Jane Wade is one of New York's freshest voices. Having debuted her first official CFDA show a couple months ago, she is fresh on the trail to a more mainstream embrace. We interview the designer and discuss where officewear and gorpcore meet, how to design with the body in mind, and what it means to dress for yourself, regardless of the environment.
Jane Wade quickly found corporate fashion houses to be creatively stifling, something that surprised her. Though a house’s creative codes are generative, serving as the foundation for an iterative process of discovery and imagination, they also can also serve as an impediment for designers who are eager to forge their own path. Wade is one of these restless artists. She discovered that in order to have the freedom she sought by pursuing fashion, she would have to make her own way.
Two of our greatest recent fixations have been conversely corporate culture and gorpcore. Season after season, utilitarian silhouettes and highly technical clothing have dominated the runways and the streets. Salomon has had a chokehold on the fashion world; techy outerwear has remained a staple. At the same time, the quiet luxury of corporate America has dominated TikTok. Succession was nothing short of a watershed moment in the country’s collective consciousness. How do you reconcile these things? For one, both modes are purpose driven. Yet, the desire to get outside and the aspirations for power within a corporate structure seem so at odds with one another. For Wade, the answer is simple: meet in the middle somewhere and subvert both along the way. Go to the gala in a gown and leave in a pair of XT-6s you left in the cloakroom.
Jane Wade’s creative process begins with a sketch, and quickly moves to a rigorous consideration of material and sophisticated tailoring. As buzzy as her work is, it is good, high-quality, smart design. In our interview, she discusses what led her here and how she has navigated the tensions between creativity and pragmatism. Fashion is art, but it has utility and is a commercial product. Wade is navigating this dance with a refreshing punch, and is eager to tell us how she did it.
Introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your brand's focus?
I'm Jane, I'm about to be 29 years old in May! I spent the first 5 years of my design career developing under some of the best designers in NYC before launching my eponymous label in 2022. Growing up I always worked in creative tactile mediums. I would draw or paint and bead complex jewellery all throughout my childhood. You can see this work translate into my brand's language through the use of developed free-standing embellishment techniques. Generally the brand focuses on bridging a gap between workwear and office attire. I love to play on the concept of workwear and how our garments serve us from white collar to blue collar professions. The language is very cheeky and often leans on juxtaposing concepts that perhaps shouldn't belong together.
Why is fashion your medium? Why does clothing matter in 2024?
I actually went to art school to grab a Fine Arts degree in either painting or illustration. Ultimately once I reached college I decided I didn't wish to attempt to make a living out of fine art which was my first true love. When I saw my school's fashion department it became really clear to me that fashion would be a unique intersection to utilise all my hand skills such as drawing, painting, and texture development through one funnel. I have a really strong technical sketching hand so that easily translated to on figure drawing and sketching. My mother is a hairdresser, a profession I grew up understanding as a service that all people need, in turn always generating a place in the industry to make a living. I see fashion and clothing as similar vehicles. Something that connects us all regardless of our personal style is a need for clothing's unique expression through style. For this reason I think clothing and design is always relevant in a cultural context.
You have spoken about sketching the body as an important lesson from your time at Central Saint Martins. Tell me a bit more about your process of drawing and how you approach the human form.
Firstly, when approaching the human form it is so important to understand to trust our eye and what we see. We all have a general understanding of how a body part may be shaped in our minds but truthfully from each angle and each person it looks so different. When it comes to illustration it's really about paying attention to what is in front of us. Learning to draw the 3D form before even beginning to approach wrapping clothing around it is a fundamental foundation for designing on the body. Within my creative process I oscillate between drawing and sketching as a starting point or draping fabric around the form. Oftentimes the material itself needs to inform me what it wishes to be before I even begin. Sketching flat on paper can only give us so many dimensions of thought. Often I let my creative mind problem solve through the process of draping to relieve myself of these 2D limitations. Through this flow process where I consider myself a creative conduit, the answers or resolutions find me in the process. I've learned over time that the most important step sometimes is to just begin and let the creativity flow.
Do you have any favourite painters? Paintings?
Claude Monet is one of my favourite painters alongside many other impressionists. I think I'm attracted to this era of fine art due to the suggestion of detail. Sometimes the most impressive art isn't actually the direct execution of a detail but a suggestion that transcends as you come closer to the subject. I really enjoy developing high concept material techniques that from a distance you might decide are made of a fabric, but finally a closer look at it reveals something so exquisite and rich with detail.
Who inspires your approach to drawing?
Gladys Perint Palmer is one of my illustration heroes. An Artistic Director at the school from which I obtained my degree, Academy of Art University, she taught us the beauty of an in-the- moment documentation of a subject. Teaching us to illustrate in ink, a very unforgiving illustration medium because you cannot undo a line once laid in, trains you to be precise and courageous with every stroke. She is a legend in the Fashion Illustration realm and her work is so effortless and confident. Ultimately when you're illustrating live at a show for example you only have a few key moments with the model or garment, so selecting precisely which details to include and which to omit is a true art form in translating the energy of a look. Additionally Simon Ungless a talented designer himself and the director of AAU also pushed how I viewed texture and surface manipulation.
Tell me about your design process. Where does an idea begin? How do you bring it into fruition?
The most valuable lesson I've learned over time is to relieve myself of a formulaic process. I always struggled to design within a specific format for each idea. Now that I have my own brand and am in the driver's seat of my own creative direction I allow myself to begin wherever makes sense. Sometimes I even begin at the end and work backwards on a concept instead of pressuring myself to begin in any particular other place. Depending on the piece I can begin anywhere that feels like an obvious beginning point like a sketch or a drape, whereas often with my free standing embellishments I may envision how I want the completed garment to look, and work backwards on a technique to achieve the overall expression of the illusion.
Who do you design for? Who is the Jane Wade archetype?
The JW archetype is over all very multifaceted much like myself and many of the versatile artists in my direct community. The brand's identity has gradually evolved over the last two years as a direct response and amalgamation of some of my dearest friends and a study of my communities personal styles, including myself. Often the work is a reflection of inappropriate office dressing, something I have been a frequent offender of climbing the corporate structure. I would say overall though, the JW customer is powerful, bold and sexy. My girl is someone who dresses in an opulent gown for an event and may just go on a hike the very next day in full sportswear or gorpcore. My closest friends know I keep a pair of Salomons in my bag any time I'm wearing heels out. Our customer is someone who enjoys the basics of a functional wardrobe and the intricacies of an eclectic and modular one as well depending on the day or mood.
Have you ever worked in an environment where your clothing options were limited? How did it affect you?
I would say every job I've ever had somehow stifled my personal style expression. I honestly never thought too much about it until I worked in fashion which I thought would be a space where self expression was highly regarded. I learned in the industry very quickly that unless you have your own creative vision, you will only be a contribution to someone else's. Unfortunately, in many corporate design houses this also applies to what you can wear to work and how you express your personal style.
Workwear and office clothing are often positioned as opposites, yet both are regulated and purpose driven genres. Why work at the intersection of both?
I find it important and interesting to study how garments are serving us. As humans we all have such a wide cast variety of what we are doing for work so each of our needs are specific and unique. This is where some of the most creative and genius development comes into play with garment design. When we can tap into a hyper specific detail or functionality to have a garment aid, an everyday task is what makes the interaction with the garment feel clever. Oftentimes within my office lens I'll make the piece modular or segmentary, having a utilitarian language with a corporate delivery.
Tell me about your approach to covering and exposing. How do you decide which move a garment needs?
I love playing on proportions. Sometimes revealing skin might surface in a garment that has a hyper utility focus, so in that way the covering and exposing is playing on the narrative itself or, in a suiting story for example where coverage is to be expected we might pervert or sexualise the look to recontextualise it. There's also a very literal approach to coverage and exposure where we might design a full gown or look that has complete coverage except maybe just a hint of under-boob to suggest that the pieces are in fact separate instead of one unit at first glance.
On that note, office environments are often quite conservative when it comes to flesh. How do you re-approach the codes of corporate dress while thinking about presenting the body?
I try to address this within the modularity of the garment itself. I would say a continuous identity of my shirting story is the ability to wear the garment in a way that feels more sexy, or the ability to transform how it's worn for a more conservative delivery. I believe this accurately reflects our current eras 9-5er. In corporate dressing of decades past we would often rely on one garment that's wearability can transition with us throughout all events of the day. I try to focus on at least one way the garment can transform with the wearer so they feel a sense of transition if they are to be wearing the same garment throughout all events of the day.
Tell me about Out of Office. What kinds of adventures are your models preparing to undertake?
In OOO our characters are off on the great expedition to unplug from their corporate machine jobs. Some are ready for standard snow sports while others are on more covert expert rescue missions such as our avalanche crew who is equipped with cramp-ons and and an ice pick ready to rescue her lost friend. The full lineup of the collection studies characters you might commonly find in the office such as the intern or the HR rep in a subtle transition to characters leaving the office on their great expedition to reconnect with nature.
We have to talk about the chainmail.
Let's talk about it! Linked together by thousands of mini custom casted J/W logo components this technique is in constant development each season. The component itself is white brass that's been brushed so it's not too shiny, but from afar can have this incredible liquid metal visual when stacked against itself. Each piece is handmade in our Brooklyn studio, link by link across thousands of hand hours. This season we redeveloped the technique with 100% mohair yarns as the material that links the components together in rows. It's so fun to see how many ways we can create insanely beautiful garments from thousands of little metal bars with just two holes. The beauty lies in transforming what is simple into masterful technique. Isn't there something so stunning about the fluidity and delicate drape of the piece knowing that it's made almost entirely of metal?
What do you wear to work?
I wear the same hoodie to work every day, don't come for me! My work uniform rotation strictly consists of baggy pants or jeans on the daily and a tank top. I have a very curvy figure so honestly it's hard to find clothing that fits unless it's baggy. We address this a lot within our internal fit block so if you're a curvy girl, JW is made for you!! I also love a good button up and maxi skirt, on top of baggy pants those are J/W wardrobe staples you'll see at least one version appear on the runway each season.
If you had to design a corporate headquarters for a mega Jane Wade, what would it feature?
A gym and a spa. I'm a huge advocate for self care and rewarding hard work The JW team knows how to work hard then play hard! My team and I frequent the gym together so frankly, if we had a gym in our headquarters I know we'd use it everyday!
Tell me about the Bergdorf Stockist. What did it represent for you? What are your hopes for future retailer offerings?
Bergdorf is just about the best retail partner one can capture in NYC so for that i'm extremely grateful. They are the heaviest pioneers of uplifting emerging designers in NYC right now so to be able to work with them in my first collection was an absolute dream. Right now we are focusing on stocking in some really unique boutique stores and would also love to work with a few other major global retailers like Selfridges, Lane Crawford, Harvey Nichols or Luisa Via Roma etc.
How do you approach collaborations? Do you have any dream collaborators?
I only collaborate with partners that make sense with my identity or the story the brand is narrating for the season. Some dream collaborators would be Carhartt, Levis or even Office supplies companies like Staple or BIC to accelerate the collection theme.
Tell me about your work with Salomon. Why them?
Salomon and I both exist in a modular design universe, designing for a customer that is both fashion forward and needs their wardrobe to serve them in a multitude of other ways than just looking cool. This is why it's so easy for me to blend our narratives through styling. The truth is I am a Salomon girlie, I grew up sporty and outdoorsy so it's easy for me to understand their subculture outside of the fashion bubble that exists with their bread winner in the fashion space, the XT-6 body. Each season we lean on our organic partnerships with brands like Salomon to seamlessly push the brand's language forward through the expression of seamless product styling and creative storytelling.
If you had to design a uniform for everyone to wear in your utopia, what would it consist of?
In the spirit of everything my work seems to stand for I don't think I have any projection onto others of how I would ideally want them to dress. My honest utopic JW universe would consist of each individual expressing themselves as they please, regardless if that falls into my brand's specific identity and language. I will say however that I would want my own personal uniform in my utopia to consist of clever tailoring and modular functionality in natural materials. I wish it was more socially acceptable to wear intricate pieces on a day to day basis than just reserving special items for specific events.