Fashion month is our biannual crash course in fashion trends produced by established and up-and-coming designers. We are getting bombarded by new names, terms, and visuals in the speed of light and we are always happy to pick our favorites. JAKE for me was a love at first sight, because the idea of adapting tailoring to both enhance femininity and redefine masculinity was such a smart concept! JAKE was founded by Jake Wall and Nathan Johnson in San Francisco in 2012 because this unlikely duo simply wasn’t interested in living ordinary lives in ordinary clothes. In a rather insightful interview JAKE shares with us what makes him think outside the box!
Elena: How would you describe your overall journey in the world of fashion? Was it more of a business or a creative adventure?
Jake: For Nathan and myself – the journey into fashion and building JAKE has been one that is anything but traditional. Nathan and I were introduced through a mutual professor through our business program. I was working in technology marketing at the time and Nathan, an engineer by trade, was working in the oil business. Connected through a shared entrepreneurial spirit, we quickly formed a friendship with the goal of creating something… we just didn’t know what that something was. After kicking the proverbial can of ideas around, one idea that kept coming up time and time again was the idea of making a great suit for a friend, colleague or, even in some cases, a random Facebook connection. This all originates back to 2010 when I had a bit of an “eat, pray, love” moment and decided to quit my job and head in a new direction. An NPR piece on the lost art of bespoke tailoring inspired me to find an authentic master tailor specializing in unique suiting and shirting. So at 30 years old, with no plans beyond an eventual return ticket home, I found a made-by-hand operation in Hong Kong and turned my childhood knowledge of sewing and finishing into something a little more impressive than just mending pants. And so, in short, you can see it really is as much a story of adventure as it is one of business around here.
Elena: Which are the core elements you infuse your styles with? Any signature details you wish to keep for years to come?
Jake: We are classic, modern, with a defiant twist. At JAKE we like to think that even our details have details. We like to think that obsession has its advantages. Our signature comes in our details including accent stitching on the lapel and sleeve button holes on our suiting which carries over into all of the elements. We use textiles that you are familiar with in bold and different ways. For example, every season we have an amazing polished suit made out of denim. A far cry from the “Canadian Tuxedo,” it’s this use of textiles you know all too well in unusual ways that make JAKE at once familiar and entirely new. Mix in my love of polka dots and you will see that we mix this into almost every collection as the cherry on the sundae. I love polka dots. Polka dots are like children’s laughter… they just make you smile. We want our clothes to make people smile in all the right ways. Therefore – for us – polka dots are signature JAKE.
Elena: When and how do you source your materials and where do you draw inspiration from?
Jake: Inspiration comes from life – that’s the easy answer. But when it comes to really synthesizing all of the worthy creative ideas into one collection, often I turn to classic films or literature for what I call “connective tissue.” This “connective tissue” is really just common experience that I can use as both a joining point and a point of divergence for understanding and interpreting whatever “feeling” leads with each collection. As long standing lover of movies – many of our past collections at JAKE have been inspired my small details buried with great works from the like of Alfred Hitchcock, for example, or the iconic “Sunset Boulevard.” Usually, I first find the jumping off point and a zero into the obsession point and I bring that to the team with an initial set of sketches and together we discuss and debate as if it was the great salons of France or the world of courtiers that Baldassare Castiglione introduced to the world. Armed with the insights, opinions, and ideas that come from a team meeting, I then lead the team in revisions and from there we work together searching far and wide for the best fabrics and textiles. Unique. Unexpected. And, of course, fun and vibrant. It is quite the “hunt” which has given us some of the finest silk in China, exotic and refined leathers from Italy and South America, amazing cashmeres from Nepal and many others.
Elena: What kind of publicity do you think that helps designers to evolve and establish them in the market?
Jake: Publicity is a wonderful thing and it can help a designer get noticed. It helps give a designer prominence and make him or her a bit more relevant. This has great value and yet, the most valuable thing to the designer is the customer and the relationship with the customer. Without clients and customers buying what we do… well, then we are doing little more than making pretty pictures at times. It is the identification of a customer, the interaction with that customer, and the refined understanding of the customer that is truly the most influential element – well at least at JAKE – in terms of both establishing us within the market and keeping us on top as a market leader. With a strong understanding of customer, then you can start really targeting the publicity opportunities that make sense for you.
Elena: Any tailors that showed you the way to perfect suiting? Did you have creative mentors?
Jake: I was mentored by a wonder old style tailoring team who were rooted squarely in the British Savile Row style of classic tailoring and construction and the old world Hong Kong traditions originally. This is what sparked and ultimately fueled the original fire that would become JAKE’s signature clothing. Returning back to the United States, I have had the amazing pleasure of adding two additional key mentors to that list. Marc Foster Grant who was creative director and co-founder at Jeanne-Marc Clothing – a San Francisco based womenswear company – has been an invaluable voice of reason, of challenge, and inspiration. Marc’s experience in the industry and his perspective as a CFDA member of some years back with a renowned company who dressed the likes of Linda Evans, Stockard Channing, Bette Midler and others has brought his fire to JAKE and specifically to me. He pushes me to get outside my comfort zone and dare to really give people the things they never knew they wanted. Alongside Marc, I am mentored by the wonderfully talented Gordon Henderson. Formerly of Calvin Klein and his own eponymous brand “But Gordon” for Saks, Gordon is the mentor that lives to challenge me to make clothes that matter. Gordon pushes and pushes not because he has even the remotest of masochistic tendencies – he is truly one of the sweetest and most gentle souls you will ever encounter – he pushes because he believes in greatness and knows one never achieves greatness by being comfortable in mediocrity.
Elena: In which areas do you deviate from the tailoring norms, breaking the rules of classic style?
Jake: Rules are nothing more than guidelines at JAKE. We create beautiful mash ups with textiles – leather and cashmere, denims and silks, crocodile embossed leathers and snakeskins with neoprene. We use classic styles and take a modern approach to our fabrication. One of my mentors said that given that I never went to fashion school… I wasn’t, in some ways, ruined by fashion school either. I break all sorts of rules because I never knew it was a rule in the first place. What can I say… we run with scissors around here.
Elena: Over the last years, designers are consistently blurring gender lines through their fashionable creations. Do you feel part of the androgynous-style movement in a way?
Jake: JAKE makes great clothes for great people. Gender is important to some of our clients and less so to others. With our women’s suiting taking strong nods from vintage Dior and the days of Marlene Dietrich, we have always been a company that has blurred traditional boundaries. As we ventured into ready-to-wear in 2015, we found that many of our men’s pieces were stanched up by women who styled them very differently – with an undeniable masculine cut to them, these ladies still managed to invoke a certain unique femininity and with it make them, as they should, a style all their own. We celebrate this movement and love seeing people get creative with boundaries that are, in some cases, nothing more than words.
Elena: Which is your vision and inspiration for next season?
Jake: Next season is all about elegance and edge blended rather than juxtaposed. It is the collision course of “American Graffiti” and “La Dolce Vita” leaving us with something vivid, rich, and deliciously original. I’d tell you more… but you’ll just have to see it to believe it.
Elena: Any stylish plans for the near future?
Jake: Funny you should ask… professionally, we are opening our brand new flagship showroom and atelier in the heart of San Francisco’s historic Jackson Square next month. This new space is a true representation of the JAKE brand and will serve as the rock which we continue to expand upon as we grow into other key cities. Our unique retail space is not just a place to shop. It is also a place to gather. A place to connect with style and one’s self. With a few extra features like a tasting bar from our friend Jean Charles Boisset and JCB Wines, the JAKE signature experience is one that is luxurious, significant, but always approachable and is leading the way to some great offerings with Bloomingdale’s as part of ready-to-wear Spring 2016 fashions and beyond. Personally, I am really looking forward to supporting one of my favorite local organizations – the American Red Cross San Francisco/Bay Area – for their upcoming gala fundraiser and sporting the new black and white polka dot suit I just finished hand tailoring for myself.
Elena: Thanks so much Jake!!!
JAKE produces much of the brand’s signature clothing in San Francisco from limited-run boutique fabrics made in the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom. To learn more, visit www.jake.clothing
Love You All!!!