Who was fashion designer Jay Jaxon? –WWD
While fashion history certainly has its favorites – those whose stories feature heavily in the canon – there are many others whose talents and contributions to the industry have escaped regular memory.
Jay Jaxon is one of them.
The designer, who took over as head of the former French fashion house Jean-Louis Scherrer, making him the first black American couturier in Parisian houses in the late 1960s and early 1970s, even designing for Givenchy , Yves Saint Laurent and Dior for a time, was largely “hidden in fashion and historical narrative,” according to Rachel Fenderson, fashion historian, curator and leading authority on Jaxon.
“In the biography ‘Jean-Louis Scherrer’ [by Jeromine Savignon], Jaxon’s historical contributions to the Scherrer house are not detailed in the timeline or mentioned,” Fenderson told WWD. He is, however, recorded in a January 1970 WWD article describing his first haute couture collection for Scherrer saying, “Jay Jaxon is Scherrer’s newest designer these days…He has a good sense of color, which is see better in these pretty prints. rounded shawls that he puts on dresses at the end of the day.
After a stint in Paris, Jaxon, who was born Eugene Jackson in Queens, NY, in 1941, according to Fenderson’s research, returned to New York’s Seventh Avenue to utilize his design prowess in the United States. WWD caught the designer on his return in a June 14, 1973 article:
“Parisians do well what they do – which is to socialize and strike poses – and they do it naturally. But New York is my home and I’m going to design here now,” Jaxon told the era.
In August 1974, at the unveiling of a collection for Benson & Partners at the Four Seasons in New York, Jaxon told WWD, “I like a classy look rather than a classic look… My type of girl likes to buy clothes she can wear for a year or two and still feel luxurious.
There, media mentions of the designer – who died of cancer in 2006 after spending his final years as a costume designer in California – are rare.
“Jaxon was probably intuitive knowing that over time he would be erased from the historical fashion narrative,” Fenderson said.
It was precisely this erasure that prompted Fenderson to center his master’s thesis at Parsons on the designer and now much of what is known to the public about Jaxon stems from his research. So much so that the “ever-growing” archive she has built up over the past five years – which consists of “historical and theoretical books, more than 50 newspaper articles, magazines, clothing, clothing labels, interviews with primary sources, census and legal information”. documentation, obituaries, photographs, travel ID cards, voice recordings, correspondence, resumes, illustrations, technical dishes and signatures” – will inform his next book on Jaxon.
Here, WWD sits down with Fenderson to learn more about the designer’s life, why the world knows so little about him, and what Jay Jaxon should be remembered for.
WWD: Tell us, who was Jay Jaxon?
Rachel Fenderson: Jay Jason Jaxon… was a fashion visionary. He understood that he had to use his car agency [a term Fenderson coined in her thesis, meaning to help oneself preserve and safeguard their own legacy and harvesting their own power to do so] to protect his own legacy. Jaxon was probably intuitive in knowing that over time he would be erased from the historical narrative of fashion. While making forays into fashion, Jaxon saved numerous documents, clothing tags and signed his signature to tear sheets so his designs weren’t buried deep in the annals of corporate archive databases, newspapers and magazines, never to be seen again. Ultimately, Jaxon was dynamic and, according to his friends, family and love interest Lloyd Hardy, Jaxon was very clear about who he was and in particular what he wanted. His sister Arlene Patterson once proclaimed that “Jay was ahead of his time.” Jaxon was bold and unafraid to pursue his dreams, he loved being a designer.
WWD: Why was he known for his design?
RF: Jay Jaxon was a triple threat. A designer through and through — in every sense of the word. He makes his own patterns, draws his own illustrations and technical flats, as well as machine and hand sewn garments. When inspecting pieces such as suits, furs, evening wear, hats, skirts, pants, vests Westcott that Jaxon has made for his friends who are artists in the industry, he was evident that these garments were made with hand-stitched sewing techniques. Whether an artist constructs bespoke, hand-sewn and/or haute couture garments, it is more than difficult and laborious to produce. It is not very common for designers to be proficient enough in all areas of the design process (which includes pattern making/draping, sewing, illustration as well as technical flat drawing), [but] Jaxon has done it first hand, crafting chic and timeless pieces. Plus, he could literally design for any brand; Jaxon’s catalog is vast and extensive. He has created for Benson & Partners, Jay Jaxon for Muney, Jay Jaxon for Jou-Jou, Jay Jaxon for Pierre Cardin (American Collection), John Kloss and many others. To be able to adapt to the auras of different brands, their company heritage and their footprint in the world, a designer must see the big picture and be fully absorbed by that brand. Jaxon did it effortlessly.
WWD: What happened to Scherrer and why isn’t Jaxon in the record books?
RF: Jaxon designed for Jean-Louis Scherrer as an assistant designer and then couturier creating haute couture and ready-to-wear collections intermittently from the late 1960s through the mid and late 1970s. In biography “Jean-Louis Scherrer” [by Jeromine Savignon], Jaxon’s historical contributions to House Scherrer are not detailed in the timeline or mentioned. The years when Jaxon made history are ignored. Jaxon has been featured in over 50 newspaper articles and his clothes have been captured in numerous magazines; however, in some cases it is not tracked in archive database metadata for those same sources. Additionally, there are magazine reviews of 70s collections where Jaxon should have been present and/or [part of the discourse] and he was not. This is exactly how the erasure of historical narrative occurs and how hegemonic fashion histographies are aided in their development. The questions that should be asked are who is in charge of the narrative, who is telling the story, and who are the gatekeepers?
WWD: What was Jaxon working on after Scherrer?
RF: Jaxon left the house of Jean-Louis Scherrer after designer Scherrer experienced financial and ownership complications with his company’s financiers. Jaxon got a job as an assistant designer for Yves Saint Laurent and then Marc Bohan for Christian Dior. In both design roles, Jaxon produced haute couture and ready-to-wear collections in the early 70s. He would also design costumes for world-famous musicians such as Liza Minnelli, Sammy Davis Jr., as well than for the film industry and dance competitions in France.
WWD: What about designing under your own name?
RF: Absoutely [he did]. Jaxon was an entrepreneur – that’s how he started his career in fashion. He launched his eponymous brand in New York, landing his clothes in the Fifth Avenue department stores of Henri Bendel and Bonwit Teller. Later, he earned enough money to travel to France. In the early 1970s, Jaxon successfully established his own brand in Paris while creating haute couture for the biggest and baddest houses at the height of their heyday.
WWD: You work to preserve Jay Jaxon’s place in fashion history, but while waiting for your book, why should fashion remember Jaxon?
RF: Jay Jaxon is the first American and African-American couturier to lead a French haute couture house in the heart of the Jim Crow era. Jaxon will be remembered for his genius in fashion design as an American designer, costume designer and couturier who not only transformed the fashion narrative of the last century, but his contributions help enrich the stories of the present and the future through diverse representation. Jaxon’s design aptitude, rigor and imaginative spirit have allowed his work to stand the test of time over a 40-year career. In the words of Lauryn Hill, “unprecedented, and still respected when it’s vintage”. Jay Jason Jaxon is an incomparable artist who has opened doors for others to follow, so others can create traction with their own dreams and inspire the next generation to come.