It’s a wardrobe tailored for the perfect getaway. For spring 2004, the Palmer Jones girl — a jewel thief who debuted on the company’s fall 2003 runway, complete with vintage jewelry from Christie’s — is on the run with her stash. “The theme for spring takes us to a remote island in an exotic locale where our thief is hiding out,” says Kathy Jones, who, with her twin sister, Lindy, owns and designs for the firm. The stylish blonde Brits, who are 39, studied fashion design and art history together at Kingston University in London. Before creating the New York-based Palmer Jones line four years ago, Kathy was a senior women’s design director at Ralph Lauren, while Lindy worked as the women’s design director at Brooks Brothers.
The invitation for the spring show, which will take place on Monday, reads, “Cinderella Jewel Thief Pirate Getaway” and features a photo of the island of Panarea. Evoking an island feeling means using fabrics that are easy and relaxed. “We wanted to create fabrics that look as if they’ve been washed in the ocean, because our girl has no access to a washing machine,” says Lindy. In addition to cotton, both alone or blended with linen, silk or Lycra spandex, there are also a variety of silk jacquards and brocades, as well as a number of silver metallic looks. “They travel well and promote wearability,” says Kathy of the fabrics. “And they’re distressed but not destroyed,” adds Lindy. “They have a vintage quality but still feel familiar.”
Most notable is the custom-made cloth. By mixing international and U.S. textile resources, and then adding an antique reference, the duo is able to offer exclusivity, something that’s important in today’s highly imitative fashion world. “We can’t always find what we want with fabrics,” says Lindy. “So we create our own. We’ll take a heavyweight American cotton twill, for example, put silk chiffon from China on top and embroider them together. It’s a great contrast, sturdy versus feminine, and creates a look that’s fun and unique.”
Another example, one that displays the line’s quirky sophistication, is a French silk jacquard in yellow — “very traditional,” says Kathy — with a royal blue butterfly embroidered on top. “The motif makes the fabric more tropical, islandy and fun.” The cotton embroidery, which was done in the U.S., was influenced by an antique find. “Using cotton gives the embroidery a drier, thicker look,” says Kathy, “and creates more of a vintage feel.”
This brings up another point. Vintage-inspired looks have literally saturated the market in the past two years. How, then, do the siblings make their offerings distinctive? “A lot of what’s used today are references from this century,” notes Lindy. “We go back to the mid-18th century and early 19th century, especially for the embroideries. You go back that far, and the look is just really different from things that are out there.”
Much of that inspiration comes from Seattle-based Sarah Truitt Textiles, opened in 1992. Truitt’s archive includes, among other finds, late-18th century block prints and tropical patterns that span 40 years, as well as Twenties and Thirties Art Deco jacquards and Mod geometrics from the Sixties.
The design team, says the firm’s owner, Sarah Truitt, uses “beautiful, unique things that also have a reference to the past that their customers can identify with.” Using an antique swatch as a launching pad, she says, they’ll then take it in another direction as they did by turning part of an embroidery into a print, for instance. “Many things inspire them — some intricate feature, a fabric’s coloration or even the fabric quality or the technique that was used to develop it,” adds Truitt. “They have a great eye for detail.”
One of the most interesting items from Truitt’s treasure chest is a velvet from the 1800s embellished with industrial-like metal studs that were hand-sewn to the fabric. “We plan to take the idea and use it on a cotton and linen canvas or on a sweater knit instead,” says Kathy. In place of the heavy, metal studs, they’ll use Swarovski metal studs, much lighter in weight, and they’ll be heat transferred, not sewn. “We definitely want to include tunics or caftans of some sort in the collection, so this detailing would look nice on a sleeve or around a neck,” she adds.
Other historical influences come from art or literature, such as a photo on their worktable of a Sir Francis Grant painting of a young Queen Victoria, done in the mid-19th century. In it, she’s wearing a lace shirt and a cummerbund over a skirt. “That lace really inspires us, as does the cummerbund,” says Kathy.
Yet, no matter how intricate the fabrics get, silhouettes in the collection remain quite simple. A luxurious white and silver polyester and Lurex brocade from the Italian mill, Jil Silk, for instance, will be made into a jean-like jacket. “It’s urban and sporty at the same time,” says Lindy.
“There’s an ease to the collection,” says Kathy. “The suits and jackets for spring are soft, layered and unconstructed. We’re aiming to create pieces that are light without looking crumpled.” Another item, a loose car coat, is cut from a double-faced linen and silk blend from the Italian mill Lanificio Fila. “What’s interesting about that coat is that the lining — a bold red and fuchsia vintage wallpaper-style floral on ivory silk — will be topstitched on to give the coat a summer-quilt feeling,” says Lindy.
Sounds like just the thing for hiding out.