5 question for...Fairfield fashion designer Jennifer Butler
Published 3:57 pm, Thursday, March 30, 2017
FAIRFIELD — Local resident Jennifer Butler knew what direction her career would take at an early age, and she’s going to lend her expertise at a fashion show and luncheon April 6 as part of the Fairfield Museum’s latest exhibit, “Talkin’ Bout My Generation: Fairfield in the 1960s & 1970s.”
As part of the luncheon, Butler will discuss how retro styles influence today’s fashions and show off her latest line of clothing.
For seven years, Butler had a retail shop on the Post Road but moved into studio space at the Sportsplex four years ago.
“I wanted to get back into running into New York for fabric, and designing,” Butler said. “I don’t work well in retail.”
But she found herself a bit lonely and soon will be moving to ground floor space in Greenfield Hill, next to Bonda Restaurant, where she can focus on design and “do retail” by appointment.
Q: How long have you been a designer? What sparked it as a career for you?
A: I sold my first pieces at 16. I had literally sewn for a while and made my own dresses and took them into a dress shop. I went back a week later and they had sold, and I was like, I have a job.
It was cool. I made what I wanted, and hopefully, people bought it, and if they didn’t, I’d figure something out. And I have just literally been doing it from there.
I was a tailor’s apprentice for a while to learn how to fit people and to learn different techniques. And then I went to Rhode Island School of Design at night and worked at the tailor’s during the day and never really finished school. I just kept selling and decided I’d make my way that way. Which isn’t the normal way, but it’s a very creative way, and it allows you to make your product and not wait to put your shingle out.
Q: Do you have some favorite styles from the ‘60s and ‘70s?
A: Oh, yeah. I learned to sew on 1960s patterns.
That’s why I love this. I think the show is so cool, because I learned to sew in the early ‘80s, when everything was a big, ugly box, but I was sewing these 1960s mod clothes, because I was a mod kid — you know, the punk kids and the mod kids. And I would wear these little mini dresses to clubs and shows and that’s how I learned to sew because those patterns really fit.
And I made really cool things. I once made a dress out of a sheet to go to the first U2 show in America. My mother told me I couldn’t leave the house because it was too short. I was like, “I made this out of sheet. I’m leaving the house.”
So, I love all the little dresses. I had Dawn dolls when I was little. I just love that little bit glamorous — but feminine — but strong look. I think is a great way for women to grow up looking.
And I probably carry it into my aesthetic today, without even realizing it.
A: It’s completely different. The 60s definitely, you went from neo super conservative into the Jackie Kennedy perfectly-put-together thing in the mid to late 60s, and you get into the late 60s and you’re into the hippie area. I don’t think there was a decade that really stretched it in dramatic change more than the 60s.
The 50s was still really conservative, and the 60s were just coming out of that in the beginning, but if you go 60s to the 70s, the freedom of expression and clothing just changed so dramatically in such a short period of time, it’s shocking. It’s probably not going to happen again. But if you think about those 10 years, those were pivotal. 1960 to 1970 — that was crazy.
And then the 70s just got a little too nuts. It was a little too drug and disco influenced to be realistic and you look back and you’re like, “Oh my god.”
But if you look back at three-quarter of the clothes from the 60s, you’d wear them now. So, I would definitely prefer the 60s over the 70s, although I do love a good flare. Those are flattering — I don’t think people realize how flattering it is.
Q: Did the Fairfield fashionistas follow the national trends?
A: I’m sure you’ve got the gamut of everything. Fairfield was a conservative, semi-conservative town then. But I can definitely tell you, I’m sure every high school kid didn’t look exactly like their mom or dad. There probably was some ageism going on there, where younger people were a little funkier. I think you’re close enough to the metro New York area that you are going to pick up on that, but it’s not going to be as crazy as if you are in the middle of a cornfield wearing a Pucci print jumpsuit.
Q: How can the average person work one of these trends from say, the 60s, into their wardrobe without looking silly, or like they’re wearing a costume?
A: I think you see it without even trying. I think the influence of that decade is always around.
You definitely see it around here with all the little Lily Pulitzer-type dresses, those brightly colored little dresses. That’s one way that I feel that trend has definitely gone.
But if you really want to go full vintage, if you’re talking about wearing vintage clothing, I think the important thing is not to do it head to toe. So get a really funky shirt from the ‘70s, and wear it with a pair of jeans. Wear a crazy pair of pants with a black tee shirt. Update the shoe. The shoes are a big difference, or wear a crazy pair of ‘70s shoes with a black dress. There’s little pieces of it that will definitely pull it together, that shows you’re aware, that you kind of have a fashionable take on things, but you’re not taking it literally. None of this should ever be taken literally.
The Fashionable Fairfield show and luncheon will be held April 6 at noon at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, 370 Beach Road. Tickets are $40 per person. To purchase tickets, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fashionable-fairfield-a-jennifer-butler-fashion-show-lunch-tickets-32124563434.