Designer Jennifer Martin produces awe-inspiring head sculptures embodying the fierce rebelliousness of the underground fashion scene. Much like herself, her brand Jenivieve Berlin is pegged to push the boundaries of millinery design and tradition. During our interview, I was treated to her lovely Scottish accent. Seemingly a soft spoken young lady, I was delighted with her story, her iron will, perseverance and the glimmer of wicked penchant for dramatic flair, and of course her love for Hip-Hop. Although new to the game, she is already wiping the floor with her competition, since being recognized and nominated for multiple awards two years in a row. Now, having relocated and navigating a new city, Jenivieve Berlin is looking to make new friends, pay it forward, and transition into the powerhouse brand that caught our breath and held our attention. Her most recent creation “Blood, Sweat, & Tears: The Bedroom Collection” is a homage to fresh and fun 80’s Hip-Hop style with a modern twist. I’d like to say that she just makes beautiful hats, but a better description would be that of a bespoke fashion cranial sculptor. She is re-introducing the art of millinery, and who better to take us on this journey of raw, untapped and unapologetic talent.
What influenced your venture into the fashion industry?
I used to make costumes and headpieces for dancers, and I always kept it on the sidelines. So, when my mum spoke to a girl who did a fashion show she told her that I did this, and the girl then contacted me and asked me to make a collection for her show.
Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
I used to always want to go to a fashion university but, my art teacher told me I wasn’t good enough, so I went ahead and did another subject and then just always did my fashion ventures and drawing and painting on the side. Its always something I’ve been like deeply passionate about but I’ve never had the confidence to do anything about it until recently.
What is the origin of the brand name? What does it stand for?
I was always called Jeniveive by my mum when I was younger, and I’m hugely influenced by Berlin. It’a my favorite city, I like the attitude of the city and the fact it’s always fresh and new and it has such a huge art influence – Like Modern art, street art, fashion. It’s just a fantastic city and it’s my favorite city so I wanted to name the brand after something I really loved, and I love Berlin.
At what time, and in which venue did you premiere your first collection?
The Arches in Glasgow.
Who is your target market and consumer?
I think I can sell it a bit across all ages because I think that women, even those a little bit older have unique style but, I think I kind of focus my millinery on younger girls. Girls in their 20’s, teens or early 30’s because I think that hats are so fun and they make such bold statements that everybody should have the chance to wear them, and on every occasion – not just like weddings, it should be something that is utilized in everyday life. I just feel like they’re under-represented in that age bracket and I want to make it like really fun and more adaptable to everyday wear, as well as making it more appealing to the younger generations.
What makes your brand different?
I always say I’m trying to have a millinery rebellion. I’m so fed up of people associating millinery with mother-of-the-bride or Kate Middleton. I mean, I love Kate Middleton. I think she’s done wonders for milliners but, it shouldn’t just be for formal wear. It should be really fun, and it should be more sculptural, not just flutters and feathers. It should be used to create certain images and certain textures that stand out. I think that I use materials in a way that isn’t really seen in millinery, and I use materials that are usually associated with sculptures or with other skills. I’m trying to use that to just be a little bit different, and create and edge for people that maybe don’t like hats or don’t see themselves wearing hats. It’s like a visual feast. They may like to look at it, even if they may not wear it.
What have been some difficulties in establishing your brand?
It’s so difficult to secure funding for any kind of business venture, especially fashion, because the industry is very fickle. I didn’t have the basics of fashion knowledge, so everything I’ve been doing I’ve learned on my own. I didn’t realize what I was doing was called “millinery” until somebody told me. I was just doing what I loved, just making hats.
What inspired your current “Blood, Sweat & Tears: The Bedroom Collection”?
This collection was inspired by Hip-Hop, I love Hip-Hop music. It’s all about attitude and standing out from the crowd, and flare and doing something a bit different. Artists like The Beastie boys, you know it’s all about creating, and giving millinery that different image. Having the girls scantily clad, with huge big jewels and these outrageous hats. It’s like the whole image of my company. I’ve also always done dark stuff, so I really focused on using lots of lace and tulle and feathers, and I kind of wanted to do something bright and fun. Something a little bit different because I like to challenge myself with each new collection. So, it’s based on Hip-Hop and the emergence of Hip-Hop in the 80’s and the development, and how it kind of changed music today. I think that, that is really good for my brand because it’s also the emergence of my brand, which will hopefully influence future designers to be braver and bolder and different.
What fabrics did you use and why?
I used a lot of tulle since I think it’s got such fantastic movement on the runway and it makes the most amazing veils. I used loads of Swarovsky Crystals. I tend to always use them anyway I can because I think it just adds that extra dimension and a bit of glamour. I did a lot of hand embroidery, and a lot was hand crystalized. Some of my hats have up to 3,000 crystals on them, which were all stuck on by hand.
Describe your initial design phase. What must happen when you begin a new collection?
I usually take a lot of inspiration from music. I will just tend to be what I’m listening to at the time. It’s just listening to something and getting a certain attitude from it and thinking what would I associate with the music. Like the way somebody dresses, the way that they act, and the energy that I get from it, from there I just take my collection onward.
When in the creative process – are you hands on cutting, draping, sketching, and digitally designing your line? Do you work with a team of assistants, and graphic artists?
Until last year I was a student myself, so I’ve always tried to work with other students because I realized especially when we were in Glasgow it was so difficult for these students to get experience. If I could get somebody on board that would be able to help me out, and we could work together as a team. A lot of the digital is from my friend who designed my logo, and the visuals myself from the fashion week show I got them and gave them to my graphic designer who then put it all together and she just did a fantastic job. Visually for all the shoots, I’ll just say what makeup I want, the way I want it to look, the ways it’s dressed is all styled by me because I have an expressino in my head of what I want. My graphic designer has mostly done some illustrations.
What is the overall essence of this collection? What do you want to come across to the people that are viewing it?
I think I just want people to look at it and think it’s like fun and summer and it’s different it’s something you haven’t seen before and you would see on the pages of ID [Magazine] or Dazed. You know it’s very controversial. I’ve upset quite a lot of milliners because I’ve not stuck to the everyday blocking. I haven’thad any official training, and as I’m doing the best to pick it up as I go along. I think its more about explanation and just using different materials and I hope that when people look at it, it’s like interesting for them because there is so much detail in the pieces.
Aside from your website, are there any additional locations where pieces from your collection can be purchased?
Right now, it’s just available on the website or by request.
Describe any upcoming events and locations, where our viewers can preview your collection.
I’ll be premiering a new collection at Fashion’s Finest, in September.
What have been some highlights or breakthroughs within the industry since you started?
I’ve been nominated for the Scottish Fashion Awards accessory designer of the year. Last year I was really shocked and surprised to be nominated, and absolutely thrilled to be supported by such a huge event. This year again I had been nominated, which I didn’t expect. I’ve been nominated for the Scottish fashion award 2 years in a row.
Wow, congratulations! You’ve only been established 2 years. It would seem like everything is happening fairly quick, is that the case?
Yes, I feel like it has happened really quickly, and it’s just me. I can’t really afford to pay people (because I was a student) and now, I work full-time to try and afford to pay for my ventures. It’s been quite difficult.
You said you have a job? Are you a milliner full time, or do you have a separate job?
No, I work full-time. I also do this full-time, I suppose. (Laughs) I’m a Restaurant Manager. It pays the bills.
Have you had many sleepless nights when producing your collections?
I had so many sleepless nights during Britain Fashion Week. I was in the studio. I had all [of] my friends helping me. I kept plying them with wine so I could get them to stay, because you don’t realize how long certain tasks take. Sometimes, you’ll be doing it yourself. I’m well-practiced in the art of crystalizing stuff now, so I can do it relatively quickly. I was just getting so stressed out and I gave myself this enormous task of putting like 4,000 crystals on one hat. I was up all night, with my friends. Usually, before Britain Fashion Week and before London Fashion Week, I have many sleepless nights.
Which part do you enjoy most? The process of creating or the finished product?
Well, I love to see the collection when it’s on the runway, and I love to do the photoshoots. When I do the shoots, I try and not make it too stressful for everybody because I just believe that it shouldn’t be stressful. If you love something you should’nt get stressed out, you should be confident in what you’ve produced. When it comes to the shows, I try and do the same as well. I try and get everything done and have the stress finished. By the time it’s the morning of the show, I can leave all that stress behind, go in and really enjoy the show. Walk down at the end of the show, and be really pleased with what has happened. So, I really love the finished product and I really love the shows and the shoots.
Could you see yourself doing something else outside of what you’re doing? Could you imagine your life without fashion?
I would never have a life without fashion, althought a lot of people say they don’t like it, everybody is involved in fashion and they don’t realize. I worked with Philip Treacy last summer for 3 months, in London. He is obviously the most famous milliner in the world, I got to work in his fashion week show. When I was standing there and running about getting peopl Gin and tonics and stuff, I spoke to a lot of people and they were like “Hey, could you do that?”. It’s just the most electric, fantastic atmosphere you’ll ever come across. Fashion is so exciting, and it’s so fast. I just don’t think I could ever leave it. Like, leave the circle… I will always do something even if I don’t keep up with my hats. I will always, always dabble in fashion.
How important is integrity to you as a human, and as a business owner?
Everything I’ve done, I’ve had to learn on my feet. I’ve not really had a lot of business advice, so it has been quite difficult. I feel like you just have to have a nose for business, you need to be an entrepreneur. The thing is you may have enough money to pay somebody to take care of your business but, I don’t think I’d trust anybody else. I’d rather do it myself. Integrity is very important, you need to be cut throat and you need to just be straight with people. The thing is that’s why in the fashion industry everything is elevated because it’s so fast. Everything is twice as stressful, or twice as dramatic, and it’s because so much is riding on it and it’s so competitive. If you want to do well, you need to know what you are talking about all the time.
To aspiring milliners or designers who might be inspired by this feature, what sort of advice could you give to them? Share advice you wish you had when you started.
I’d say if you really want to do it… if you really really really want to do it. You have to work hard and just do it. I didn’t go to art school, and I still managed to an internship with the most famous milliner in the world. He only takes on six interns per year, I emailed the office and phoned the shop for Philip Treacy every single day for 3 months. I eventually got my internship, and I got to do his show at London fashion week – the first show he’s done in 12 years. It was worth it. It was worth all that hard work. Don’t listen to anybody if you really want to do it, you’ll do it. If you really really want it, you’ll get it, and if you don’t get it it’s because you haven’t tried hard enough. I just feel like after getting that internship, I can probably do anything, if I really wanted.
What made you agree to this interview? What are your thoughts on GrungeCake? Is there anything like it?
I thought it was just really exciting. I had a look on the website, and it looked different and it looked kind of up my street as well. It’s quite difficult to reach out to young people, and now that I’m in London establishing myself all over again, it’s basically starting from square one. I think it is really important to speak to absolutely everbody. Especially when I had a look at it, it’s all about freedom of expression through any kink of media, and I think that is just really important. It’s really important to help each other as well.
Would you say you are currently satisfied with where you are as a business? If not, what needs to be done in order to take you to the next level?
I think the most important is getting a studio, getting established in London, getting all my materials down here, then I should be able to take it to the next level. I’ll be looking for some investment and funding as well, but I think that is something I will need to look at once it’s properly established. I’m just learning and finding my way, once I’m on the path I think their’ll be no stopping me.
If the next level is setting up and establishing yourself, do you eventually want to venture into couture and RTW runway collections?
Yes, I’m always trying to focus a lot on couture, because I think you have to make a name for yourself first. Then people will want to to see the RTW, and want to see the diffusion collection. They’re like “Oh my gosh! Wow!” I’ve always tried to get people to sit up and listen, with shocking material shocking color. Where the shows are really vibrant like and full of energy. I have to have that first, I have to put the money and time in to create these collections so people want to see the RTW, see the diffusion. I’ll do a couture collection for London Fashion Week in September, but after eveything is done I’ll be able to focus more on the RTW where is obviously where I can make some money and show my true millinery skills.
For more information about Jenivieve Berlin and the creative team, just click here.