June 14, 2021

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This Designer Wants to Bring Back the Joy of Playing Dress Up

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The coronavirus disrupted much of the bridal fashion industry, driving down sales and forcing designers to showcase their collections virtually instead of in person. But through it all, Jackson Wiederhoeft kept extra busy and productive.

The 27-year-old designer, who got his start at Thom Browne and released his first collection in 2019, has a passion for theatrics and drama, and they are woven into his work and performance-based fashion shows.

On April 6, he released his 2022 collection, his fifth, with 60 new pieces, a look book and video on the digital platform Runway360.

At the same time, he opened his first showroom on West 38th Street in Manhattan, where his entire collection and past collections are offered. He also redesigned an interactive website that offers a detailed view of his designs. “You can’t always come into the store, on the site you can get an up-close visual detail,” he said. “I don’t want my clothing to be a secret. I want it to be an accessible experience for brides. That’s also why I opened the showroom.”

Mx. Wiederhoeft lives with his partner, Paul Simon, 26, an artist and wedding photographer, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

When Covid started, I was supposed to release my first bridal collection. That got pushed back until July. Originally I was going to reimagine a number of pieces I had already designed and release them in white, but I scrapped everything and went with emotion instead. I made the collection in my apartment because the factory was closed, and the vendors were closed. I was cutting my curtains into dresses because I was out of fabric. It felt like a good way to start a bridal collection because my hand was on every detail.

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Covid has made it unrecognizable. The bridal pulse is weaker, but weddings are still happening. Retail buyers are looking for safe options and are sticking to what they know has sold. They’re afraid of going out of business. They’re not taking on new designers. When you’re new, that’s hard to hear. A lot of pillars and important stores went out of business. I love to find niche places where people go to find new designers and that’s become harder. Getting the clothes in front of people is how you’re going to grow the business, and if you can’t do that how are you going to grow?

Just an Old Fashion Girl is named after the Eartha Kitt song, with the same name. It’s an old fashion iconic classic that’s in your face. The collection is, too. It’s intense while remaining modern and nostalgic. It’s unapologetically historical and romantic in various shapes and ideas and still feels somewhat familiar while reconceptualizing the modern woman. The gowns are custom silk and cotton fabrics made in Italy and covered in embroidery, with bows, pearls, ribbons, sequences and cherubs.

I became depressed during Covid. I knew I wanted bridal, but I needed to keep making work that speaks to the brand that was an art piece and theatrical. The collection made me want to get up every morning. It was something bright and colorful — classic Mother Goose characters reimagined and redirected into a comic book format. It was created to make someone smile and improve their day. I thought that was therapeutic and important for all parties.

My apartment has been my studio for the past two years. This will be the first place not next to my kitchen. I wanted to create a magical and theatrical space, an experience that feels as though you’ve left Midtown. The floors are marbled green epoxy. The walls and ceilings are pink or green, and there’s a terrace. Replastered pedestals in pink are everywhere. People want to experience — we are experienced starved, and they want to play dress up. We’ve lost the ability to play. I want to bring it back. I’m crafting a world for them to come into to lift them up and let them start dreaming again, which we lost last year.

Celebration is the key word here. It’s all about the joy. I’m celebrating a person and a human rather than a gender. I want to cater to something that’s full of joy. And because we need to work harder on making sure the vocabulary around weddings is more inclusive.

Be flexible, open-minded and don’t be too serious. Now is a powerful time to take a step back. Places are opening again so try on everything. You never know what will make you feel like your most beautiful self. Try on what you love. Then try your second favorite. Then something you would never try on, because you might be surprised. It’s all very emotional. The dress might make you feel a certain way you didn’t expect.

The one-on-one time in the dressing room when the celebrant’s whole demeanor can change. Their eyes light up. It’s transformative. They can see their own story. They can envision the whole day. That moment of spark of life is the most beautiful thing to witness.

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