Jamie Hayes’ fashion destiny seemed to be set from her very first day of kindergarten when she waited for the school bus wearing every piece of costume jewelry she could find in the house, along with a plastic charm necklace, and topped off with yellow plastic glasses borrowed from her beloved Mr. Potato Head doll. Now all grown up and working as a designer in Chicago, pieces of that early sensibility certainly remain. “My aesthetic is high-contrast,” says Jamie. “I tend to like broad strokes, blocks of color, pattern-mixing, big jewelry, bold gestures. But sometimes you need a clean palette in order to offset or frame these gestures. So I do have my minimalist side as well—that is in fact in service, ultimately, to my inner maximalist.”
Along with her unique approach to style, Jamie also takes her responsibility as a designer seriously—believing that clothing is a form of communication and self-expression, not just of individuals but also of the overall culture.
I am very interested in the effects of the fashion system on both garment workers and wearers.
To that end, Hayes operates her business in the alternative “slow fashion” system. Think the opposite of the Forever 21s and H&Ms of the world. “We are transparent about the provenance of our materials and our labor and aim to design high-quality, meaningful, timeless pieces.” In fact, Hayes recently returned from Mexico where she met with weavers, dyers, and textile curators as part of collaboration with artist Nuria Montiel for her next collection. Inspired by their respect and care for the Earth, she’s looking for ways to be even more eco-friendly in the future.
While making her own mark, Hayes can’t help but be influenced by the contemporary culture when working on new projects. “I see a huge relationship to the 1930s and current times and I’m finding a lot of inspiration from designers of that era,” Hayes explains. “The ‘30s had a populism that was expressed in the rise of fascism on one hand and socialism and social justice on the other. That decade, as with current times, was also a time of great change around issues of gender and sexuality.” It’s not hard to see how powerful, complicated, feminist icons like Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker, and Elsa Schiaparelli feel resonant today. Fashion and politics are often companions.
Her current inspirations will take shape as part of two lines she currently designs from Chicago: Department of Curiosities, a collection of silk lingerie and nightwear that she co-designs with Gerry Quinton which launched in June and Production Mode (launched in 2015), a line of printed and solid leathers whose second collection samples will be unveiled this spring. While Hayes realizes that Chicago is not a fashion capital at the moment, she smartly notes “neither was Antwerp until some enterprising designers put it on the map!” She also finds Chicago to be a very welcoming and symbiotic artistic community. “The beauty is that it’s cheap enough that we can take risks, thumb our noses at the system, take our time and let our ideas percolate, rather than be enslaved to the never-ending fashion schedule. And yet, it’s still a large, cosmopolitan city that has the wealth to support high-quality design.”