Some may know Gretchen Jones as the winner of Project Runway. Others know her as the tall natural beauty turned indie designer that has the drive, grit and talent to fight her way to the top. Sure Project Runway may have been what propelled Gretchen Jones into the fashion spotlight, but we think Jones is far bigger than the reality show on her resume. As longtime fans of her romantically bohemian aesthetic (some of us still have [and cherish] pieces from her first brand-Mothlove) we’ve followed Jones’ talent waaaay before her days of tv stardom. From West Coast to East Coast (and now back) Gretchen has been busier than ever since her big 2010 win, and the amount this creative has done in the last 4 years is really something.
As a proponent of socially and environmentally conscious design, Jones post-reality career was marked by her eponymous brand, Gretchen Jones NYC. A colorful, print-focused collection infused with an earthly Americana and lingering 1970′s romanticism, GJNYC was shown for several seasons at New York Fashion Week and stocked in some of the top stores around the world. Most recently she closed the doors on that venture to go on another adventure across the country full of soul searching and travels – stopping home in Colorado before moving back west to Portland, Oregon to assume the role of Lead Designer of Pendleton Collection for the classic American heritage brand. Always inspired by her southwestern roots and bohemian heart, Jones is tapping her western leanings to lend a fresh new perspective to Pendleton.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Jones (and dog Harry) in her new Portland home to ask her some things.
WATS: Looking back to your Project Runway days, how do you feel that experience affected you as a designer? And did going from a young indie designer to somewhat of a reality T.V. star affect you personally?
GJ: Ugh, I hate looking back at those days! I guess I feel like I needed to take a weird risk to try to reach the resources [people, factories, press, sales, etc.] to get what I needed to survive in this crazy industry. It honestly feels like an out of body experience. I never identified with the show element of participating. I was there, truly, as a business move. I came to grips with the fact that I was from a humble background that was totally isolated/isolating and in order to fulfill my goals I’d have to find a moment in the spotlight [and have faith my talent would shine through all the BS that might come along with that] and for the most part it truly has done that for me.
As a designer, I was afforded the opportunity to find my audience/consumer. And it confirmed that I fulfill an area of the market that isn’t being hit. I’m one part bohemian, one part cowgirl, one part art kid. I dance between sophisticated and eclectic, I think that reads as strongly within my work as it does my lifestyle. What was effected was an affirmation of my intuitive senses aesthetically speaking, which I embrace as priceless information.
Hell yes it affected me personally, perhaps more so than it did professionally. I really didn’t enjoy being in such a manufactured environment, I didn’t relate to the culture [and still don't] of reality television. It was misrepresentative of how I identify with and carry myself and that was a hard experience to go through. Not being in control of yourself is a challenge regardless of if you are creative or not. In a sense, it rocked my [internal] world. That being said I feel more confident and comfortable in who I know myself to be now. I am proud of the risks I have taken and all the side effects that might have come with them and feel strongly that I have accomplished far more in the years since than I could have ever imagined. In the end I know that is because I follow my heart and am not scared to do what’s right for me… personally, creatively OR professionally.
WATS: How do you feel your design aesthetic has evolved since say your Moth Love days?
GJ: Well, MothLove is and was the start of my design career [individual work wise] and was truly the epitome of my independent design. I was focused on what I could manage within my means and in hindsight, it was the first platform for honing my creative point of view. It takes time to understand yourself creatively, regardless of your medium… MothLove gave me room to grow into myself and understand what tools and resources I needed to fulfill/actualize my fullest potential[s].
That being said, my aesthetic has evolved and refined as much as I have personally. I am more sophisticated and urban in my aesthetics, both creatively and individually. My work is about reaching my desired demographic, which encompasses a wider range of consumers. I don’t lead with my roots [western/bohemian] as they tend to be the nuance that makes my collections special. The DNA that is my aesthetic flows freely and the challenge is in honoring that as I adapt my eye and grow my vision.
WATS: You’ve been on board with Pendleton, which seems like a fitting match considering how your southwestern Colorado roots have always had an influence on your designs. What is it like working with such an iconic American brand?
GJ: Pendleton is in my roots, my heritage. I grew up with family who wore their dusters and used their saddle blankets. It is an honor to work for a company I have a personal connection to and I’m over the moon about being here. I feel like I found my home.
WATS: How has it been acclimating to the ways of a large-scale brand rather than on your own line?
GJ: You know… I have to say its a luxury to be stepping into an established environment and brand, with the infrastructure in place to support my ideas. Not to mention to work for an iconic brand that has a complimentary IP to work with that embraces my own aesthetic tendencies. Its been lovely to be enabled to focus on the best product I can create, for a company I feel deeply about. Working for someone other than myself certainly is an adjustment, there’s no denying that… but one that feels good. I am focused and grounded at the office, and I’m enabled to let go and breathe when I’m at home. That’s a first for a workaholic passion pit like myself!
WATS: What are the perks to having access to the resources of such an established brand?
GJ: This is a 2 part[er]. First off it is an incredible feeling to be enabled to focus all my efforts on creating product I believe deeply in. Having resources like a vertically integrated development team standing next to me is unbelievable. Instead of feeling pulled in a million directions, I am directing all of my attention at the creative. Having a team behind me that offers me decades of experience is making me better at what I do, which feeds my soul. And being offered the opportunity to grow my knowledge into areas of weaving and milling is an unbelievable opportunity to innovate and explore in a way very few designers are ever afforded. Our mill is what makes Pendleton, Pendleton. And that’s what its all about!
WATS: You’re also working on your blog, Neutral Territory. What prompted you to void your life of color and what impact has that had on your outlook on fashion?
GJ: Well… the long and the short of it is that I felt like I had reached a point in where I was losing my personal relationship to color creatively within my work [i.e. the pressure to follow trend] and wardrobe. The pressure to use strategized projections/concepts to lead my collections with, rather than leading with my intuitions, felt formulaic and inorganic. On top of those professional feelings, on a personal note I didn’t like how trended colors [seasonally speaking] were making me feel. I had a perpetual sense of inadequacy [wardrobe wise] and was all too aware that that triggered the desire to consume more in order to fill that void. PHEW! That’s a mouth full!
Neutral Territory was and is a personal project to remove or constrain myself and my access to variables that impact my work and self. I wanted to understand my relationship to color and clothing in a new and fresh manner. In a world where access to anything is what reigns supreme, the idea of self-restraint and challenge felt right. What’s more is that the project is exposing new feelings, new relationships with those makers I admire, my own work and the way I use clothing [and my own wardrobe] to relate to the world. In a way, it’s embracing the performance art like adventure I have chosen to live via clothes. And it’s teaching me a LOT more than I ever expected… inside and outside of the studio!
What I can say is now, at the half way point of this year long project- I am left with an overwhelming understanding that color, in all forms, plays a very important role in my life and work. And I feel fortunate to be embracing that in the face of 6 more months of restraint!
WATS: What color do you miss most?
GJ: I’m not sure there is a specific color I miss most, more so that I miss color mixing, especially with prints. My aesthetic is so deeply rooted in textile design and the relationships that colors have with one another – what I miss is the juxtaposition between oddly paired colors and how they make me feel… let alone how what I make and wear makes YOU feel. I miss that a lot.
WATS: What do you love most about living in Portland? Is it as great as everyone says it is? Any favorite spots?
GJ: What I love about living in Portland is the ability to balance my internal and external live[s] I tend to be immersed in my work regardless of the pressures/deadlines that may loom. Portland gives me the room to breathe and remember I’m more than what I create. I’m encouraged by my surroundings to take time to enjoy them and the company I keep.
I think where we live and how that is perceived is all relative. Portland IS as great as everyone says, but I could say that about everywhere I have ever lived [maybe I’m lucky in that?] I enjoy how isolated Portland is from the rest of the world, yet how intriguing a city it is to the outside world. It gives this place just enough edge to not be dull, yet remain a small town. By far, the best part of living here [besides the proximity to nature, and how lovely it is to bike commute] is the food. It’s nearly impossible to eat poorly here.
Restaurants/Bars: Old Salt, Tiga, Biwa, Meat Cheese Bread, Loretta Jeans…
Shopping: Yo Vintage, Una, Stand Up Comedy, Cord…
And finally, Gretchen What is…