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"I didn’t realise at the time, but it was quite a big deal." Meet Jessica Clarke, the model making mushrooms cool

The muse, mushroom advocate and business mogul is H Fashion's August-September 2024 cover star...


Becky Donaldson
Feature Director
July 2, 2024
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Much like any great businesswoman, Jessica Clarke has drawn inspiration from her own life experiences, transforming her personal story into a fledgling enterprise. And the New Zealander certainly has a rich and compelling backstory. 

Jessica was scouted at the age of 15, while in a movie theatre with her parents, but was at first pretty uninterested in becoming a model. "I was so young and played netball at quite a high level. That was kind of my dream and passion, I wanted to be a Silver Fern," she says, of the New Zealand national team. 

Dress, £750, Shorts, POA, Boots, POA, Victoria Beckham. Socks, £22, Falke. Necklace, POA, Ring, POA, Boodles.
Dress, £750, Shorts, POA, Boots, POA, Victoria Beckham. Socks, £22, Falke. Necklace, POA, Ring, POA, Boodles.

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Eventually having to choose between the two 'conflicting worlds', she picked modelling, but initially kept it pretty close to her chest, despite regularly flying to the city of Auckland and Australia for fashion shoots.

"I didn’t tell my friends because it was this weird new world and I was a bit of a tomboy," she laughs. But that all changed when she was shot for the cover of Australian magazine Frankie, which was a fairly big publication in Australasia at the time. "Yes, they saw it, my face on the cover at 16 – it was kind of surreal."

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Dress, £800, Christopher Esber Ballet flats, £300, By Far, Bracelet, POA, Necklace, POA, both Boodles
Dress, £800, Christopher Esber Ballet flats, £300, By Far, Bracelet, POA, Necklace, POA, both Boodles

Alongside modelling, Jessica’s parents encouraged her to finish school, which she is very grateful for. "I think, before aspiring to be a model, that’s super important. There’s a time limit on how far you can go with a modelling career, it’s an amazing stepping stone into the next phase of your life, but without a solid foundation, it can leave you a little step back."

At the age of 17, when she’d finished school, Jessica moved to New York to become a full-time model. "I’m not quite sure what my parents were thinking, because it’s quite a big step from a little country town. But I guess all my friends were going to university, so it kind of felt like the next stage. Although, they were moving three kilometres down the road and I was moving to the other side of the world."

"All the other things that I did kind of snowballed from there. I didn’t realise at the time, but it was quite a big deal"

Jacket, £1,790, Stella McCartney Leather trousers, £545, Nanushka Ring, £4,900, Necklace, POA, Earrings, £15,000, all Boodles
Jacket, £1,790, Stella McCartney Leather trousers, £545, Nanushka Ring, £4,900, Necklace, POA, Earrings, £15,000, all Boodles

For her first international fashion show circuit, Jessica became a Calvin Klein exclusive. Such a deal often elevates a model’s status and launches their career. "All the other things that I did kind of snowballed from there. I didn’t realise at the time, but it was quite a big deal," she reflects.

In subsequent collections, Jessica modelled in Milan, Paris, New York and London for big-name designers including Marc by Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Mulberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Emilio Pucci, Elie Saab and Lanvin. She also became the first New Zealander to appear in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show in 2011.

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Jessica made lifelong friends during this exhilarating period of growth within the fashion industry, which she explains was different from what we see now. "There was a lot of innocence at the time, and it was beautiful to be part of that fantasy-driven world of creatives."

"I’m so lucky to have met my friends. When you’re by yourself and travelling, especially at the top end of modelling, there’s a real community, contrary to people’s notions of it being competitive or catty. We were all doing the same thing, very far away from our hometowns and families. And we kind of came together, inspired and leaned on each other."

"And the thing that I love most about them is that they are such inspiring, powerful women."

Tank top, £298, Veronica Beard, Skirt, £495, Rejina Pyo Boots, £140, Tretorn Bracelet, POA, Earrings, POA, both Boodles
Tank top, £298, Veronica Beard, Skirt, £495, Rejina Pyo Boots, £140, Tretorn Bracelet, POA, Earrings, POA, both Boodles

Jessica is not only successful and incredibly beautiful from every angle, but she is also generous when speaking of the accomplishments of others. "I’m so proud of my friends," she gushes. "And the thing that I love most about them is that they are such inspiring, powerful women."

Some of her besties include Arizona Muse, who has incidentally also appeared on the cover of H Fashion. "We did our first fashion week together in my first season. She is now on a mission to educate people about regenerative farming and sustainable fashion and has a charity called Dirt."

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Then, English producer and actress Gala Gordon, who Jessica has known since she was 19. "She is executive producing her first movie Bumble with Lily James at the helm. She’s another inspiration to me."

And "last but not least" model and actress Poppy Delevingne. "She does incredible work for Save the Children and she’s also an entrepreneur and has her own brand," she says of her friend, who also finds time to run her prosecco company Della Vite.

Dress, £750, Shorts, POA, Boots, POA, all Victoria Beckham Socks, £22, Falke Necklace, POA, Ring, POA, both Boodles
Dress, £750, Shorts, POA, Boots, POA, Victoria Beckham. Socks, £22, Falke. Necklace, POA, Ring, POA, Boodles.

"We started a community with a lot of innocence and discovery, and now we’ve all used those experiences and built ourselves and others around us – to the point where we have our own businesses – I think it’s pretty impressive," she smiles. 

For Jessica, that business is Mother Made, a natural mushroom supplement she launched in 2021 with her high school friend, Emily Blanchett. Like any good business plan, it was derived from the duo’s own need for the high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities of the humble mushroom.

"They are not like magic mushrooms"

Dress, POA, Boots, POA, both Versace Ring, POA, Pendant, POA, Earrings, POA, all Boodles
Dress, POA, Boots, POA, both Versace Ring, POA, Pendant, POA, Earrings, POA, all Boodles

Jessica hilariously describes international models as "the best test dummies" due to their intense schedules. "I was travelling on a plane every week, if not more. My dad once worked out that I was in Miami, Morocco, Mexico and, I think, Mumbai within the span of ten days."

"As a model you have to do all of that and still be happy, perform for long hours and obviously look good."

It was when Jessica returned to New Zealand during the Covid pandemic and couldn’t find an alternative mushroom supplement, she decided to create her own brand.

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"We don’t really understand how many stresses we come into contact with on a daily basis. Even products like fake tan that you put on the skin seep into the membrane – essentially your body’s having to fight back."

"There are many reasons why we’re feeling lethargic and have brain fog."

Coat, £3,050, Tank top, £770, both Bottega Veneta Necklaces, both POA, Earrings, POA, Rings (right hand), POA, (left hand) £12,300, all Boodles
Coat, £3,050, Tank top, £770, both Bottega Veneta Necklaces, both POA, Earrings, POA, Rings (right hand), POA, (left hand) £12,300, all Boodles

"So there are many reasons why we’re feeling lethargic and have brain fog. Mushrooms contain adaptogens, which basically help our bodies deal with stress, whether it be external, mental, biological or physical. And I think it’s really nice to have a natural alternative to prescription medicines."

The Mother Made stress-busters, which include day and night capsules and powders, are packaged in beautiful tubs in various mushroom colours: an olive, a blueish smoke, a paprika and a peach – some of the most stylish mushroom colours I’ve ever seen. The shiny black writing that draws inspiration from a Tom Ford coffee table tome, explains the "special bag of tricks" each individual variety offers. 

While we discuss the brand, Jessica often declares her love for mushrooms, "They are not like magic mushrooms," she suddenly laughs. However, this association led to the duo deciding it would be fun to create the 'I Love Mushrooms' T-shirt, which are also sold on the Mother Made website. 

Of course, they themselves are also achingly stylish. Designed by Jessica, a lot of care and attention to detail was considered. "I can’t have 15 years’ experience in the fashion industry, where I would stand in front of Francisco Costa and he would literally be making the garment on me, and not do that."

Cardigan, £144, Shorts, £75, both The Frankie Shop Sunhat, £396, Johanna Ortiz Boots, £657, By Far Earrings, £15,000, Necklace, POA, Ring, £12,300, all Boodles
Cardigan, £144, Shorts, £75, both The Frankie Shop Sunhat, £396, Johanna Ortiz Boots, £657, By Far Earrings, £15,000, Necklace, POA, Ring, £12,300, all Boodles

"It feels so authentic and genuine to be doing something like Mother Made. Reconnecting people with nature. And healing from nature."

"I knew that the design and the cut was really important. I wanted a perfect 90s tee. And then, I also obviously have friends like Arizona who talk about renewable farming, so I had to choose materials that were better for the earth."

Rita Ora was an early fan of the T-shirt. "It seems silly, because I’ve done amazing things in fashion and worked with incredible people, but when Rita wore one of our T-shirts and it was all over the internet… that’s a different kind of sense of pride, because it’s something that you made."

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Talking about fashion, Jessica is a model that absolutely adores it. "I think it’s part of my DNA. My favourite designer is Toteme," she says, tugging at the side of her suit jacket. 

"And I really love vintage pieces for going out – Versace, Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier…I love an archive find and it’s sustainable, because you’re not adding to new buys – also no one else is gonna be wearing it at parties."

"I like to wow in the evenings and be effortless during the day"

Other designers she loves include Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Galvan, De La Vali, Hunza G and New Zealand designer Paris Georgia. “I’m obsessed. And it’s quite popular on a global scale, Kendall Jenner wears it.

"I like to wow in the evenings and be effortless during the day. I always think about the original British cool-girl style icons. I love Jane Birkin, Kate Moss, Jean Shrimpton – that kind of undone, sexy, cool."

"But I also feel that women have so many different stages of their lives. We don’t just have one career. My style ranges from my New York days, when I wore black boots, black skinny jeans and a leather jacket. Now, in my 30s, I’m a businesswoman and love a really nice blazer – something tailored and structured."

Top, £421, Skirt, £568, both Ulla Johnson
 Sandals, £550, Malone Souliers Bracelet, POA, Earrings, POA, Rings (right hand), £3,200, (left hand) POA, all Boodles
Top, £421, Skirt, £568, both Ulla Johnson Sandals, £550, Malone Souliers Bracelet, POA, Earrings, POA, Rings (right hand), £3,200, (left hand) POA, all Boodles

Jessica grew up in Palmerston North in New Zealand’s South Island. "I always count my lucky stars that I was born in such a place that allowed me to identify with nature."

Her first pet was a sheep named Loris. "He was my best friend. I’d walk up to the top of the hill and he’d follow me. I’d say, ‘Today at school…’ And he’d just listen."

Jessica is very proud of her Maori heritage from her mother’s side. "Not many people know that I’m half Maori when they first look at me," she says. 

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"It’s hard to explain what being Maori is, but it really influences how I see the world. It’s every fibre of my being. And I’m so proud of my heritage. I have this huge sense of confidence because I know my entire tribe is behind me."

She explains her heritage hugely influenced Mother Made, which is 100% organic and natural. "In Maori, there is a saying, ‘The land doesn’t belong to you. We belong to the land’."

"Not many people know that I’m half Maori when they first look at me"

Coat, £745, Leather trousers, £1,225, both Joseph Earrings, £9,500, Rings (right hand), POA, (left hand) £3,200, all Boodles
Coat, £745, Leather trousers, £1,225, both Joseph Earrings, £9,500, Rings (right hand), POA, (left hand) £3,200, all Boodles

"Our entire life is about guardianship. If we take kaimoana, which is seafood, from the sea, we’ll ask the ocean if that’s okay, and we do a prayer. We believe we’re here to look after the land to make sure things keep growing and we’re not taking too much, so then we can pass it onto the generations in front of us like our ancestors did for us."

"It’s always been part of who I am and therefore it feels so authentic and genuine to be doing something like Mother Made. Reconnecting people with nature. And healing from nature."

As well as being inspired by her female friends, Jessica is also enamoured by other empowering women. "There are so many strong, powerful people to name. Elle Macpherson, she transitioned from modelling to having a wellness brand, which is hugely successful. Gwyneth Paltrow not only has opened up the conversation about women’s health, but she has also done massive amounts in talking about taboo subjects. And one more… my mum. She passed away from cancer when I was 25, but she was an incredible businessperson, a really strong Maori lady. And she’s always inspired, she became a mother and did not just look after us, she was on the board of every single thing – like the GM of my netball club. She really went above and beyond and she wore so many different hats."

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"That’s super inspiring to me because sometimes you feel you can’t do it all and you don’t have to do it all. But being lots of things to lots of people and being able to pull it off is my goal."

I ask if she feels that her mother is her guardian angel. "Yes," she says without hesitation. "Definitely, I’ve had a bit of luck with Mother Made and I think it is because of my mum."

EFT: DRESS, £1,445, PROENZA SCHOULER, CARDIGAN, £495 CONNOLLY, BRACELET, POA, RINGS, POA & £4,900, ALL BOODLES
Eft: Dress, £1,445, Proenza Schouler, Cardigan, £495 Connolly, Bracelet, Poa, Rings, Poa & £4,900, All Boodles

Jessica now lives in London with her sports agent partner Dave Gardner and their labrador puppy. She tries to travel home at least once a year, and certainly every Christmas. "That’s when we all go up to the homestead – 26 to 30 family members will be there."

"We eat lots of food," she smiles. "My uncle will go out to dive and catch seafood, and another uncle has a farm. We all get together and make fried bread, which, by the way, is insane… it’s like a savoury scone, which is deep-fried in oil. And we sit around and laugh and eat and there’s always someone on the guitar playing a tune, the kids are running around – it’s really fun."

Adding an extra layer to the experiences Jessica has used as an organic leverage for her brand are her early trips to India. 

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"My dad was a defence attache for New Zealand, Australia and India, so we went there a few times. And I also sometimes travelled there for modelling." 

"I absolutely love India…  the food, colours, culture, buildings and architecture. It’s a really beautiful place. They know how to use spices to make food taste amazing. They use turmeric to dye their sarees orange. And they also use ayurvedic medicine, which is again to do with spices including saffron that have some medicinal benefits."

"I have to be eternally grateful for the amazing experiences that have shaped me from such a young age and I believe Mother Made is the amalgamation of my two worlds."

@rroimata at Storm Management @stormmodels
Editor: @nataliesalmon
@nataliesalmon
Photographer: @_saskialawson
Stylist:
@sophiakatyea
Hair:
@issey_cook
Makeup:
@mariacomparettomua
Words:
@becklesd
Production:
@clarepenners
Style & Commerce Director:
@tanyaphilipson
Videographer: @valiraza

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