Behind the Atelier is a fashion-focused series that examines the unique backstories and design processes behind the fashion industry’s most captivating talents. Pulling back the curtain on each designer’s creative space and practice, Behind the Atelier provides an inside look into the industry’s most exciting names.
For the 15th installment of the series, Hypebae tapped New York-based designer, Jane Wade, to take us behind the scenes of her studio located in Brooklyn. In a candid conversation with the design force, Jane walked us through her design and creative influences which have been shaped as a result of working in corporate America, how defining pillars of her brand are centered around juxtaposing workwear with traditional office wear, and ways she is using self-expression to highlight the beauty of individuality with her namesake fashion brand.
To put it simply: Jane Wade is an anomaly. The independent designer, who is an artistic virtuoso of herculean nature, possesses an unparalleled acumen for technical design that has been perfected with fervent rigor over the course of her design career. Examining the intersection of workwear and office wear through a defiantly expressive lens, the Pacific Northwest-native is rewriting the banal dress codes of corporate America by presenting a new mode of liberated dressing that subverts norms.
Following graduating from the Academy of Art University and Central Saint Martins, the creative luminary entered the rigid echelons of corporate fashion design, working alongside the industry’s most pronounced fashion powerhouses in order to gain the experience needed to launch her own brand down the line. Faced with the harsh realities of balancing the conformist and inhibitive nature of office environments, Jane launched her eponymous brand in 2021 as a means to highlight the complexities and beauty of individuality through the use of empowered, confident and expressive garments.
Seamlessly blending high-end sophistication with an edgy, rebellious spirit, each creation is a work of art that remains rooted in deconstructed tailoring, unconventional silhouettes, luxurious fabrics, high-end finishes and vibrant, contrasting colors. From impeccably tailored outerwear with artfully exposed seams to avant-garde, provocatively-cut dresses, each piece showcases the designer’s unparalleled creativity and commitment to pushing the boundaries of fashion. With a distinctive vision fueled by innovation, artistic expression and self-exploration, Jane is leaving a lasting impact on the fashion world by redefining how we perceive and present ourselves through clothing.
To get to know the designer, Hypebae sat down with Jane Wade to discuss how studying the human form and opposing viewpoints have informed her artistic approach, why finding beauty in embracing insecurities remains at the core of her brand, ways she’s been successful in establishing her growing fashion business and how creating functional, utilitarian garments is sparked by an artistic freedom to be one’s true self.
Where did you grow up and how have your life experiences shaped your creative practice and outlook on fashion?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon and natural tactile gear is what people wear because clothing has a function or purpose to serve whether it’s hiking, skiing, snowboarding or wakeboarding. Growing up around a lot of utilitarian types of garments is something that circulates in conversation a lot when I’m designing. I’m always having this thought of how a garment is going to relate and serve the person wearing it, instead of the garment just looking cool or beautiful.
When did you become aware that you had an interest in fashion?
I was 10 or 11 when my mom bought me my first sewing machine. It was like a little rinky-dink Brother sewing machine that cost $100 USD. I broke it so many times trying to teach myself how to sew on it and I would alter my own clothes with it. I’ve always had a very curvy shape and it was difficult shopping for clothing that would fit. As a child, I would drape out of my grandmother’s scarves, since she had a closet full of them, and I would make these crazy scarf gowns. That was one of my first interactions with fashion and I never thought I would be a fine artist or that this would be my path.
Talk to me about the key learnings you gained when attending the Academy of Art in San Francisco and Central Saint Martins.
I spent my first two years studying fashion design at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, CA. A lot of the most formative classes are illustration and understanding the shape of the body as a new figure, which is before you even begin to think about how fabric can be wrapped or designed around a body. I thought that was a really unique perspective on the body and how we dress it. My school has a very heavy technical angle so it differs from a lot of schools in New York — even when you go through your thesis. If you get selected to participate in the graduate fashion show, you have to pattern every single garment yourself. Whereas, I’ve heard that some of the schools in New York City, allow you to outsource if you have the funds. It kind of evened the playing field in a lot of ways for kids because there’s a huge international community at the Academy of Art, and it doesn’t allow anybody with a financial upper hand to access resources that otherwise wouldn’t be available or accessible for anybody else.At Central Saint Martins, I did a study abroad program for six months during my junior year and it was in fashion design. I was able to pick other focuses that I was interested in like 3D manipulation and draping. Then another focus was jewelry design and executing more technique-based manipulations. I think that helped me expand the more creative scope of what I do because Saint Martins is heavy on conceptual direction and there needs to be a story and a theme behind what you’re developing.
What was the catalyst that led you to launch your brand?
The true catalyst was being let go from a job. It was a time in my life where I felt lost and there was a lot of self-discovery in realizing that I was aspiring to attach my ego to someone else’s name. I used that time to figure out who I was going to work for next, but the answer was that I didn’t want to work for anybody else. I didn’t feel like I fit into any of the corporate environments I was working in and I thought I had to hide my personality. It’s a huge risk to launch your own brand because you don’t know if it’s going to be successful or be able to yield you a salary within a certain amount of time. But, I do know for certain that if I didn’t take the risk then I would be giving all of my creative self to somebody else’s name and that just didn’t feel like my path.
What are the core key themes you want your brand’s aesthetic and identity to center around?
I think what’s going to bridge each collection to the next one, is this overarching theme of workwear and office wear because my brand is thoughtfully bridging this gap, and playing with this caricature of shape, silhouette, scale, and proportion. This ties back to my roots and seeing my parents, who both owned hair salons, on their feet or using their hands in a very stylized setting. My dad was a contractor and he would build out the salons, and he had this uniform of wearing Dickies, Converse, and Carhartt with his tool belt. While my mom was always into deconstructed tailoring. I think that from a young age, seeing tailoring with utility has been the identity of how I view clothes in general. With Fall/Winter 2023, it was about remixing and twisting the conversation between who wears what to work and why they are choosing to wear those garments to work.
You describe yourself as being a conduit when designing. How does this guiding force illuminate your artistic practice?
A lot of times, we let fear hold us back from receiving the answers we need because we don’t start. When it comes to draping, sketching, or patterning, I could sit there for three hours questioning what steps one, two, and three are going to be or wondering what this garment is going to look like at the end. But honestly, I can’t get the answer for step number two, unless I start step number one. When it comes to draping, instead of thinking “How do I want this final drape to look?” I’ll ask myself “What are the pieces I need to execute this?” and then I begin. The experience of being a creative conduit feels like painting or drawing and my mind checks out, and then I just flow. Overthinking is what gets in the way of making something really beautiful.
What have been some key learnings associated with establishing and growing your brand?
Working on my first collection was a challenge because I was in this process of trying to understand who I am as a designer and what I want to say creatively along with figuring out what the brand is going to look like, and who it’s going to respond to. After my first capsule, I was able to have meetings with buyers and hear what they thought of the collection, what pieces would perform well in stores, and overall gain a deeper understanding of what works from a commercial lens. Then, I started meeting with stylists and editors to hear from an editorial perspective, what pieces they loved and gravitated towards.Having time to sit with my work, I realized it’s not all about the commercial or editorial aspects of what I create, but rather it’s this really beautiful fusion or marriage of the two because they’re both equally important. To set myself up for success, I wanted to be stocked at a premier retailer so badly, and when I received feedback from Bergdorf Goodman, I really took their advice to heart by rethinking the fit of a garment on different body types if the consumer was petite and the use of seasonal fabrics.
How have you been able to discover elements of your being and existence through the creation of clothes?
After launching my brand in 2021, I realized the identity of the person that I’m designing for is often a projection of who I want to be. We all have these internal insecurities and I reflect on mine a lot. I want to be seen as a powerful, confident and expressive individual and this is projected into what I’m designing. When I was young, and discovering my personal style, I felt really uncomfortable wearing and buying clothes. It wasn’t until I started to consider body shapes and ways to accentuate a curvy figure or ways to accentuate a smaller bust — that I started to unlock these layers of my insecurities and how I could amplify them in a beautiful way instead of trying to cover them up. I was teaching myself that it’s okay to not fit the standard block. Now with my brand, I’m creating my own block.