Jemima Janney has just returned from a drawing class at St Martins, and despite the heat she isn’t remotely flustered. The class is ‘artistic interpretation of fashion’, which involves drawing without looking at the paper. The subsequent biro sketches pinned on her wall are wild and abstract, but there is a languid fluidity to them, not unlike Jemima herself. An ethereal beauty with pale skin and sharp blue eyes, the 23 year old is dressed in a sequined vintage summer dress she tells me cost £5. Sitting gracefully at a table her father acquired from a Parisian cafe, with the sunlight streaming behind her, the young designer exudes an almost otherworldly presence. But as I am about to discover, Jemima Janney has her feet planted firmly on the ground.
‘I haven’t got the fashion school background, and I’m not that kind of really artistic designer. I see myself as much more of an ‘every woman’ designer,’ she explains. Whilst celebrities such as Carey Mulligan and Mumford & Sons have recently snapped up her designs, she is equally excited when a young woman has the initiative to seek them out. Having already designed for Rag & Bone and Topshop, her own line features casual jackets in unique fabrics, and the combination presents a universal appeal. Jemima describes the four-piece range as ‘accessible but beautiful. I want everyone to think they could wear my clothes and have a lot of fun in them.’ Her inspiration process all starts with a fabric, and she frequently picks up scraps at Shepherd’s Bush market. ‘I like to design a simple shape with an interesting fabric, or vice versa. I’ll see one and think, what can I do with this?’
Despite putting together scrapbooks from age seven and showing a love for fashion all her life, Jemima was encouraged to pursue a degree in medicine. ‘I didn’t realise fashion was even an option for me as a career. But then for one module I wrote about the psychology of fashion, and why people dress the way they do, and my teacher was just dumbfounded!’ She laughs. ‘I enjoyed that project so much, and it was the first time at university I’d been so passionate about something. I just decided that was enough!’ Far from this being a waste of time, Jemima has incorporated her medical knowledge into how she approaches her work, and would actually recommend the process to other designers. ‘When you’re studying medicine you’re so in tune with the body, you’re working with it every single day, and understanding the way it moves.’
Jemima’s strength as a designer is her knack for constantly learning and discovering new things about her tastes and her talent. Her recent job designing costumes for Tom Clancy’s latest film Maryland, out this month, brought her awareness to a different type of client. ‘It’s totally different from designing fashion, you have the opinion of the director, the actor and the character to consider.’ Although she had little previous experience with tailoring, menswear proved to be Jemima’s strong suit. ‘I was assisting renowned costume designer Jil Tailor on every cast member. There were so many men in the film, Russian oligarchs, spies, all in suits- but they had to portray different characters. That was the best bit, trying to differentiate between each with the cut, fabric or sheen.’
After discovering a passion for tailoring, Jemima began designing bespoke menswear featuring printing and details such as family portraits. ‘It came off the back of this passion for making individual suits with personal touches.’ Her eyes light up as she describes the process.‘When people come to me, they don’t know what they want. I say to them, it can be anything. Have your pockets where you hold your hands. When they become more opinionated I get really excited.’ The client’s own input massively inspires Jemima’s creative process. ‘It’s always about the personality of the customer, and how the clothes make someone feel.’
She reflects on her surroundings when citing where this mentality comes from. ‘To work, I’ll often visit Bush Theatre, on Uxbridge road. It’s a really fun place, because I’ll overhear people talking about a play, and that will feed into what I’m doing.’ Interestingly, Jemima doesn’t approach her work with a trend-based focus. ‘Design is character-based. I’ll hear someone describing a character, and have my own interpretation of them.’ This perspective speaks volumes about her designs- classic, personal, and able to withstand the test of time.
Speaking of which, what is next for the multi-skilled designer? Having mastered the individual challenges of bespoke, she plans to branch out and reach a larger audience. ‘I really want to expand and go into ready-to-wear. I want to do a capsule collection that isn’t just jackets.’ Jemima is enthusiastic about showing at a fashion week, but rather than a straightforward catwalk show, she has her heart set on the conceptual. ‘I’d do something really unique,’ she muses. ‘I’ve always loved the Row and their shows. It’s a really good opportunity to animate the clothes.’
One thing is certain, there is no stopping Jemima Janney. On my visit, she is preparing for a move to an up-and-coming New York neighborhood the following week. ‘I haven’t started packing,’ she giggles, unconcerned. Having lived in London her whole life, she intends to be back and forth. ‘Shepherd’s Bush is my home and I feel most comfortable here. I think it’s artistic, but in a subtle way. It’s calm here, so you have to seek out the grit, but when you find it, it’s really interesting and special.’
Considering the nature of her work, Jemima is set to take the fashionistas of the Big Apple by storm. ‘The lifestyle is so busy over there, it’s got to be a day to night outfit. Chic, but simple,’ she observes. Sounds like a match made in heaven.