Eye of the Tiger

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image There’s so much more to Jodhi Meares than being the beauty and the brains behind super successful swimwear label Tigerlily, not that the bikini babe herself will ever try and take credit for it.

“I’ve got hundreds of bikinis. I’ve got an archive of designs that have been designed and come out of Tigerlily. I must have, you know, a couple of thousand bikinis. And I have a huge collection of vintage swimsuits I collect when I’m travelling. Also, I’ve been known to change a couple of times during the day. I take so many bikinis when I go away with me it’s ridiculous.” – Jodhi Meares


On a bleak, overcast September day in the year 2000, a posse of beach babes wandered along landmark Bondi Beach draped in the kind of white towels you usually find in five star hotels; underneath, they were only wearing patterned bikinis. On first impression, this was nothing out of the ordinary to see on one of Australia’s most celebrated and well known beaches, in fact it was an expected reality that rarely attracted little more than a wolf whistle from a male beachgoer. However, as the girls entered a specially erected beach volleyball stadium, removed their towels and took their seats for one of the Sydney Olympic beach volleyball finals, it was clear these bikini babes weren’t your average kind of beach beauties…they were actually paid models executing a clever marketing ploy to introduce swimwear label Tigerlily to a global audience of more than $3.7 million.

The mastermind behind the launch, model turned designer and sometimes television host, Jodhi Meares, remembers that day well – though she tries to play down her efforts as a lucky, rather than ingenious, fashion beginning.

“It was a lot of fun,” Meares says. “We had people from America ringing us. We didn’t quite realise the stir it was going to cause, but it was great. It was a bit of a bugger with the weather, but anyway, it was appropriate, you know, to launch the brand out on the beach. And the towels were used because I think it would have been a little bit crazy to send the girls out the actual stadium only in bikinis.”
Strategy or luck, the stunt sent the Tigerlily label into the fashion stratosphere. Eight years later, the brand is stocked in over 400 stores around the nation and set to make its debut into the American market at the end of the year, it’s fair to say that Meares has made a profitable business out of turning the most unflattering of fabrics – lycra – into high fashion swimwear designs.

So how did a girl who finished high school in Year 10 and whose big break came through landing a modelling assignment as the face and body of a Moove milk campaign end up at the helm of a super successful fashion business?

“I always knew that I wanted to design bikinis,” Meares says on the evolution of her career aspirations. “There’s something very wholesome about a bikini. It’s a lovely thing, it represents very beautiful things, the beach and holidays and it’s very Australian.
“I worked for so many different swimwear companies when I was younger and from all different aspects, from shootings and then showings to fittings and working with actual design teams, so I really got an insight into how a business was run.

“Freedom is a huge thing to me, so working for myself was always something that I wanted to do and I’ve never really worked for anyone. I like to run my own show and I like to do what I want to do,” she says.

Tigerlily isn’t a solo show however and the independent Meares does employ a team of talented, creative types to aid her in the development and expansion of her brand.

“I have an incredibly strong team in the office, they are all friends and colleagues and I adore them ¬– without them I wouldn’t be able to do all the projects I take on, so I’m very, very lucky. Of all my projects, Tigerlily is my main focus, but without my team, it would be impossible to do anything else.

Meares’ admittance that her team is made up entirely of friends and colleagues is hardly surprising. Once married to media mogul James Packer (the pair married in October 1999 and divorced three years later), the business minded beauty is the first to admit that she does have a problem with trust.

“I rarely let new people in,” she revealed earlier this year. “The last time I made a really good friend was about eight years ago.”
Meares’ reluctance to open up is an attribute of her private nature. She shuns the spotlight and though her success and status as the former Mrs James Packer will always mean that Meares is a very public figure, she says even during her modelling days, she wasn’t comfortable with the limelight.

“I’m not particularly social and I never really have been,” she reveals. “I mean, I do love to spend time with my friends, but I don’t really like crowds, I’ve never been to nightclubs, I don’t really love events and lots of people. I love to go to the pub and catch up with friends but I’m not out there partying. I think that helps in business and helps definitely with how much energy you have,” she says.
Downtime is a rarity and if it is, Meares prefers life’s simple pleasures, for the most part accompanied by her rottweiler cross, who goes pretty much everywhere with Meares and who she describes as her “gorgeous little shadow”.

“On the weekend, if I do have time, I can hang out with my family and my dog, or go for a walk or horse riding or do something pretty quiet. And really, unless I am at a function, I’m kind of left alone,” Meares says. “I mean occasionally you get a photographer snapping you for god knows why, but really I think that I have such a dull life. I don’t think anyone’s interested in me walking my dog, they’d be just like, ‘god, she’s a shocking bore. She just walks the dog and goes to the office’.”

Recently, Meares has taken up an interest in documentaries and began researching and writing her own doco on child abuse, a project she says will continue to be a work in progress because of the serious nature and scale of the issue.

“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a few years and it’s incredibly time consuming and a really full on topic,” she says. “It is definitely something I’m still passionate about but it’s a time issue because really it’s not something you can just write, it’s something you need to investigate and research. There is just so much that you need to look at when it comes to child abuse and I don’t think that’s something anyone can get a handle on, from the government to the police force to the youth workers to the hospital, I mean there is just so much there.

“I’ve got hundreds of bikinis. I’ve got an archive of designs that have been designed and come out of Tigerlily. I must have, you know, a couple of thousand bikinis. And I have a huge collection of vintage swimsuits I collect when I’m travelling. Also, I’ve been known to change a couple of times during the day. I take so many bikinis when I go away with me it’s ridiculous.” – Jodhi Meares



“We can all live in our own bubble and have a wonderful life but the reality is that it just isn’t like that everywhere. That’s part of the reason I want to write a documentary so much because I want to try and understand more about how to try and solve the problem of child abuse. Liz Mullinar is amazing and has some incredible ideas. She has a healing retreat in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, and it’s a great thing because her approach to overcoming child abuse is to try and heal the survivors.”

While she has been linked romantically with various highflying males over recent years, with so much going on professionally, Meares admits that love isn’t currently at the top of her ‘to do’ list.

“It’s not a huge focus for me right now, no,” Meares says. “It’s really just work. I’m sort of not against it and not for it – if it’s there, great, if not, then that’s fine too, you know.

“I swing from being a romantic to a realist. I have friends in relationships that are just amazing and I think they were definitely made for each other and I couldn’t imagine them being with anyone else. And then, other times I have more of an analytical point of view and think that maybe you choose to fall in love, that it’s not something that just happens to you, it’s not like an illness.”
While Meares may have an ever changing opinion on love, she is definite that relationships are worthwhile and career doesn’t have to mean sacrificing love and vice versa.

“I think it’s all a point of view – it depends on what you’re wanting,” she says. “I don’t think it needs to be a choice between a relationship or your career. You know it shouldn’t be like that. I think there’s a lot of false data that’s out there about relationships. But I do think if you can be in a good relationship, you’re definitely better off. It’s a wonderful thing to do and it’s definitely a very important thing to do,” she says.

Right now though Meares is decidedly content with her life. But don’t think for a second she’s complacent.

“My role evolves, morphs and changes as the years go on, it grows over the years. You never turn off; to have your own company you’re constantly thinking about it, everything you see is a reminder of how that would relate to your brand. It sounds a bit strange, but anything you’re looking at or anything aesthetic especially all reminds you of your work. But it’s awesome and I love it.

“The upcoming US launch will be exciting because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile, so my focus for Tigerlily is going to be on America and Europe for the next few years. But there’s always so much going on, there’s always a zillion things. You never sort of stop and feel like OK, I’m done. I mean, there are so many more things I want to achieve with Tigerlily – it’s nowhere near over yet.”

And with that, she’s off. Meares has got a dog to walk!


By Kristy Meudell

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