Fashion has been a part of Designer Jill Alexander’s life for as long as she can remember. It was such a pleasure to talk with the curvy fashion diva one on one about her career, her company, and her collection. Jill provided a glimpse of her stunning fall collection at Full-Figured Fashion Week 2012 in New York City. Curve enhancing silhouettes graced the runway in rich jewels tones made of soft jersey, stretch poplin and beautiful silk charmeuse. In fact our August cover model Loma Litz is wearing a Jill Alexander Design. Here is the fabric of our conversation:
Sheri: In interviews people tend ask how did you get started in your career. What I always like to know is what inspired you to get started in fashion?
Jill: I’ve been around fashion my whole entire life. My parents were in fashion and my very first job was at a store that my mom was running when I was 14 years old. So it was natural for me to kind of step into it. I went to San Diego State where I studied communications then after college I went to work for Ann Taylor in merchandising.
Sheri: So after working with straight sizes at Ann Taylor, what is it that inspired you to go into plus size fashion?
Jill: You know, honestly I don’t know. In 2007 I went back to school to study design. I didn’t launch my collection until 2009. It wasn’t this big epiphany or one of these moments of enlightenment that people say they have. I have always been curvy. I wear a size 12 or 14 depending on how the garment is structure. Because I dealt with fabrication I learned how the garments worked on my own body. Being in upper management I had to wear Ann Taylor clothes. In visual merchandising, I was always changing walls, putting things together, and customers would seek me out based on my look. I would stop what I was doing to help them to outfit their curvier bodies.
Sheri: You knew how to make those straight sizes work for your curves! That’s one of the things I try to express to my clients as well, that even though you might be a size 14 or even as high as a size 18 or 20, there are straight size clothes that you can make work. Each of us carries our size uniquely. With so many different body types, how do you accommodate that diversity in your collection?
Jill: I use high quality, very high end fabrics. I use a lot of knits because knits on a plus size body are great. They have the ability to hug your curves and show your silhouette. You can find an hourglass shape in the same outfit as someone who is more of tomato shape. The other thing is I believe seaming is really, really crucial to the way a silhouette looks on you. So we’re very, very careful with our seaming. We put a lot of extras cuts into our fabrics. We curve all of our seams, so that you get a better shape in the garment. Other fashion lines may try to save money by keeping the manufacturing very basic. You can tell by the way something fits.
Sheri: Oh those are some important features! Those things that make your garments stand out is the quality of the high end fabrics and the construction with curved seams. What else is there?
Jill: My garments are manufactured in the United States. I am very close to my manufacturers. We’re on a first name basis and they see my face regularly. I think that really makes a difference. I believe they put a certain level of quality into my pieces because it is personal.
Sheri: We always hear that it’s very difficult to make plus size clothing. That it’s more expensive. One of the questions that I always get is, “Why is it more expensive?” We assume it is just because of the amount of fabric. Is that true?
Jill: That factors into it for sure. That’s the bottom-line. We need more fabric. You know it’s one of the main reasons why at straight size sample sales everything is in a size 0. You use the least amount of fabric to make a sample. I mean you are not going to make the bigger sizes because first of all you when you do a sample you are not even sure if it’s going to make it to manufacturing. he original sample may never even make the store. You’re going to move through so much fabric if you make it in larger sizes just so you can get the right fit.
Sheri: At Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, fall fashion was really about more tailored clothing in unique shapes and sizes. What are some of the challenges with tailored garments for plus sizes?
Jill: When you get into more tailored garments for plus size girls, you go back to the differences in shape which are much more expansive than in straight sizes. It is so important not to get stuck on a number. Buy things for the way they fit. I can be the same size as another girl but I’m very hourglass. I find things that don’t fit me in the chest that will fit a pear shape much better. As a plus size designer I have to really find a middle ground that will work. I am really excited because I have this blouse that just came out. It’s called the Stella blouse. You didn’t get to see it a full figured fashion week. It’s got eight different darts in it. So, it is a really fitted cool seventies throw back blouse with this big collar and cuffs. I tried it on and I loved it so much. I had a pear try it on and it looked great on her too.
Sheri: I am always looking for special pieces to wear with suits and coordinate pieces. The Stella would be perfect with your high waist pencil skirts or wide leg trousers. Right?
Jill: Absolutely! It would be great under our convertible dress and even our jumpsuit. It makes our jumpsuit work like a jumper that is perfect for the office. There are a multitude of ways to wear the Stella blouse.
Sheri: That’s so great because fashionable work wear is the fastest growing segment in the industry. I know when I worked in corporate I wanted to dress professionally and still express my personal style. So, having something like your Stella blouse with these unique features will really let us wear something outside of the box, while remaining professional. You seem really excited about the Stella blouse. What else are you looking forward to showing us?
To be continued….Come back next week for more about Jill’s new fall collection!