The Interview: Jane Atelier founder Jane Lewis on quiet luxury and little black dresses
Jane Atelier founder Jane Lewis has been advocating for quiet luxury (not that she calls is that) and conscious consumption for 20 years. She's never wavered, even if it has felt like she's been an outlier at times with her discreet aesthetic, inspired by classic couture shapes and executed in the highest quality fabrics.
Fashion now seems to have come round to her way of thinking and while she's happy about that, she's also acutely aware that fashion by its very definition is temporary and the quiet luxury movement may be a trend, which may or may not endure.
"That premise has been inherent since I started my business 20 years ago. I don't do it for straplines. That's my underlying and profound believe that less is more and I prefer that aesthetic," she says.
"I just prefer a discreet and distilled aesthetic and I always did. It's not because I'm leaning towards a trend. Fashion is very cyclical, so every aesthetic gets its turn, that's the natural rhythm of fashion. It's authentic what we do, I believe in style over fashion," she adds.
We're speaking to Lewis as she unveils a new collection of LBDs in time for the festive season. But this is festive season Jane Lewis-style, there isn't a sequin in sight but instead a considered edit of dresses designed to suit a multitude of women's bodies and to be worn for many occasions and for years to come. Prices range from £232 to £760, so a wide range of budgets too are catered for.
The collection includes eight pieces covering pencil, tunic, wrap, and fit and flare styles. For those that don't want a dress, her main collection includes a black velvet three-piece suit option with echoes of classic Saint Laurent. But another French fashion icon validated the idea of this collection for Lewis. She had recently paid a visit to the V&A to see the Coco Chanel exhibition and knew she was on the right track with her plans.
"I just felt it in my bones that I wanted to do an LBD edit. We all have one, we all want one. It's just a small edit of beautiful dresses I really like,"she says.
Nothing comes out of the Jane Atelier that Lewis doesn't "really like". She has a tight, loyal and long-standing team around her to help her run her London-based business but every design has come from her own head, heart and hand. She draws everything herself and selects every fabric and manufacturer (many of the garments are made in the UK with some in Romania "in a very lovely factory that is very sustainably minded"). Fabrics come largely from Italy, including jersey, crepes and lightweight tweeds with lace sourced from France.
She knows all of her suppliers personally and they've all been selected as they share her values of quality, sustainability and style over fashion. "Everything has nice associations and connotations," she says of the supply chain.
And one of the other nice connotations that makes Jane Atelier somewhat unusual in fashion is that Lewis has maintained full control of the business since the beginning, so she can stay true to her values without pressure from external investors for instance.
"It's fundamental," she says of the importance of her independence to the running of the business. "I am authentic in as much as I am drawing each piece. Each piece is coming from a studio, it comes from my hands, I can't let that go. I'm touching everything. I see everything that comes out of here."
Outside of the LBDs, what comes out of the Jane Atelier studio each season are carefully crafted dresses, tailoring, separates and knits that are designed to be considered additions to a woman's wardrobe. Lewis does not wildly change direction each season but updates her collection, perhaps with new colours, prints, fabrics and details, to offer her clientele something new that they can adopt and adapt to suit their lifestyles.
"I'm constantly thinking about the different ways in which someone can wear a piece. Where will she wear it? What different shoes can she wear with it?" she explains.
Versatility and durability is key, which is why she turns to the designs of the 60s and 70s for her inspiration. And inspiration is the key word here, the result is not a recreation of those times, but a modern take.
"None of the clothes we do are a pastiche of those times. Everything we do is about a reduction but not to the point of being unbelievably minimalist. To me it’s really very simple. Clean lines, excellent cuts, beautiful colours. The good thing about these silhouettes is they take an accessory well, so you can update them with different shoes, bags or jewellery. They afford you flexibility," she says.
Each piece typically has one design detail (be it a belt. button, pocket or ruche) that defines it. While it looks simple, though, it's anything but since the construction and cut are considered down to the last millimetre. "It looks like nothing’s going on – everything’s going on," Lewis stresses.
One of the reasons Lewis doesn't quite embrace the quiet luxury label is that she is not in the business of making incredibly expensive clothing and she believes people can make a considered purchase at whatever level of the market they are able to shop, be that one of her dresses or a t-shirt from Gap (which she frequently wears) made from nice quality cotton. "I'm acutely aware of what's going on in the world right now, so I'm not all about spending lots of money. True sustainability starts with a mindful purchase. It's not about money," Lewis says.
While it's not about money, it's also not about being boring. Jane Atelier dresses women for all occasions, not just formal occasions or work. "We dress women, bar a ballgown, pretty much 24 hours a day. We are a fashion company but we are a style company first.
"It's much better to walk into a room and be thought of as unbelievably stylish than being unbelievably fashionable."
With this thought, her mind returns to the Chanel exhibition and the evergreen fashion on display. "A lot goes into making something looking stylish and timeless. There's a reason why some products survive for decades and decades and it's because they were inherently fabulous," she says.
Lewis's designs may or may not end up in a museum in years to come but they will be in women's wardrobes, as she says: "If fashion’s the weather. We fly above the weather."