Tuesday, February 9, 2010

simple, elegant, durable, design: just a few reasons to appreciate J. Jill

by frédérik sisa
(outfit: cotton-blend motorcycle jacket, pima cotton elbow-sleeve, chino boyfriend pants, easy bucket hat and Superga classic sneakers)

I’ve heard J. Jill’s designs described as a bit conservative - even the word “matronly” (!) has been bandied about (unfairly) here and there. But as far as I’m concerned “conservative” design is where the company’s strength and distinction lie: classic lines, clean tailoring, fluid grace, a simplicity that is elegant, unfussy, even Zen-like. Unlike the aggressively trendy cuts of other design retailers, J. Jill’s collection achieves the kind of style that seems to always be in style. Perhaps one has to point out that their target clientele does consist of women 35 and older, as stated on their “about us” page. Yet that doesn’t really mean that there’s nothing for younger fashionistas. In fact, I take it to mean that the designs are more mature, durable and real-word savvy than clothes aimed for fickle whippersnappers whose wardrobes tend to shift faster than their attention span. Certain trendy elements do make their way into the collections - cropped pants, ballet flats, and the like – but as influences demonstrating contemporary awareness rather than gimmicks.

Interesting is this season’s colours – plums, greys, blues, tans. They remind me, in a good way, of a rainy day in New England. (Bright colours are on the horizon, I’m sure, based on their past collections.) The muted palette plays nicely into a relaxed chic collection, and the surprise is that even skeptics, on closer look, may come to appreciate the thought that’s gone into the designs.

But ah, if only there was a J. Jack. (You knew I’d start whining again about this, right?) For some reason, I haven’t quite found a men’s brand that demonstrates the same conceptual design quality that J. Jill has. Maybe it’s because suits, complete with neck nooses, never look relaxed (or comfortable) to me. Or maybe because men’s fashion always strike me as falling into one of two extremes: boring staples in khaki or tan or painfully trendy. Cubavera might be the one exception off the top my head – more or less.

(outfit: Wearever vest, U-neck tank, full-leg cropped pants with pleated scarf and easy ballet flats)

When I seriously considered designing my own collection and starting a fashion company (epic fail; don’t ask), J. Jill’s design sensibilities were a key inspiration. Even today, I love the way collections are put together with a sense of unity. It doesn’t feel like a hodge-podge of stuff that is a collection in numbers only; it feels rather like a unified, bonafide collection of clothes rooted in the same design principles. That unity gets it’s ultimately manifestation in the Wearever collection, which is based on a mix-and-match approach of clothes that are stylistically compatible, wrinkle-free and easily washed (the fabrics consist of rayon and Lycra spandex), and available in light and dense weights to meet seasonal and layering needs. Of course, that modularity is present to some extent in the rest of J. Jill’s collection. So in addition to a robust design rooted in the best traditions of fashion, the collection is also based on versatility in terms of the clothes themselves as well as shoes and accessories. It’s holistic fashion, if you will, from one of my favourite brands.

Note: images are from jjill.com and are only used for illustrative purposes.

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