Alumni Spotlight: Jes Wade, Fashion Design ’96

From the Desk of…
Jes Wade

Fashion Designer Jes Wade at her command central! This 19th century bankers desk is one of her favorite antique finds from Hudson, New York.

Jes Wade moved from Austin, Texas with great aspirations to study fashion design in New York City and start her own label. Since completing her degree at FIT, Wade’s dream to launch her business became a reality. She has continued to stay involved with the college, recently joining the MFIT’s Couture Council, attending alumni talks and receptions, and participating in Design Entrepreneurs NYC. We talked to Wade about her journey, her fast growing clientele, and some of her favorite things.

Tell us how the idea of starting your own business came about.
When I was a Marketing major at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, Donald Fisher, the founder of Gap, came to speak at the business school and said, “If you’re going to start a business you wouldn’t be sitting here.” I decided right then that I needed to make some changes.

Why did you choose FIT?
I had fallen in love with NYC while traveling there to do the ENK shows for a designer friend. I would return to Austin and think about how much I wanted to live in NYC. When I started looking at fashion design schools in NYC I saw that FIT offered a one-year associate degree program that was very intriguing. I had already been to a great college, so I wasn’t looking for a long academic experience. I wanted an intense technical training and in that year I slept less, worked harder and loved it more than anything. I fondly refer to the one-year associates degree at FIT as fashion design boot camp.

Which FIT class or professor shapes your work today?
The draping professor who taught us to sculpt, the illustration professor who showed us how to fingerprint and smear our work to make it our own and the Italian tailor who turned fabric into molten butter with his hands.

Tell us the story behind your label.
While working for major labels I spent most of my time in meetings and in front of a computer communicating with textile mills and garment manufacturers and I was disappointed with how little design takes place. As a result, I set up a design studio and began designing, patterning and sewing and developing my own design vocabulary and aesthetic. This is how I spent many nights and weekends for nearly a decade before launching my label full time. Then and now every step of the design process (from sketch to final stitch) is equally important in our Atelier.

What’s your aesthetic?
I love the classic clean shapes of American sportswear combined with old world couture fabric and detail. In our Atelier every pattern and design goes through some kind of simplification or purification before it is ready. We joke in the Atelier that a pattern isn’t ready to go into production until it hits that perfect harmonic note… or until it sings. Since the human body has a perfect symmetry and harmony each pattern can reach its own perfect harmony as well. With new styles there is always a tug of war with measurements and geometries but then after hours or even days of working on the pattern there will be a moment where it will all start falling into place.

Describe your team.
Our Showroom and Atelier is located in a TriBeCa loft. We design and manufacture everything in our Atelier and it is open to our Showroom where we sell the collection direct to private clients. I work very closely with my Head Seamstress who has been with the company since 2010 and during that time she has been taking night courses at FIT in couture sewing and patternmaking. We both share a love for taking raw materials and turning them into a beautiful final product.

Unlike mass market fashion, you have a small operation driven by very intimate relationships with your clients. How do you hope to maintain that intimacy while still growing the business?
I believe there is so much opportunity with mobile technologies and cloud networking that it is possible to stay intimate despite growth. Technology can insure intimacy with customer service and sales. I believe it can also be developed to allow for customization in manufacturing. I have an obsession with developing the technology to combine body scanning with digital patterning software. I think this technological development would be valuable in “direct to client” custom manufacturing as well as in global applications where body shapes vary with genetics and lifestyle from region to region and country to country. When FIT gets its new technology and research lab up and running I want to be first in line!

We’d love to have you back! Now, we have a few “favorite” questions, beginning with your favorite item on your desk.
It must be the desk itself. I have a 19th century standing bankers desk in dark wood with these great carved legs. I found it at an antique dealer in Hudson, NY which is right near our little farmhouse upstate where we go nearly every weekend.

Favorite spot in New York City?
When I need inspiration there are two places that always work: the MET Museum and the Hudson River.

Song to get the day started?
Anything by Morningwood. The band is no longer together but their popularity on Pandora proves that in fact it is possible to be ahead of your time.

Book on your nightstand?
I recently started the “The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” by Edmund de Waal. I just finished “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life” by Justine Picardie and it was fantastic and I recommend it to everyone. I don’t care how much you know about Coco, you have to read it.

Most treasured possession?
My two daughters.

Little-known fact about you?
I am a closet jock. I was a competitive tennis player in high school and I slalom ski every summer and snowboard every winter.

Exciting future ventures?
We are hosting the Couture Council for an event in November. I became a Couture Council member this spring and can’t say enough positive things about the organization, their events and the Museum at FIT. I have always been a fan of Valerie Steele’s work and it is so exciting for me to keep up with and support that work in real time.

What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
Do what you love, work hard and be patient.

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