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Interview: Jenny Schwartz

Wednesday 04 July 2012

I first met Jenny Shwarz at her presentation for London Collections. The evening involved endless gin and tonics, and me getting drunk at the sight of models wearing the sharpest outfits. Despite singing Darius in public, Jenny chatted to me about her menswear adventure to date. Darius has nothing to do with it.

“I actually never planned to do menswear at first. I was put in the wrong group when I started at Central St Martins, but by the time Christmas came I was totally in love with menswear!”

“There is a lot more scope for intriguing design in womenswear, whereas men are often comfortable with a shape and cut that they recognise. Therefore I was enthralled by the detail that I could infuse into the garment without it scaring the man away. My great grandfather was a traditional bespoke tailor in Germany, so my love for tailoring originated there, but I want to push people’s expectations of the word tailoring.”

What makes Jenny’s aesthetic so intimate and intriguing is the sense and scope of detail that can really be seen and appreciated up close, such as the ridged and pleating detail. Sometimes subtlety can be the loudest mark of modern fashion, and Jenny abides by this style bible.

“I can understand that shocking clothing is an enticing option for getting recognised, but I want to create pieces that men can wear, and I think a lot of men dress better when they dress subtle. I have some stand out pieces in this collection like the metallic green jumper, the fully pleated trousers and the ridged and pleated jackets. But to an extent it’s about how you combine your garments that separates men that can dress and men that can’t. The level of subtlety arrives with a careful balance of detail and simplicity.”

I mentioned to Jenny how one of my pet hates is the ‘Liverpool Street’ business crowd, where a herd of pinstripe suits embark on the tube like a claustrophobic runway version of The Apprentice. What sets Jenny as an exciting designer is her unconventional and forward thinking interpretation of tailored garments, encouraging ‘the norm’ to be slowly broken.

“Suits can be so terribly dull. Even the ubiquitous denim with blazer is an easy way out. I want to offer a fresh way to incorporate tailored garments into a modern man’s wardrobe. It is so important to keep pushing the boundaries of anything creatively related. I can often imagine my creations worn in the evening when people are looking for something tailored and smart but that has no connotation with the day’s business suit.”

The current collection is the perfect marriage of eclectic and accessible. Loud fashion enthusiasts can indulge in subtle eccentricity, and those a little shy can dress smart and neutral but with subtle quirks. It seems like Jenny has cracked the code on how to master the two fashion worlds.

“I think there is a really fine line. Ideally you would want a number of different types of men to be able to relate to the collections whilst maintaining a core brand ideal. But I really don’t want to dilute the ideas in the collection so that I’m broadly liked. I’d much rather be loved by a specific sector of men who enjoy fashion. I want the collection as a whole to say something about the type of guy who might choose to dress in Jenny Schwarz, but I also want the flexibility of the individual pieces being able to work with other parts of a man’s existing wardrobe. I like riding that line and offering as much as possible. Statement pieces like our sparkly green knitwear, yes, that’s right, SPARKLY GREEN, might be enjoyed by the loud fashion enthusiast, whereas the shy type might indulge in the grey, coated cotton trousers with side pleats. I feel there is enough range within our collections to please a variety of fashion enthusiasts. But if they can’t find anything I suggest they send me an email with a private commission!”

On the ball as usual, I mentioned to Jenny how I got a ‘business sci-fi’ and ‘industrial chic’ tone to the collection. My assessment was a little off, with the countryside at the core.

“You’ll laugh when you hear this. You can see business, sci-fi and industrial chic in the collection, whereas I was inspired by mountains and flowers! I think that tailored garments are now so synonymous with industry, urban life and the metropolis, but there was a time not so long ago when country folk would also wear tailored garments, the lower classes would be suited and even a tramp would wear a hat! I certainly have a modernity to my tailored garments but hopefully tempered with some classical elements. Tailored garments can and should be worn out of the business context, and I want to show a tailored garment’s versatility, which is why I love to use fabrics that indicate this. For example there’s the coated cotton shirts that seem to improve with every wash to show their wear. Or the grey cotton jacket with double lapel and ridged detailing: the perfect tuxedo replacement for an evening function.”

So is Jenny Schwarz about the future or the vintage twist?

“I would like to think that the Jenny Schwarz bandwagon was made long, long ago by an aged craftsman in wood and metal that’s secretly powered by rocket fuel.”

So now you know the story behind Schwarz, it’s time for a colourful bedtime tale about her S/S13 collection, fizzy strawberry laces and cream soda at hand.

“The story begins with the discovery of a suitcase. In this suitcase is all that remains of a man’s life documented in photos, scribbled notes, rough sketches and flowers pressed between the pages of an album. This man is my great, great grandfather and his name was Hubert Rex. The photos all depict a life scaling the mountains of Bavaria and from that comes a tale of men long ago proving their worth to the woman of their dreams by retrieving a flower from the mountains that only grows on the steepest and most craggy cliff tops. This flower is the Edelweiss and it was once sought after and craved by Kings and Emperors. The poor man saw it as a way to show bravery in its retrieval and in some way elevated them to a higher status. I loved this idea of archaic bravery and the man braced and strapped ready to scale the mountain. I was intrigued by the contrast of soft velvety Edelweiss and the cold hard rock, and by natural materials like wool and cotton for the garments. I enjoyed twisting these natural elements into something associated with the urbanite and sharp tailoring.”

So what’s the next chapter in the Schwarz script?

“The work has already begun for A/W13/14… pencil has touched paper regarding designs. I keep everything very close to my chest when it comes to talking about future collections. Not that I think the ideas would be stolen, but I think there is a bigger impact when everything is revealed at once and the whole story can be told with words, lighting, the model, the photography and of course the garments. We are talking to some amazing people in regards to doing a fashion film for next season though. Clothes have a movement that work with and against the body. No photograph can ever show the life of a garment to its true potential, but we can somewhere near with a film.”

Words: Charles Matthews

Photography: Christopher Hench

Styling: Heather Falconer