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 ( 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 + +   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.

Is Feminism Dead?

Years ago, a guy I knew said to me, “feminism is dead, I read it in an article written by a woman.”  I replied with a “so what if she’s a woman”, but he insisted that because she was a woman, her opinion was the definitive word.  This must have been at least seven years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it.  At the time my immediate reaction was to argue only I didn’t because I thought that maybe she was right, after all, she was older than me and a published woman.  After many years to chew it over, a few questions have surfaced to the top: can feminism die?  and does being born with female plumbing (to quote one of my Women’s and Gender Studies professors) mean that you know best?

Can feminism die?  First off, the argument that feminism can die doesn’t even make sense because it is an abstract concept. Second, and as I argue with the very backbone of this blog, there are many feminisms and all are subjective. Maybe her feminism was dead, or perhaps one that she felt wasn’t getting enough street cred.  Though sometimes I admit, I do lean towards essentialism-that there are commonalities between women simply because we are women.  For example, when I heard that Arnold cheated on Maria Shriver with an employee and then the woman continued to live with them and stare Maria in the face day after day, I thought, “shame on her, she should know better as a woman”.  But really, who cares that she’s a woman and given that one was a maid and one was a Kennedy, they probably had very different things on their minds.  Like the issue of feminism itself, there are many sides to every issue, and I also find this thinking within myself problematic.  Feminisms are based on the personal, the location, the economy, the political, the racial, the ethnicity, the sex, the gender, the earth (shout out to eco-feminist Vandana Shiva), the home, the children, the men, the reproduction… If that writer felt that she was lacking a public feminist agenda, then she could have looked up Ms., Bitch, or even Bust magazines (I definitely think that Gloria Steinem would have a problem with her argument).  Or turn on the television and watch the Chicago Abortion Fund’s call-in TV show, or go to and watch feminist videos online.  And true, what concerns a third-world based feminist probably won’t be the same thing an upper-east side Jewish princess in New York, and this is the glorious thing about feminism-its multifaceted nature and its subjectivity.

Onto the second issue at hand-is every woman inherently a feminist?

Exhibit one: In the 1850s and over the 70 plus years of the fight for women’s suffrage, women were divided (I’m referring primarily to Caucasian women in the United States).  One group, or as I like to call them, the sane ones, were the Suffragists. They consisted of men and women who fought for a woman’s right to vote. The other group was also made up of men and women, and they were the Anti-Suffragists.  These groups of women rallied, bribed legislators, and spread nasty rumors about Communism and Suffragists in order to scare the public into believing that women should not have the right to vote.  Were these women feminists?  It seems odd, but in some ways, I could argue yes.  Yes, in the same way that Sarah Palin is a woman and can campaign for president.  And yes, in the same way that there are women-only sections of the Ku Klux Klan.

Citing instances where I find women acting in ways that I would consider less than feminist in society at large is a vast and daunting prospect.  Here, I will limit my fodder to film, though it would be a fruitful conversation to explore American politics and literature as well.  One of the first movies that comes to mind is Juno.  This movie was written by a woman and directed by a man.  During the scene when Juno goes to the abortion center, she is met with a young female employee who discusses her own favorite condom flavors, is dressed and acts unprofessionally and the way that the clinic is portrayed makes it look dirty and seedy.  I did not read the script for Juno so I don’t know whether Diablo Cody intended for this scene to translate to screen this way or if it was the vision of the director, but I definitely see that an anti-choice agenda has made its way into this movie.  My second example is director Penelope Spheeris, who directed Wayne’s World, Black Sheep, and the Beverly Hillbillies.  This female director is an example of a Hollywood director-she makes movies for money. I have seen all three movies (she has also done more work of the like along with documentaries on the Academy Awards, for example) and am hard pressed to find any sort of feminist agenda.  Another movie that comes to mind is Swept Away, directed by Lina Wertmüller from 1974.  This movie is shocking the first time that you see it, a Bourgeoise Italian woman from the north and a poor, southern Italian man get shipped wrecked on an island the for most of the movie where he physically and verbally abuses her and all the while she keeps asking for more.  I actually like this movie, but when watching it I need to do so through a lens that reminds me that this movie is essentially about class.  Wertmüller is making a political statement about the socio-economic tension of the time and while this is her focus, I would argue that making a feminist statement is not.

Given the few examples that I’ve offered, one could make the case that being born a woman does not necessarily make you a born feminist.  But what about being a man…can a man direct a feminist film?  The Hours is the first film that comes to mind that lends itself to several feminisms: lesbian motherhood, gay and lesbian friendships including romantic relationships with each other and their respective love interests, women and art, non-maternal motherhood, et al.  This movie was also written, adapted and directed by three separate men.  Another male-directed movie is Repulsion by Roman Polanski in 1965.  It’s probably a safe assertion that most of us are aware of his debatable past involving a sexual encounter with a younger woman which may taint some viewers’ perception of his work.  However, in this movie a young French woman is repulsed by the presence of all men.  Polanski directs the film in such a way that you really question the way that men are socialized to be seemingly uber-sexualized and socially aggressive beings.

Is feminism dead?  The answer to this question can fill an ocean and more.  Naysayers can argue yes, optimists can argue no, and some of us can just argue.  What I do know is that feminism is an equal opportunity employer, open to all those who would apply themselves to its mission.  When it comes down to the nitty gritty, black and white of it, no, feminism is not dead, it just sometimes hides in the dark like a superhero, waiting to aid those who are in need of rescue.