Coffee Talk with Gretchen Jones

Okay, so we didn’t speak over coffee, but I did get clothing and jewelry designer Gretchen Jones to let me pick her brain a little.  As a refresher for those of you who haven’t yet had their morning or even afternoon caffeine, Jones is a designer who hails from the Colorado/Oregon regions and also happens to be the winner of Project Runway, Season 8.  She also has a kick-ass design aesthetic, which is derived from nature, a bend towards what I would label a good old-fashioned feminist spirit and a fire in her belly that must be derived from that Southwestern sun.

JM:  Let me begin by saying that I’ve seen every episode of every season of Project Runway and by far, you are one of my favorite designers. I really admired your unwavering confidence and you never, ever apologized for what you believed in. Now, you are designing and selling your own clothing and jewelry line. What do you attribute to your success?

GJ:  To be honest, really honest…I think what has made me ‘successful’ [cough, successful I do not think of as being where I am at.  I’m just getting started and have a LOT to do to be healthy- career wise and personally!] or what I would attribute my recent successes to, would truly be my persevering character.  Somewhere inside of me, a place/thing I could not describe feeds my ambition.  I just do what I do.  I don’t try to be successful, I just keep moving, as though there is no other option for me but to put my next foot forward.

JM:  Right now, as far as I can glean off the Internet, you design clothing, jewelry, run a website, a blog (which is full of amazing photos and art), promote your brand and I’m sure much more. How to you manage everything and do you still fit in Gretchen time?

GJ:  Good question, perhaps I should ask myself that?! I manage everything by taking things day by day [sometimes hour by hour.]  The fact of the matter is I have a lot on my plate and right now, I’m just starting my business and any entrepreneur can tell you, your business takes everything from you.  It’s important for me to understand that the industry has and will continue to change, connecting to your customer/demographic means not just making dresses, but creating a connection.  Creating a world people want to be a part of.  In order for me to successfully accomplish launching a label, I have to juggle all these things, I kind of have no choice.  I am a Creative Director, not just designer.  I have to manage the world according to Gretchen by painting the picture and then delegating out the work.  Trusting those around me and only surrounding myself with those I trust and love.  And…in the end, letting go.  I have to let go in the evenings, let go on the weekends and live the life Gretchen Jones wants to lead, not just the life of the Creative Director.  The world will not stop if I don’t send that last e-mail, or sign off on that last paper…and in the end, my label is about quality of life.  And I should first and foremost lead that, not just preach it!  I do yoga 3 times a week, I walk my dog Lilly early in the morning and at sunset around the park, I ride my bike as often as I can, I try to leave the city on the weekends on little adventures and…I try to surround myself with loving, funny friends who appreciate me as much as I appreciate them. Staying grounded when in this industry, this world is really all about those you share this experience with.

JM:  Do you think there is such a thing as a female design aesthetic and if so, does it affect how you design?

GJ:  Absolutely!  I heard a quote that YSL said to DVF once- “Female designers make clothes, male designers make costumes.”  And I totally agree with that.  I think female designers think about clothing in a different way, they connect to it from the inside out.  I make clothing because I want to give women the power of feeling pretty.  I think women have gotten away from that.  The feeling you get when you put on something that makes you feel feminine and unique, it gives you back your power.  Your day is better, you connect to others more intimately, you stand taller…I think, a female designer understands and taps into that more authentically.

JM: When you create, would you say that you do so from a feminine or alternately, masculine point of view?

GJ:  I think I start with a [my] female perspective, incorporating masculine elements for balance. Feminine = flow/drape/nuance.  Masculine = linear/architectural/tailoring.

JM:  When you design your clothing, do you think of a specific type of woman when doing so?

GJ:  I design for a type of woman sure, but in a broader sense.  I design for the 25-45 year old, the educated woman, the romantic at heart, the organic in nature and nurture, the thoughtful, the individual.  I make identity pieces that are timeless enough to integrate into your wardrobe for years, not months…I design for women who want to look as beautiful as they feel.

JM:  On your website (www.gretchenjonesnyc.com) you state that your inspiration is drawn from “…fashion, art, music, literature, architecture, and nature.” You list that with concerns to your current collection, such artists Kurt Cobain and Frida Kahlo influenced your work. Which writers and/or artists have influenced you in the past?

GJ:  Oh gosh!  I read at least one book at a time while designing each collection, using their words to inform my collections.  Barbara Kingsolver was heavily influential in my early work.  Tom Robbins always reminds me to be clever and satirical, not so serious.  More recently Carlos Castaneda and Jack Kerouac have taken me.

JM:  In your collection you use natural fibers, such as organic cotton, wool and wood. Why is it important to you to utilize natural materials?

GJ:  I grew up in the high plain valleys of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  The natural is inherent in how I see beauty.  Craft will always reign supreme.  I like working with these kinds of materials because they have been used for hundreds of years and have a soul.

JM:  For your Fall/Winter 2011 Collection, I read that a song that you listened to throughout the design process influenced you. Is this a common practice for you?

GJ:  Every collection is designed around [and titled after] a song/album that I listen to while designing it.  I like to incorporate both the lyrics/song and the literature I choose to read into my work.  It’s a way of giving you more a piece of me and my own story each season.  They typically have to do with what I am going through personally.  I like to think of it as a way for me to download my pieces with my process, loading it up with the love and labor it took to bring it to you.  After all, my work is my love and meant to be shared.

JM:  How can my readers purchase your clothing and jewelry? By the way, I will be rocking the prairie skirt as soon as I can get my mitts on it.

GJ:  My A/W 11′ collection will be available for purchase late August online at francesmay.com + tobi.com + stevenalan.com.   I too will be rocking the prairie skirt!

JM:  And finally, if you could meet any designer or artist who ever was or is, who would it be?

GJ:  Earlier in the 20th century I would have died to meet Georgia O’Keefe & Frida Kahlo, and if I could have a moment with Christo & Jean Claude I’d pee my pants with excitement!

JM:  Awesome.

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3 thoughts on “Coffee Talk with Gretchen Jones

  1. michaelgloversmith says:

    What an inspirational interview! She is so smart and talented and yet so humble. I love her comments about being a creative director and “creating a world that people want to be a part of”. That sentiment should be relatable for independent/self-employed artists in ANY medium.

    And the way she incorporates literary and musical influences into her work is badass. I can’t wait for you to pick up some of her jewelry and/or clothes!

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