Paris-based, Melbourne-raised Martin Grant is about to watch his latest work take off.
Down a little street in the heart of Paris's third arrondissement sits the atelier of one of Australia's most acclaimed international fashion designers, Martin Grant.
The building, recognisable only as Grant's from the discreet brass plaque bearing his name, looks over a 19th century courtyard. Up two flights of stairs, Grant's team quietly buzz about, while the Melbourne-born designer sits in a navy turtleneck, jeans and brogues and jokes that these are the clothes he lives in.
“I'm not that obsessed about fashion or what people look like when I'm walking around, unless they look really, really dreadful of course, or really, really good,” he laughs.
The man Qantas chose to design its new staff uniforms – which were unveiled today – says the project has been "amazing" to work on, not least because it has brought him back to Australia more regularly.
“Obviously one of the big attractions with this was the connection with Australia and the opportunity to go back more often,” he says. “I usually visit once a year, but this job has meant that I've been going back to Melbourne [where the production team is based] every few months, which has been fantastic.”
Grant, 46, has been presenting his ready-to-wear collections in Paris for some 20 years and continues to be lauded for his sharp tailoring and quintessentially Parisian approach to womenswear. All this from a boy whose childhood memories are etched with happy days growing up amongst bush land and dirt tracks in suburban Blackburn.
At the age of 11, Grant's academic father took his family on an 18-month sabbatical to Europe. “At the time I didn't want to go,” Grant recalls. “I was kicking and screaming about it, but in retrospect, it was like an injection of all things European and I didn't realise the impact that trip would have on me until much later.”
The return to Australia was not easy. “That was when the problems started,” Grant says. Having lived in England and then travelling around France and Spain, he found himself distracted by vignettes of different landscapes, colours and cultures. He quit school at 15 and set about making clothes, joining a studio on Little Collins Street filled with young artists and designers.
“I think my parents were quite terrified by what I was doing, but they didn't really have much choice … I was very determined,” reflects Grant. “Once they saw that I was actually doing something that I was very serious about, they were incredibly supportive.”
In 1982 Grant launched his first ready-to-wear line and eight years later, with an established clientele and the Cointreau Young Designer of the Year award under his belt, moved to London to study bespoke tailoring.
The formal English training honed his designs and a subsequent move to Paris solidified Grant's talent. A rave endorsement from former US Vogue's editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley, propelled Grant's name onto the international stage and saw Naomi Campbell modelling his 1999 ready-to-wear collection.
Grant now puts out four collections a year and devoted fans include Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton. He admits that being Australian has helped him find a niche in Paris. “People here usually pick up that I have a bit of an accent and they presume it's English or American,” explains Grant. “In the beginning I found it very advantageous to be Australian, it was a novelty. [Europeans] see Australians as having a fresh approach to the way we do things.”
Despite being a long-term resident of France and running a French company, Grant acknowledges it has always been important for him to maintain his heritage. “I remain very drawn to Australia as a country,” he says.
“[Up until recently] Australia was the place I travelled the least. When I was growing up I was much more attracted to everywhere that was outside of Australia … I kind of didn't get it [travelling within Australia] but now I really do and there are so many places I want to explore. The Australian landscape has become much more important to me as I've got older and been away. The more I see, the more I realise how special it is."
As an antidote to his heavy work schedule, Grant – like all true Parisians – escapes the city for the beach in August. “I go as far away from people as possible,” he laughs. “I discovered sailing years ago and it's the perfect thing for me; to be on the water just wearing bathers and occasionally a T-shirt, I love it. That idea of stripping back to the bare essentials is what I find really rejuvenating.”
Spoken like a true Australian.