Pieces from the Stolen Girlfriends Club archive. Picture / Guy Coombes.

Celebrating 10 Years of Stolen Girlfriends Club

Stolen Girlfriends Club may be the life of the party, but the designers behind the brand still mean business

In 2011, unsuspecting grocery store customers contemplating which can of beans to buy were snapped out of a domestic trance as an army of Stolen Girlfriends Club-clad models stormed down the aisles towards them. That was three years before Karl Lagerfeld staged Chanel’s runway show among supermarket produce in Paris, and although Rihanna wasn’t in attendance at New World Victoria Park, the SGC stunt still managed to get people, locally and internationally, talking.

Later that year, while hundreds waited to get inside an industrial venue during New Zealand Fashion Week, male models busted out of portaloos to an unsuspecting crowd, before Penny Pickard, Ngahuia Williams and other runway stars stripped off tacky 80s prom dresses to reveal the latest SGC collection underneath.

That’s not to mention the boozy, who’s who after-parties — held at strip clubs, underground car parks and casinos — which offer a well-earned respite for weary fashion week attendees, as well as plenty of juicy tidbits to fill the gossip pages on Sunday.

While these gritty events have built a rock n’ roll profile for Stolen Girlfriends Club, that’s not to say the trio behind the brand, Marc Moore, Luke Harwood and Dan Gosling, don’t mean business. To mark its 10-year anniversary, the brand opened its first flagship store on Newmarket’s Nuffield St, rubbing shoulders with high-end stores such as Karen Walker and Superette, where the clientele is far removed from those beer-soaked celebrations.

That’s exactly how they intended the brand to be, recalls Marc. “We were really obsessed with stores like Zambesi and Fabric when we first began, and we thought there needed to be a brand or product in those stores that just had a touch more fun to it.”

In 2004, Marc staged an art exhibition titled Stolen Girlfriends Club at High St gallery Modus Operandi. “Nine out of the 15 paintings were sold on the night, including Marc’s favourite piece from the show, I Fall in Love Every Friday at 8:30 , which featured three images of starlet Mischa Barton from The OC. Very cute,” wrote New Zealand Herald reporter Linda Herrick at the time.

“It was about dudes who would steal girlfriends and treat them really good and rescue them from shitty relationships,” says Marc. “People really liked that name... we just went with what the market was telling us.”

Moore and fellow surfers Harwood and Gosling set to work on making slogan T-shirts printed with “Stolen Girlfriends Club Says Relax”, a piss take of the “Frankie Says Relax” T-shirts everyone was wearing.

After a few magazines like Black caught wind of the token T-shirts, stockists started knocking at their door, and the brand became a whole lot more than just jersey rib tees.

“We hadn’t actually got around to making a collection, nor did we know how to, but so we created a brand almost before we had created a product, in a way,” says Marc.

It wasn’t until 2007 that they presented their first “proper” collection, which included futuristic, studded pieces and skin-tight denim, to a packed New Zealand Fashion Week crowd. It was then that the trio decided they were going to democratise the elitist fashion week crowd, letting upwards of 1200 people in to the modest viaduct tents.

While that enthusiasm for the brand has created a cult-following, it hasn’t all been parties and stunts for the trio, and there have been few times along the way when they’ve thought about giving it up.

“We’re a brand that was started with 4000 bucks on a Visa and no investment, nothing. Everything has come from ourselves, just from constant reinvestment from the money that’s earned by the company and put back into the company,” says Marc.

Like many fashion brands, they’ve had to make compromises with the realities of being commercial, and though a completely sheer cut out maxi dress may look cool on the runway, it’s hardly going to appeal to the mass market for everyday wear.

“Coming up with something that a wider market will actually want to wear is quite a cool challenge,” Marc says. “We realise the importance of it, because if you don’t have that, you don’t have a business basically.”

The brand’s jewellery line is that drawcard, and is the big earner for the business.

“Commercial sensibility is a huge factor for us as the business progresses,” says Luke, “as opposed to the few years ago when it was really a second thought.”

The brand now produces three fashion collections, three jewellery stories and two denim injections a year, supplying 50 stockists in New Zealand and 20 worldwide.

“As time goes by you learn the importance and the art of profitability which is needed to keep a company like ours turning, expanding and exploring new endeavours,” says Luke.

Tonight the brand is hosting its NZFW show at the St James Theatre, but instead of showing the upcoming winter collection, the in-season Township Rebellion will be on the runway. This is another commercially-savvy move because it caters to the impatient, fast-fashion audience that wants to buy clothes more or less off the runway. But as for the next big reveal, the supermarket stunt, the trashed prom dresses? We’ll have to wait and see.

View more of our insider New Zealand Fashion Week coverage in association with Mercedes-Benz.

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