We had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra from KINDA magazine. We showed her round our lovely house and office in Emsworth and heres what she had to say...
Written by Julia van Hove
Meeting up with Jessie and James. In the quaint village of Emsworth, not too far from Brighton, resides childrenswear brand Jessie and James. Founders and couple Jessie and James left London with their kids and a creative master plan to unite everything in James’ hometown; a harmonious family life and a flourishing business.
While James prepares a roast – he finds himself amidst his typical three days birthday marathon – Jessie leads through the vast garden full of inviting ripe apple trees. “Since we’ve moved here the kids have changed completely. They come home after school and directly rush outside.” To get their home, office and family under one roof, they were actually looking for a stylish barn, but at West Lynne, Lumley Road they found the full package. “The kids go to school on a track across the fields, we have a lot of space in the garden - here we can give them the freedom we used to have in our own childhood.” On weekends they go to the woods with their kids instead of visiting hectic fun parks or indoor playgrounds. “We just want to go outside. Within nature, kids can be creative, develop their own games. Think ‘Take what you have and make it into a game.’ Many kids are overwhelmed with toys, but don’t really need them. Of course we have a lot of stuff, too, computer games are fun, but you can be super creative with things you just find somewhere. We make our own bow and arrow. Billy, for instance, has forest school where the kids learn how to light and extinguish a fire. It’s good for their confidence and independence.” 7-year-old Billy skilfully climbs the self-constructed swing and balances on the edge. Of the two brothers, he is the outgoing and sporty one who likes showing what he can do; handstand, bridge, apple pitching.
How fashion-oriented they both might be? “Georgie not at all!” Jessie describes the 3-year-old as diva of the house with a mind of his own. “He just wears soccer shirts and shorts or his Spiderman suit. When Billy was his age, he was the same, but now he loves dressing in Jessie and James. He combines cool pieces and fun looks with his Heelys shoes, he enjoys fashion. When we go out for dinner he always changes clothes. At the moment he’s definitely the best dressed in the family!
We go inside. The rooms are bright and comfortable, just typical designer interior will not find a home here too soon. “The boys enter the house with dirty shoes, it’s simply impractical to be attentive all the time. We love our superhero cat doll or bed sheets with cool prints, but it has to be functional in a way. Suitable for children. Not too perfect. Otherwise you find yourself adjusting everything all the time. For me it is important to provide the kids with an environment in which they can be creative. Ours have their own spaces, they redesign their rooms if they feel so, and Billy always decorates the house-shaped beams of this bed. And since we have part of our office in the house, there’s even more space to play in. We don’t separate that. The boys build space ships with the rolls of fabric or tell us where to cut and shorten the new designs. Our employees are already aware of this!”
Jessie has been living in England long enough to give her German a charming British accent. After school she originally planned to study art, she never felt like a typical fashion person. When everybody knew about the trends, she just wanted to create and drape clothes. She ended up happily studying at HdK in Berlin in Vivienne Westwood’s class and thus accepted the job offer to work for her in London.
James’ way to fashion was rather unusual; “he worked in a bank and probably got fired because he was doing fashion sketches instead of his work.” Jessie laughs and admits that this is may not be the whole story. However, James studied at the Royal College of Art in London and was spotted by Vivienne Westwood in a show there. “We worked in the same building for about five years, but only met in the last year.”
Why not earlier? “Well, I was quite German: head down, working …”
With Jessie’s pregnancy the couple was ready to start something new and then everything went pretty fast. They showed their first collection at London’s trade fair Bubble and suddenly found their brand new label sold in big luxury department stores such as Liberty and Harvey Nichols as well as in independent boutiques. The press fell for Jessie and James, everything ran smoothly. 2010 was a good year for a start.
Has parenthood changed your view on fashion? “Completely. When you have kids you realize quickly what you can do and what you can’t. The convenience factor has to be pretty high. Kids don’t like when it’s too close to the neck. My boys are totally picky. They instantly say what they don’t want. They hardly wear anything but jersey, and so it’s obvious we started the jersey range. We are very creative with this range and combine jersey with patterned woven fabrics; it’s probably our most popular collection. We mainly do girls clothes, but run a small classic range for boys too. Comfort is an important aspect in our clothes as its kids wear. Where can I put the label so it doesn’t scratch? Avoiding too many seams, which might irritate. It's a balancing act: we provide comfortable, yet not too simple styles; again we are still a design brand. We are not limited in materiality, which can make a garment more expensive. But we want to keep our freedom. Plus we mainly use pure cotton with a special finish of weft that hardly crinkles. To avoid creasing many brands use synthetic fabrics - I would never dress my kids in that. Sometimes wrinkles are ok, as clothes should stay breathable.”
Keyword: Following trends... “Our designs are very unique and have their own identity, but it’s important to also look at trends to stay cool enough for both 6- and 10- year-olds. Kids are very aware of fashion and do recognize what’s cool at the moment. Although I’ve never been too keen to follow trends, I have to admit I enjoy watching what’s happening here and there. Asymmetrical cuts for example have always been in our collections, and now they’ve become really trendy.
The boys are still outside in the garden. George wears a t-shirt with iconic bowler hat prints, Billy dark blue jeans with red seams. Jessie and James actually don’t provide too many styles for boys. On the website the collection sells well, but for wholesale it is too small at this point. “When we are safe with everything else, we’ll pick it up again.”
Last question: What’s essential for a harmonious family life? “We take one hour in the evening in which we sit together and play games, like this cliché picture in a magazine. It’s a matter of fact: you don’t manage to always have dinner together, you can’t always recognize what’s going on when your kids are grumpy, and having a business as a couple can sometimes be hard, too. Playing gets us together. Makes us concentrate on family only.” Saying goodbye to the modern family idyll is hard. Even with little Georgie the ice was broken. As soon as winter has fully spread, the days and long playing in the garden will get shorter. Then we look forward to the sunny dream of the upcoming Jessie and James spring/summer 2018 collection, called 'Paper Cranes'.
Photography: Alexandra Klever. Retouching: Telse Faust