Mix & mingle

Fashion designer Amber Gardner lives in an airy loft-like apartment filled with assorted collectables. Come on over and check it out.

She’s infatuated with utility and uniforms, has a background in menswear and denim, and aims to create an ageless aesthetic that appeals to the modern woman. Meet fashion designer Amber Gardner, whose new womenswear label, Shjark, is right up our alley. It goes without saying that her home would be cool too, so we popped over to Grey Lynn to have a nosey around the Auckland apartment she and partner Robert Hart have shared for the past three years.

So, Amber, what are you guys up to? We met through our jobs, and have been working on projects together ever since. I launched Shjark last year and Robert is a photographer and owns Shadowlands [photo studio] in Eden Terrace. It’s great for us both to be able to enjoy self-employment and independence and not be tied to a nine-to-five position; however, we do both tend to live and breathe our work. Thankfully, we love what we do.

THE LOOK OF LOVE Amber, Robert and Cash the cat. All found in hospice shops, the mermaid on the sideboard (above), the Pegasus on the bookshelf (below) and a variety of exceptional ceramic vases are some of the most beloved items in this household. Many of the couple’s favourite pieces have reoccurring roles in Robert’s still-life series and feature in Amber’s Shjark campaigns.

How would you describe your styles? We have similar tastes and are attracted
to the same aesthetic: we have a penchant for modernist mid-century architecture and an appreciation for the function and form of objects and design from that era. Robert’s probably a little more attracted to tactile pieces and a worn-in patina, whereas I like to keep things a bit lighter.

What do you love about your home? It’s our sanctuary and we spend a lot of time enjoying it. It’s a loft-style apartment with a high ceiling in the living area. We love the open-plan space and the light that streams through the double-height ranch sliders that open onto the deck.

You’re collectors of vintage objects from far-flung places – what’s the secret to avoiding clutter in an apartment? As time goes on, we’re both more and more aware of refining and editing in all aspects of our lives: only buy the best, and buy it once. Still, we often joke that we need a bigger place just to house all the ‘stuff’.
Robert’s a prolific collector, with an uncanny skill for hunting out special pieces hiding in his favorite local op shops. It’s difficult to constantly edit our collections, but actually we both appreciate the house more when it’s uncluttered.
You wouldn’t want to open the linen cupboard, though – you’d be amazed how many guitars a man can fit in there!

You also use the apartment as a studio for Shjark – how do you balance your work and home life? A new business can be a major sacrifice in terms of work/life balance, so it’s a blessing to be able to work from home in these early stages. I’m very disciplined with my time, and try to keep regular office hours. My office is upstairs in the mezzanine area, so I’m able to keep things relatively separate.
I also have a small studio across the road for production, but with the launch of my online store I know I’ll outgrow the space and am looking forward to moving into a larger studio, which will bring its own issues in terms of balance. Hopefully it won’t mean I’m always at the office.

HUNTER-GATHERERS Amber’s hot tip for finding original items in New Zealand? “Hunt! On a daily basis. The more practice you put in, the better you’ll get at sniffing out the special pieces. We have some beautiful mid-century furniture that I imagine we’ll have forever. Good-quality homeware should not only stand the test of time, but also improve with time.”

What approach do you take to design? Through a desire for less, design must serve a purpose. Working on my own business, I’m learning to follow my gut instinct more. The Shjark ethos is in line with my personal approach in terms of quality, integrity and style, and the design process is natural and straightforward: would the Shjark woman wear it, and will she be wearing it in 10 years’ time?

REST AREA One of Robert’s still life images makes a statement above the bed, which is made up with crisp white sheets by In Bed and a military blanket from a local op shop. The bedside lamp is by Onefortythree.

What was the inspiration for your upcoming A/W 17 range? There are elements that will be evident in every Shjark collection, so although my inspiration isn’t seasonal and is more of a gradual, natural development, for A/W 17 I’ve been heavily swayed by Japanese influences. Martial arts and the styling and colour palettes of those disciplines feature throughout the collection.

Have you considered branching out into homeware? Shjark is a fashion label, but it’s also a lifestyle. Our home and way of life is something we value highly, and I imagine the same goes for people who feel an affinity with Shjark. It’s early days, but homeware would be a natural progression in creating that complete lifestyle.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Robert Hart

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