Amidst the age with a childlike heart, we always collect a lot of puppets, some are gifts, and some are self-bought. Days gone by, the only one that is still by my pillow is a Valentine’s Day gift 10 years ago, which was handmade by Jess Brown.
“The first doll I made for my daughter Stella in 20s years ago, was created using three cashmere sweaters, some antique mother pearl buttons, an antique handkerchief and antique french lace for a ribbon of trim. The cashmere and the handkerchief were sewn into a dress and the eyes were the little mother of pearl buttons. At the time, it was nearly impossible to find anything for babies and young children that was either handmade or made from a natural fibre. My husband, who is a carpenter, and I made a conscious decision to focus on creating handmade toys for her. I created dolls for her and he created building blocks, dollhouses, those sorts of things.” Jess Brown said.
“I want the dolls’ clothes to have a basic antique sensibility but often created with very special and treasured fabrics. I drew inspiration from antique rag dolls I had collected. I appreciated the simplicity and durability of these early designs.” Recalling the memory of passing by Petit Bazaar 10 years ago, I was fascinated by the warmth of the handmade dolls by Jess Brown. How honored I am to talk to its creator after a decade.
“I love working with hand-created pieces of fabric, such as embroidered, hand-dyed, hand-blocked or hand-beaded — anything that can visibly show an artisan’s process. Antique scraps are best.” Jess has a really strong belief that there is a different kind of energy in anything handmade. You can feel the intention of the artist in each stitch or fabric choice — each design decision curated. She thinks the intention behind each piece is what elevates the design to heirloom quality.
“Nothing is rushed. Time is taken with every part of the process. Therefore, most of my sourcing is from thrift shops or flea markets. I also have been fortunate enough to have friends in the fashion industry who will send me their scraps. I use the scraps left after cutting my women’s collection as well. The blend of vintage and antique bits with new discarded scrap fabric is perfect for me.” Jess knows that there is so much waste in the world of fashion. Every time a garment gets cut out of yardage that leaves with what feels like endless scraps, but in her world, this is like gold.
Jess was born in the 1970s, she was raised around Liberty prints. She had a constant rotation of prairie dresses and even a rag doll created out of Liberty. The nostalgia of this line of fabrics runs deep and is almost visceral. “When I look at the classic Liberty prints, I can feel this overwhelming sense of lightness paired with sophistication. A sort of perfect blending of timeless sensibility and simple beauty. Therefore, I have always used these fabrics in my work from women’s pieces to rag dolls.”
The autumn of 2011 was an extremely dreamy one for Jess because she was invited by the Italian high-end fashion brand Bottega Veneta to make giant dolls which were displayed in designated BV shops around the world during Fashion Week.
“The work with Bottega Veneta was such a thrill and a challenge. Throughout the process, I was pinching myself. It was an unbelievable honor. Looking back at now I only wish I had savored it a bit more. There was a lot happening with my brand at that exact moment. I sort of letting the moment pass a bit too quickly.”
Jess拋開了年度預算表，不再需要擁有額外人手的大型工作室，更不要承受和大公司合作的壓力。「Jess Brown Design踏入第15年，我知道我欠品牌和自己一些深入反思的時間。現在回到只有『我』，感覺對了，我知道現在發佈設計系列的速度慢了，但我就是容許自己有創作所需的空間，什麼都不著急。」
「擁抱我們不再總是需要尋求推陳出新的『 What’s Next？』概念，我確信時尚不僅是實用的，而且FASHION IS ART（時裝也是藝術）。在我心目中，時尚作為一種藝術表達的方式，是可以非常令人興奮和創新的，只要我們細心和有意識地處理整個過程，兩者都有空間的。」
The brand has been in the spotlight, but Jess found herself caught in the cycle of the fashion world. Everything felt impatient, too fast and often disposable. She was constantly being asked by buyers, “what’s next” or “didn’t we see that dress before”. She sunk pretty low as she tried hard to resist the industry’s demands.
“Well…I think fashion is being forced to make a change. I know as a shopper, I am getting pretty turned off to brands that are releasing collection after collection within one season, then throwing it all on sale. The fashion industry as a whole is impatient and I don’t think that energy works any longer. I think as a designer, my role right now is to produce responsibly and thoughtfully and a lot less.”
Jess no longer needs spreadsheets with year-out projections and a large studio with a team of extra sewing hands even holding the stress of working with large-scale companies. “The Jess Brown Design business is 15 years in at this point, and I just knew I owed it to the brand and myself to take time in deep reflection. It’s now just me. It’s back to just me. It feels right. I know that I release rag doll collections slower now ….but I’m allowing myself the space I need to create. Nothing rushed.”
“Embracing the concept that we don’t always need to be searching for ‘What’s Next?”. That being said, I do believe that fashion is not just utilitarian, but it is also art. There is a strong place in my heart for fashion as an artistic expression that can be very exciting and innovative. There is room for both as long as we approach the process thoughtfully and with intention.”
“My commitment to myself, my work, my brand is to just be present. Mindful moments will be my guide.”
Jess’s studio is located in the historic district of downtown Petaluma in Sonoma County. She is thrilled about being able to offer an appointment-only visit to the studio to see the collections.
“Slow down. Work with intention. Create beauty that lasts. This is the work.”