousers. Photo / Lilly Alexander

Is there anything you look for when you shop for clothes?

I seldom buy clothes and when I do it’s usually in a charity shop. I like to see fun fabrics, weird textures, and interesting patterns. I’m always excited when I see 60s/70s patterns.

What inspires your creative practices?

All things, especially nature. Its textures, patterns and intelligent design are evolving constantly. The basalt columns I fell in love with at a residency in Iceland. The formations look as though they could be digitally rendered. Hexagonal rocks just shot out of the earth.

I get inspiration from little things: light caught and reflected on a wall or a leaf; walking in the bush rain or shine; dance/performance art; colourful, large-scale, bold art; human rights; my family; wabi-sabi; Yayoi Kusama; Anish Kapoor; Miro; Christo; Issey Miyake; 80s ice skater/athletic wear; 60/70s palettes mixed with sci-fi elements; architecture; exoskeletons and more.

The artist in her Karangahape Road, Auckland studio. Photo / Lilly Alexander
The artist in her Karangahape Road, Auckland studio. Photo / Lilly Alexander

What role does sustainability play in your vision as an artist and designer?

Sustainability is huge for me to the point that it stopped me creating. During that time I didn’t have a good grasp on what sustainability was yet, but this turned out to be a good period to step back before reapproaching work with a renewed focus and sensibility.

I was so afraid to make things because everything was going to destroy the planet but I have realised that making and creating is integral to me and we can all still create with less impact. The funny thing is, I started out as a 10-year-old winning a ‘trash to fashion’ competition but later got caught up sourcing high-end fabrics from big stock chains, which I thought was necessary to create a business.

When I moved to Berlin, I had a great resource of deadstock fabric that felt sustainable but I realised these synthetic fun fabrics were short-lived and had long-term waste repercussions.

In Aotearoa this has changed again, and teaching an upcycle fashion programme helped solidify my aim to use existing textiles. It’s come full circle.

Do you think you can instil a wearer with confidence through clothes, or is it the wearer who brings confidence to the clothes?

I love this idea that as makers and designers we can instil confidence, and the joy that comes with seeing someone put a piece on and start moving with an extra vibrancy is a magnificent thing to see. It’s a real honour to make pieces that create this feeling.

Where are you most at peace when you’re creating?

Evening light pouring through the windows. Drafting a pattern with a ruler and a pencil and cutting through fabric, at my big cutting table in the studio I share with Eliav at Goat Loft Studios.

Hannah-Lee Jade orange Nature Tracks longsleeve top. Photo / Hannah-Lee Jade
Hannah-Lee Jade orange Nature Tracks longsleeve top. Photo / Hannah-Lee Jade

If you were to go on a long drive in Aotearoa to unwind, where would you go?

Milford Sound Piopiotahi is an absolutely stunning place to drive through the solid rock tunnel. Te Urewera is one of the most magical places I’ve been, and you can stop at Kerosene Creek, which is a hot spring river.

Driving to Cape Reinga is also extraordinary, all of the bays on one side, then the huge sand dunes on the other till you reach the top and see where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet.

What have you been working on lately?

I just finished this ‘creative in schools’ programme, which was special. It pushed me to find ideas, solutions and innovations in the textile industry that I could pass on to the students. It was so inspiring to see what they created.

This story was originally published in Viva Magazine – Volume Six

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