Looking around the swish East London office, lined wall to wall with rails of clothes, press cuttings and fashion campaigns, it’s difficult to imagine that little under five years ago Jarlo was based on a tiny market stall in Portobello Road market. Carly Hallahan, creative director, has propelled the brand from its humble beginnings to where it is now – stocked and in demand all over Europe, the United States and Asia. How did she do it? “I’ve got a big thing about dreaming and following my dreams . . .but you are only as good as the people you work with. I’ve got some amazing people in my life, my family especially . . .that’s Jarlo.”
Family and pursuing dreams play a massive role in Carly’s life, with her first career jump coming when at 17, she moved with her twin sister Renee, from her childhood home of Canberra, to Sydney for a job in professional dance. Are the seemingly glamorous Australian destinations inspiration for her Jarlo designs? “Maybe”, Carly says while flicking through a rack of clothes “when I first started, I was inspired by British fashion, Jarlo was full of tea dresses, lots of vintage florals and anything that went with tights. . .although maybe that was because of my change in climate! Australia is the land of flip flops and maxi dresses” her hand lingers on the long lemon Layla dress Coco Pierrel, wife of the CEO of Lacoste, was recently pictured wearing, laughing she says “actually one of the things Jarlo is becoming really known for are our maxis . . . I guess I am now, more than ever, pulling inspiration from Australia. I suppose I was always going to end up making maxi dresses that aren’t your typical maxi dress, maxis with a twist.”
Jarlo is indeed making waves among celebrities, with fashionistas such as Anna Friel, The Saturdays and, of course, Coco Pierrel known fans of the brand. Carly says “a major ‘pinch me’ moment was when Keira Knightley stepped out wearing Jarlo, it was everywhere. I’ll never forget finding out. . .I was in Paris, admiring the massive Keira Knightley Chanel campaign in the middle of Galerie Lafayette’s makeup hall, when I get this phone call from my PR agent saying ‘you’re never going to believe who’s been seen wearing Jarlo’. . .I started jumping up and down all over the store, it was a massive high. Keira Knightley in our Joni dress.”
Dresses with names such as the Joni and the Layla are an inventive quirk that set Jarlo aside from other labels. When asked about the inspiration behind the named pieces, Carly explains “some of the dresses are named after the style, for example Bette is a very 50s name for a very 50s dress. . .I do have pieces named after the most important women in my life, like my sister Renee . . . actually though, my mum’s dress didn’t sell so well!” As somebody with such apparent adoration for her family, it’d be easy to assume she designs with them in mind. So is “the Jarlo woman” a Hallahan, or is she somebody else? “The Jarlo women is not just one girl, she is every fabulous woman I know. She’s everything from the fashionista, to the yummy mummy, to the career woman, and so much more. She’s definitely not just one women. I design the collection with several women in mind.”
Appealing to every woman is evidently deep rooted in Carly’s Jarlo ethos, but securing the brand’s mass appeal took time. Of difficulties in the Jarlo’s beginnings, Carly says “in the early days it was all about finding customers, which was actually really, really hard to do. When Jarlo first started out, I was living in Notting Hill, maybe a block from the market. I had my product and I knew that Portobello [market] was the perfect platform to start. . . I would wake up at four in the morning and go down to try and secure a good spot. I started in October of 2008 and, as an Australian, standing outside in that weather was a massive shock . . . I had to wear Ugg boots outside!” Smiling down at her now more appropriate fashion footwear, Carly says that she wouldn’t change the negative times “you’ve got to lose the fear and go after it. . .grow with your business. Most of the lessons I have learnt have come from taking a harder route. Times will get tough, there’s incredible highs and incredible lows. For me though, it’s a labour of love. . . Jarlo’s my life, it gives me an incredible amount of purpose.”
Winding up, Carly spoke about the origin of the brand name and tag line; “Jarlo: For Lovers, For Dreamers”. In typical Hallahan style, it is deep rooted in her heart, “I knew that I wanted a name that didn’t necessarily mean something to everybody else, but meant something to me. In the early days the brand was started by myself alone. . .but then Joe became my business partner. Everybody calls me “Carl” and Joe, “Jo”, so it came up when we started throwing around ideas. I wasn’t really that sure about it at first, but then I went to the two important women in my life. . .and straight away they both loved it. Jarlo was born. That name makes it feel very, very personal” As for the tag line? Carly laughs before explaining “I’m a big fan of the muppets, Kermit the frog has a song called The Rainbow Connection, if you read the lyrics, they’re actually really beautiful. The lyric ‘someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers and me.’ just really stood out. I really like the message of that song”.
Laughing and joking with myself and her members of staff, Carly is a far cry from the stereotypically cold and distant fashion superior. When asked about her demeanour she says “In my head, I wear flowers in my hair every day. I’d be transported back to the age of Woodstock and hippies if I could. . . I don’t go out of my way to be nice, I’m just me.” It seems like being yourself is the essence of Carly Hallahan and Jarlo itself, with its suitable-for-all designs allowing women to embrace themselves and live their own dreams.
Words: Alex Ogden