The Interview: Jane Lewis, Founder and Creative Director, Jane
It's a rare thing to be a founder of a fashion brand and remain 100% in control of your business and 100% committed to the same vision you had when you started out two decades earlier. But both things are true of Jane Lewis who has been at the helm of her quietly successful luxury fashion brand, Jane, since the day it was established 20 years ago.
"I like to be the captain of my own ship," says Lewis from her central London atelier, tucked away in the basement of a grand house in Marylebone. "It's my company, it's not just my name. I'm on the coalface, I attend the fit meeting, I try on the toiles. When I say I've designed it, I've designed it."
Initially named Goat, as the brand started out with knitwear, Jane has amassed a growing, and in many cases extremely high profile, fanbase, thanks to its exquisitely made, timeless designs that can take women from work to a wedding – and a hundred other scenarios in between – with confidence and ease.
Politicians, broadcasters, royals, celebrities, art gallerists and business leaders are among those on the client list and they all want a bit of Jane (the woman and the brand). These days the brand is perhaps best known for its dresses, which hark back to the couture shapes of the 60s and 70s (with a nod to the 40s thrown in the SS23 season) and come in solid colours or tasteful florals. However there is also a wide selection of separates including neat skirts, trousers, boxy jackets (which often sit perfectly over shift dresses) and outerwear, along with blouses and knitwear.
Fabrics, including wool, viscose and a substantial viscose-polyamide-mix jersey, are typically sourced from Italy, while the clothes themselves are made in the UK as far as possible, and, where that's not possible, in Eastern Europe. The finish is precise. "It's all in the centimetres and millimetres," explains Lewis of her obsession with detail and quality of finish.
Prices for dresses range from around £500 and around £800 but jersey, which is a relatively recent addition to the line-up, comes in at sub-£500 for a dress. However Jane's approach to jersey is characteristically different or "considered" as Lewis likes to describe it. The jersey in question has structure and is designed to support the wearer and lend confidence without being skin-tight – this is not a brand we can expect body-con from any time soon. But that's not to say that new ideas and trends are not introduced each season.
For SS23 season a more fluid jersey wrap dress has been introduced with signature seventies styling such as gently puffed sleeves with buttoned cuffs, while a mini cape has been added to the jacket line-up giving women the option to wear it over an evening dress or for day over a simple jumper and trouser ensemble, for instance (we know this because Lewis, who at the time of the interview was wearing a chic white knit and black wide leg pants, tries it on herself to demonstrate).
"It's about balance," says Lewis of the blend of timelessness with trend. "I'm distilling the properties of the trends that resonate with me in my handwriting. I like to present ideas in the collection that sometimes people aren't ready for and when they try them, they like them."
All this is about is giving customers the option to add more carefully considered pieces into their wardrobe each season, rather than re-inventing themselves every six months. And each new piece has to be versatile. "I really take that responsibility seriously," explains Lewis. "I'm always thinking about how many ways something can be worn. It's timeless and I think that's it's quiet strength."
Lewis is known for her own quiet strength and quiet personal style. For 20 years she has been an advocate of eschewing fads and "buying carefully and buying intelligently" which is now the mantra many are starting to adopt in the face of serious economic and environmental headwinds.
That doesn't mean she thinks women should abandon the idea of fashion ("I love fashion, I'm in it," she says) but toning things down and investing only in key pieces is not only smart shopping but it can also be liberating and will level-up your look. "It's not boring," Lewis asserts, "It's not giving up, it's stepping up. Fashion by its very nature tells you what to wear, whereas stye is individual."
This approach should set the brand in good stead as we navigate the stormy economic climate. "There are perilous times ahead in fashion," she says and she spends a lot of time considering how the economic turbulence will affect the way her customers want to shop. "It's about reading the room and reading the global room and it's important to bear that in mind [when designing a collection]. I'm not saying to our customers 'buy everything", I'm saying 'buy carefully and buy intelligently. What you invest in now will be a sound investment'."
At the time of our interview, the UK is still in the midst of yet another 'unprecedented' crisis brought about by new Prime Minister Liz Truss's mini-budget, which sent the financial markets into turmoil and hit consumer confidence hard. "That sort of sentiment can cast a long shadow and you have to be responsive," says Lewis. "That said, I'm confident because our collection is working well and we work consistently to ensure everything has value."
Given how perilous times have been of late, particularly for small brands with no outside investment, it's quite something that Jane has made it through and, against this backdrop, is still quietly and steadily growing. "We're still here and that is an achievement in itself," says Lewis. She says she still enjoys it and has no intention of stepping back so, while nothing in this world is certain at the moment, it's probably safe to assume that Jane will still be here in another 20 years with Lewis still at the helm happily obsessing over every last detail.