Q&A: Jessica Steele

Earlier this month, I read about this young designer who won a prestigious award in the fashion industry. Jessica Steele, a senior fashion design major at Philadelphia University, was awarded $25,000 at the YMA Geoffrey Beene Fashion Scholarship Dinner in New York. This is a quarter of the Project Runway prize! That's pretty awesome.

Not only is her collection sustainable, unique, and practical, but she was influenced by the Northwest. How could you not love her? The silhouettes are nothing like granola retailers. They are young, fresh, and very "on trend." She used fabric samples from Martex Fiber Corp., a Philadelphia firm that recycles factory-floor scraps for use in new textiles. Look at our little environmentalist!

So what is she working on now? I had to find out! Yesterday, Steele sent me some sketches for her 2010 Spring collection, and I can't help but lust. Still working with sustainable fabrics, all of her knits are 100% organic. It's a women's line called, "New Americana."
Darrah: After watching Project Runway, I've noticed that designing menswear is a little harder than women's. Why did you choose menswear for the Geoffrey Beene scholarship?

Jessica: The YMA began as the Young Menswear Association, so I felt the judges would respond well to menswear. I also felt that there was a distinct gap in the market when it came to sustainable clothing for men that was both modern, as well as affordable. I was hoping that I could fill that gap with my brand 'Steele Plains.'

Darrah: Well, I'm impressed. You did a lovely job with the execution. I read that you've designed children's clothing as well! You're so versatile. What lines do you prefer?

Jessica: The childrenswear capsule collection was more of an experiment in efforts to diversify, however, my main focus has always been on women's clothing. That being said, if I am able to gain moderate success someday with my women's line I would love to expand into menswear. Marc Jacobs has been able to achieve this beautifully in his Marc by Marc Jacobs line.

Darrah: I'm not gonna lie -- I totally stalked your Facebook. Along with pictures of you and Tim Gunn, I saw the most adorable photos of you and your boyfriend! What did he think of your menswear collection? Would he wear it?

Jessica: If it's free, he'll wear it! But actually, I do think he responded well to my 'Steele Plains' line. It was all about pieces that were easy to wear, yet still a little bit different than the usual t-shirt and jeans look. Plus, it was affordable, which goes back to my first point!

Darrah: Oh, the benefits of dating a designer... Do your friends ever ask you to make clothes for them?

Jessica: Haha, yes. Unfortunately I barely have time to make clothes for myself, let alone other people. However, I'm hoping to sell this final collection so they can get in line for it!

Darrah: Right, back to your collection. When you started thinking about your Spring/Summer 2010 collection, where did you draw inspiration from?

Jessica: A little while back I was in the city and sat down on a bench next to this great lady who was in her 70's. I was wearing this frumpy high waisted skirt, with an over-sized cardigan, and a pair of vintage oxford shoes. It was at that moment that I realized we were in nearly the same outfit -- just styled differently. I absolutely loved this notion of a 21-year-old girl and a 71-year-old woman sharing clothes and mixing and matching. So, from that chance encounter it kind of grew to this concept of "democratic fashion" which in a way could be ageless, seasonless, and occasionless.

Darrah: That's so important, especially in retail. There are so many different departments, it's hard to categorize yourself in just one. Women need democratic design. I noticed that you chose the theme, "New Americana." Does that have anything to do with the Obama election, and change in America?

Jessica: It definitely played a huge part. Our world is changing right now and fashion, as always, should reflect that. It's no longer about spending thousands of dollars on a diamond encrusted floor length gown. For me, it's about wearing a huge gingham ball skirt with just a simple racerback tank, and wearing that same outfit all day in the park, and then out to an event at night.

Darrah: That would make my life so much easier! So, are you using your name as your brand?

Jessica: I designed my men's brand under the name 'Steele Plains,' and I actually really love that. It has this feeling of contrast between being natural and laid back, but at the same time urban and modern, which is really my whole thing as a designer. I should also credit my boyfriend here, as he helped me brainstorm to that name.

Darrah: It was my boyfriend's idea to start interviewing up-and-coming designers. Apparently boyfriends are great muses. I know you landed an internship at Nanette Lapore all by yourself though! What was that like?

Jessica: Tiresome, but great! Nanette has the ability to take in all of this outside inspiration and translate it into the very distinct style that she is known for. Everyone who works there is just so excited to be a part of it. I was able to learn a lot. Aside from that, I also got to sort through her huge personal vintage closet (more like the size of 20 closets), work backstage at New York Fashion Week, and get some free clothes at the end! I really can't complain!

Darrah: Free clothes?! What?! That's awesome! I love vintage... I'm so jealous right now. This next question is something I like to ask everyone in fashion, because I'm struggling with the concept. Why do you think fashion is important?

Jessica: It's life or death to me, but I realize all people don't feel that way. However, whether or not you care anything about current trends, fashion is one of the greatest social indicators that we have had throughout all of history. It is the surest sign of a cultures' beliefs, politics, and economy.

Darrah: Definitely. I wrote a blog about publications with purpose, and am curious to know what your favorite magazine is, and why?

Jessica: British Vogue. I lived in London for a while last year while studying abroad and was always willing to pay double for it. European magazines seem to have a lot more editorial freedom and aren't so concerned with featuring big name celebrities or what's "in" right this second. Here in the U.S. I'll settle for Nylon or I.D.

Darrah: I couldn't agree more. So, now that you have this amazing scholarship, will you be moving to New York soon?

Jessica: I'm looking for an apartment as we speak! I'm in Philadelphia until the end of May and then if all goes well, the $25,000 will open the door to a new apartment in New York by June!

Darrah: Well, congratulations! You deserve so much of this, it's not even funny. I can't wait to see your collection take shape. You'll have to keep me updated!

1 comment:

lydia said...