Tuesday, April 27, 2010

like a magpie with pretty sparkly things

by frédérik sisa

I like shiny sparkling things as much as the next person, which is why this week I thought I’d share a few discoveries from the big, huge, gigantic world of jewelry.

First up, Lia Sophia. The premise is simple and devilishly clever: parties. Think Tupperware parties, only with pretty sparkly things at a fiendishly accessible price point. Can you picture it? All the girlfriends gathered together ‘round the catalog and a bevy of lovely samples…I’m not trying to be Billy Mays for Lia Sophia; I just have to admire the business model, which uses the old-school kind of social networking (you know, with actual people instead of computers and controversial privacy issues) with a dangerously generous (and effective) incentive structure for party hostesses.

But it’s really all about the catalog, which contains a variety of styles from modern to traditional, sculptural to crafty, as well as the usual selection of metals (silver, gold, mixed). My wife bought a few items from the collection (and received a few through Lia Sophia bonuses and incentives). Here’s three:

They all look great and have good quality. All in all, Lia Sophia delivers good value with a great selection. The only downside, other than the risk of ending up with too much jewelry (is that a downside?) comes from my understanding that the jewelry is made in China. Call me a localist; how much cooler would it be if Lia Sophia products were locally, regionally, or even nationally made? Of course, since everything is made in China these days, well…between that and Lia Sophia's unsuccessful attempt to have jewelry for men in their catalog, the lesson is that sometimes you have to take what you get. Sometimes.

Next up: a man who needs no introduction. The inimitable and iconoclastic Edward Gorey through the Gorey House Store. And a question: Don’t you just love it when the work of one of your favourite artists is made into bling? And are we still using the word “bling” or have we moved on to something more sensible?

Books, postcards, lunchboxes, and, of course, beauties like these:

Alas, no Figbash or Bahumbug, no Black Doll or other creatures. But I may have to get serious and consider wearing shirts that allow for cufflinks like these:

So that’s about it. No real point to this week’s post…then again, pretty things don’t always need to have a point other than being pretty. What’s your bling? If you could have jewelry inspired by an artist, which artist would you choose? Comments are open below!

Note: Images from the Gorey House Store are borrowed from the store website for illustrative purposes. All other images in this post taken by yours truly.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

updates and apologetics

As much as I'd like to blame Eyjafjallajokull - the volcano with the name only Icelanders can pronounce - for this week's lack of posts, the fault is mine. Of course, I have an excuse, and it is this: The Front Page Online is undergoing a bit of sprucing up. It's the final stretch, there's still much to be done, and this week's fashion post is an unfortunate casualty.

But, I should be back next week - maybe with a post on apparel from Thailand you may not have heard about. So, please accept my apologies and...stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

hip, comfortable, ageless - design and J. Jill's Michael Leva (part 2)

by frédérik sisa

Huzzah, here's Part 2 of my interview with J. Jill's VP of Design and Product Development Michael Leva. Read Part 1 here.

What is the size and composition of the design team? How does the team maintain creative freedom while supporting the overall design vision?
We have 4 designers; Deepika, Hope, Lynne and Kim. They are supported by 4 assistants; Anne, Katie, Phoebe and Tessa. They all report to our Senior Director of Design, Janey and I. They were all here before me and they adore the brand. They are thrilled that we’ve been able to take J Jill back to its core values and inject a new spin that’s right for now. J Jill is a “design driven” brand. There is a concept team led by our CEO Paula Bennett and our CMO Hilary Chasin, our GMM Avra Meyers and myself. We brainstorm the overall brand values and direction. Design takes that and creates the pieces that deliver that direction and experience. We have a lot of creative freedom, but every style created is put through our brand filter of “Easy, Ageless, Cool.”

I also have fabric, product development and technical design reporting to my world, so we really have a lot of control over the product we create. I think that is a real win for our customers.

What challenges and opportunities exist in designing for a target demographic of women aged 35 and over?
There are really no challenges. This demographic is starved for great clothes with great style and value.

What does the future hold for J. Jill? What can we look for in upcoming collections?
J Jill has an amazing future. We’re just getting started! For spring we have the best new dresses in linen, cotton and silk in knit and woven. We love the new longer lengths in dresses especially. J Jill is known for linen. We work with some of the finest linen mills in the world and we have great linen shirts, sweaters and pants. Our new chino pants are the best in the market and a huge hit. And any woman 35+ must try our new skinny jean. It’s also a big hit. It’s totally trend right and easy to wear.

Pure Jill is also one of the best parts of J Jill. Pure Jill was another iconic part of the brand which had been left to decline. In my first week here I challenged my team to really reinvent Pure Jill into a clean and simple collection of knits and sweaters with a luxurious, cozy feel and the purest lines and finishes. Pure Jill has grown into a very sizable part of our business. I am really proud of its success.

(Linen and cotton faux-wrap pullover from Pure Jill. Beautiful!)

What advice do you have for people - both J. Jill customers and people falling outside your target demographic - trying to express themselves and articulate their own style?
Keep it simple and have fun. Be yourself, don’t stress and just enjoy! And try J Jill! It’s Easy, Ageless and really COOL!

Again, many thanks to to Michael Leva for his time and insight into a dynamic brand that still makes me wish there was a J. Jack equivalent. Also, thanks to Heather McKenna for setting up the interview. I really enjoyed this opportunity to get an inside look at J. Jill!

For Frederik

By Aqua Catlin

This...thing was in my inbox today. I'm posting it for Frederik, (who's turn it is to post so slipping in this small tributary post for him), who loves clogs and all shoes that I do not. Fref, a summer clog for you and its something new that you haven't seen before, I hope. Plus I'm on a shoot so may be a couple weeks before I pop up again. For a closer look and another view, you can check it out here. I'm not seeing the value with the $250 price tag because it looks cheap and fabric-y to me but perhaps there's something I don't know and somebody will love it, particularly Frederik:This overdone and wonderful Versace fantasy was also in my inbox today for me, THANK YOU ShoeBlog! Makes me want to go boating. And when I say that, I mean posing on a yacht, in these shoes while drinking champagne cocktails. Ahoy mateys.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

hip, comfortable, ageless - design and J. Jill's Michael Leva (part 1)

by frédérik sisa

In early February, I raved about J. Jill's designs. To quote myself: "classic lines, clean tailoring, fluid grace, a simplicity that is elegant, unfussy, even Zen-like." This week and next, I bring you a peek behind the scenes of a brand moving in beautiful and exciting directions, through an interview with J. Jill's VP of Design and Product Development Michael Leva. Many thanks go to to Michael as well as Heather McKenna, J. Jill's Director of Brand Marketing, for their time and generous insight into J. Jill fashion.
How did you come to design for J. Jill?
I got a call from a recruiter while I was designing for a department store. I hadn’t been paying much attention to J Jill but remembered how cool I thought the brand had once been. I had been right to not pay attention as the brand had lost its focus. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this really influential brand and bring it back to its roots.

What is your overall design philosophy? In other words, what is the key to helping people look great in the clothes they wear?
I have a simple aesthetic naturally and so does J Jill. Most women don’t have a lot of time to put looks together. Most women have careers and family. They want to look current and cool but they don’t study fashion magazines. You need to help them look great effortlessly. That’s what J Jill stands for. Here’s the perfect pair of jeans with a great fit, the best boyfriend blazer which works for week and weekends, the easiest rumpled trench, the softest white shirt, a sweater knit tube skirt that’s stylish and so comfortable. The key to helping people look great in their clothes is making them feel wholly comfortable in them. That means delivering style, fit, comfort and quality in every piece.

(A snapshot of J. Jill's fresh summer linen collection.)

How does designing for an established brand like J. Jill differ from designing for yourself or for smaller-scale applications?
I had my own designer collection is the 80’s and 90’s. When was designing then, even though I have a naturally simple aesthetic, it was important for me to try and do something original and it was a more personally intellectual approach. When J Jill was at its coolest in the mid/late 90’s it had a really differentiated point of view. I wanted to reinvent what I felt that meant for today. Hip, comfortable, ageless clothes with a simple but distinct attitude.

To what extent do trends influence - or hinder - J. Jill designs?
Lately the trends on the street in places like Brooklyn NY are very inspiring to me and my team. These kids are not at all interested in “Park Avenue Lady” or “Gossip Girl” type fashion. They wear SPORTSWEAR! They choose perfect, hip pieces that are functional and really great. I love reading “The Sartorialist” and “All the Pretty Birds” and seeing what these people are up to. They love clothes but they couldn’t care less about the runways. They look amazing and real.

I am struck by the cohesiveness and overall harmony of J. Jill collections - everything seems to fit together so well. How do you go about putting a collection together?
Thank you. I’m my harshest critic and my team and I want to do even better at helping her look great effortlessly. We still have some work to do. To begin a collection we do a runway analysis. With the new interest in American sportswear and boy/girl androgyny, there are some relevant collections out there for us to find inspiration in. We really listen to what our consumer tells us. Because we are vertical and have a catalogue we get immediate feedback from our customers. We analyze why she responds to what she loves and what doesn’t resonate with her. Usually it’s pretty obvious. We look at what people are wearing in the street. We mine old images of 90’s J Jill and look for new ways to bring ideas back again.
...and we're not done! Keep your browsers tuned to The Fashionoclast for part 2 of my interview with Michael Leva, posting next week. If you haven't done so already, consider subscribing to receive The Fashionoclast by eMail. Aqua and I promise not to flood your inbox - quality over quantity is, after all, our motto!