NEW YORK — According to Jerome Jessup, who is launching his first solo collection, Jessup, this fall, his life's journey goes like this: "I'm from Michigan, but moved to New York in 1981, went to FIT and Parsons, got married, had kids and moved to Connecticut like people do." Of course, there's a whole portion of major fashion gigs that he nonchalantly glosses over unless specifically asked. Like, say, getting to work with Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan and Perry Ellis in the early Eighties during one of American fashion's most exciting times. On his second day as a fresh-faced intern at de la Renta, he recalls, "I was handing pins to the first assistant as we pinned a dress on Jackie O. What a great introduction."

He followed up his Seventh Avenue experience with a tenure at Gap Inc. in the late Eighties and early Nineties, working his way up the ladder at Banana Republic — helping, he says, "transform the label from jeeps and rhinos into versatile sportswear" — and then serving as Gap's executive vice president of design. Next, he was a top exec at Ann Taylor until he resigned two years ago, when the company initiated a high-level housecleaning.

So why would Jessup, a 46-year-old, Connecticut-commuting, father of two start from scratch now? "I've had a really great career working for other companies and have been fortunate that there's been no break to do that," he says. "But you get to a certain place when you've done it for other people long enough and you really want to do it for yourself." His new Jessup collection seems to be the sum total of his entire design experience: the luxe fabrics and sense of fit and proportion from Seventh Avenue mixed with the necessary everyday basics from the mass retailers.

When he first thought of going solo, Jessup asked himself, "How fantastic could I make something that is still real, wearable and accessible?" The answer: a line full of classic tops, dresses and hoodies that feature a sartorial something special. For instance, a black jabot adds chic interest to a basic long-sleeved gray shirt, while a series of silk jersey sweatshirts sport either 24-karat gold-plated or sterling silver zippers, which, Jessup notes, "are like jewelry." The collection, which wholesales from $68 for T-shirts to $599 for a wool jacket, has been picked up by Inago in Los Angeles, Blue Genes in Atlanta and Lullaby in Houston, as well as Richard Kidd in Vancouver and Journal Standard in Tokyo.Despite his strong start and his extensive background in the business, Jessup admits to encountering a steep learning curve this time around. "I spent a lot of time by myself, and yeah, you go from really large teams of people to doing a lot of things on your own," he says. "I've had as many as 300 people reporting to me. Now I have four."

— Nandini D'Souza

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