On a crisp, autumn day in the middle of Pembrey, I head down to Jayne Pierson’s design studio. Greeting me with her signature smile, radiant personality and wearing one of her most gorgeous designs, she leads me into what could only be called a treasure trove of spectacular design work, mannequins, accessories and going past the walls of her many photographs I find myself saying “Is that…?”, “Is that…?”. Jayne Pierson has worked with the best of the best. She shows me a card from Vivienne Westwood and a billowing couture-like skirt she designed and made for Lady Gaga. An unsung Welsh phenomenon whose talents were picked up by the late, great Alexander McQueen, of whom she speaks so fondly. We are literally in the middle of a Pembrey, countryside field and it’s almost like uncovering gold; such homegrown talent is something I was so keen to champion within Style of the City; what I wanted to do is get more familiar with this creative extraordinaire. Jayne shows me pictures on her wall of a show she did with Alexander McQueen and Phillip Treacy commemorating the life and work of Isabella Blow, another genius who she knew and worked with. So how did the girl from West Wales work with some of the most iconic fashion geniuses and then launch herself into Vogue recognition, London Fashion Week showcases, and dressing A-list celebrities, such as Alicia Keys. Jayne is so incredibly endearing and it’s clear she is passionate about everything she designs, as she tells me every detail has a story. So, over many laughs, warm cups of coffee and my unceremonious wow-moments, I delved deeper into getting more familiar with this Welsh gem.
What is your favourite thing about the fashion industry?
How creative it can be with the different concepts. I think it’s those things which are really fascinating because you’re able to, from scratch, develop a collection; from drawings and research you’ve looked at, you can develop an entire range. It’s similar to how you go about writing a Master’s or PhD. It’s not academic, but it requires an awful lot of research.
I guess it’s like being in your design head.
Yes, which is difficult to enforce when you’ve got little ones.
Before fashion design, you worked in the media and music industry for many years. So, you’ve always been creative?
Yes, I would say so. I’ve never really done a normal job.
You’ve never done a 9-5?
Well, I have, but in fashion. I think the only time I ever really had a normal job was when I was a student and I was a waitress in a restaurant. It was a French restaurant in Dallas and we had no menus for ages so we had to memorise everything by heart. And of course, most people in Dallas have these strong southern accents so they can’t understand a word you say!
If you could, what piece of advice would you give your younger self when you were just starting out?
Just be happy: do what makes you happy. If you have happiness and health, you’re on the right road. I don’t think you get into the arts to make money; I don’t think that’s anyone’s plan. When you go into a normal job, you have set criteria to get promotions and the arts are never like that. At the same time, I don’t have any regrets about it either, so it’s a tricky one really because I don’t think I could’ve done anything else!
You’ve worked with Vogue, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and countless showcases at London Fashion Week. Is there a specific point in your career that you’re most proud of? If you could single out one thing.
When Alexander McQueen would give me great feedback and praise. It just made me feel like everything I had done, I felt he had genuinely really valued it and he wasn’t just saying it. It meant so much because he was such a genius, so that made it all worthwhile to be honest; all the hard work, all the hours, all the sweat and tears. It made it all worthwhile when he would praise me and that’s probably the best feeling.
You must’ve thought “I’m amongst the greats”.
Yes, well, I didn’t really think that, but it was fantastic. I thought that I must be doing the right things, I’ve picked up on the right elements and I’m on the right path. That’s what I thought.
Talk me through your design process, where does it start? What does it look like? How does it evolve?
I think it mostly starts in the 6-8 weeks beforehand. You start thinking about what you want to do, you start sending off for samples and maybe you go to Premier Vision which is the main fabric show where you can request samples of new and different textiles and you think about how you can do something different. You may start doing some rough sketches. Once you get your fabrics in from the suppliers, then you start putting them on the stand and working with them. The fabrics really inform you, they tell you what you want to do.
Your designs are all very striking, but how would you describe your personal style?
I think I keep it pretty simple, to be honest: I live in jeans most of the time. Most of the time, I’m in a rush! Getting the kids off to school, giving them breakfast, dropping them off, and off to uni. I don’t have much time to think about what I’m wearing, I just keep it simple with jeans and a t-shirt, sweatshirt or jacket.
You grew up in Dallas, Texas as we all know and spent time some studying and working in London. What was it that drew you back to Wales?
To be honest, being in Texas I knew I was never going to really meet like-minded souls in terms of my likes in music. I knew I had to move back to Europe to do that.
You were never a country and western girl then?
No, not my thing. They did start having MTV as an afterschool programme in 1984 and that was literally something you could watch coming home from school, but generally speaking that was the only time they would see European music, or on college radio stations, but generally speaking they didn’t have a clue. If you were into The Ramones, David Bowie and Blondie, you were just a bit odd.
I saw that you worked with Welsh wool, creating Welsh tapestry pieces. How much does your Welsh heritage influence your fashion designs?
I think it does in an innocuous way, just in the sense that I’m here and I’m in this environment and landscape. I’m looking at it every day, the beauty of the natural world around me. I think in that sense it does: the space you have to create in that you don’t get in London because everything is so claustrophobic and 90mph. Here you have a time to reflect and consider things a bit more; it’s not such a fast pace and so you can go off and do your own thing and be inspired by unusual things. In that sense I think it does filter through and, of course, being Welsh is really important to me.
You’re currently studying towards your PhD, is that right? How do you juggle the studying with your design work and personal life?
It fits in quite neatly because it’s an ongoing interest; the relationship of clothing to character and how you put something on and become someone else.
You’re clearly an extremely dedicated hard-worker, where does your drive come from?
It has to come out somehow. I think before it was a therapy: if you don’t create, what on earth are you going to do? You have to create something, whether it’s a collection or some artwork, I don’t know what, but it has to come out somehow. Otherwise it’ll just fester away. It has to evolve. I think that passion, even if I stopped tomorrow, I would still have to create something. I would probably have a million different sketch books, and always be drawing or painting.
What’s been the biggest change in the fashion industry since you started your career?
I think the biggest change is that we’re giving different cultures a platform. People that look or behave differently, those that want to lead a different kind of lifestyle. Suddenly they’re being allowed to be different and I think that’s fantastic because conforming to some bizarre stereotype of who people should be, or what they should look like, it’s just not representative and I think it’s very damaging to people.
You’ve designed for, and had your designs worn by countless artists, actors and musicians, is there anyone in particular you’d love to work with next?
Daphne Guinness, I absolutely love her. She’s absolutely stunning, she looks like a goddess and I think she’s got amazing taste.
What would be your biggest piece of advice for someone looking to get into the fashion design world right now?
Don’t get into it for money, get into it for love. You have to love it: it’s a hard industry.
What can we expect to see from you next? Any big goals for 2019?
I want to do more of my resort-wear, I want more spring-summer wear in Ibiza. I’m thinking New York Fashion Week next season, I would like to do something there. And I would also love to work with new technologies for look books, like maybe doing a different type of look book. Not necessarily a catwalk show or a film. This is what I’m looking at with my PhD, looking at developing a new state-of-the-art innovative way of showing a collection. I can’t say too much yet!
What are your 3 fashion essentials you can’t live without?
My black stretch TopShop jeans, I can’t live without them. I would say my army jacket because it’s got “Pierson” on the front and I covered it with vintage broaches that belong to my great-grandmother. My straw fedora that I take everywhere every summer and everybody’s like, “It’s the hat again!” I’m always carrying the hat. The old battered hat. I love it!
Words by Rosie Harris