While fashion history undoubtedly has its favorites — individuals whose stories are prominently featured in the canon — there are plenty more whose abilities and contributions to the business have fallen from public memory.
One of them is Jay Jaxon.
The designer, who rose to the helm of former French fashion house Jean-Louis Scherrer in the late 1960s and early 1970s, eventually designing for Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Dior, has largely been “hidden in the fashion and historical narrative,” according to Rachel Fenderson, fashion historian, curator, and leading authority on Jaxon.
“In Jeromine Savignon’s history ‘Jean-Louis Scherrer,’ Jaxon’s historical contributions to the Scherrer maison are not discussed nor mentioned,” Fenderson told WWD. According to a January 1970 WWD article covering his first haute couture collection for Scherrer, “Jay Jaxon is the new designer at Scherrer these days…. He has an excellent sense of color, which is evident in the wonderfully printed circular shawls he wears over late-day gowns.” While there, media coverage of the designer — who died of illness in 2006 after spending his final years in California as a costumer — is sparse.
“Jaxon was certainly smart in seeing that he would eventually be removed from fashion history,” Fenderson added.
This erasure motivated Fenderson to focus her master’s thesis at Parsons on the designer, and much of what is now public information about Jaxon originates from her work. So much so that the “ever-growing” archive she has been compiling over the last five years — which includes “historical and theoretical books, over 50 newspaper articles, magazines, garments, clothing labels, primary sourced interviews, census and legal documentation, obituaries, photographs, travel IDs, voice recordings, correspondences, résumés, illustrations, technical flats, and signatures — will inform her forthcoming book on Jaxon.
WWD speaks with Fenderson about his life, why the world knows so little about him, and why Jay Jaxon should be remembered.
WWD: Can you tell us about Jay Jaxon?
Jay Fenderson: Rachel Fenderson Jason Jaxon…was a visionary in the fashion world. He recognized the importance of utilizing his auto-agency [a term Fenderson used in her thesis to refer to the act of assisting oneself in preserving and safeguarding one’s own legacy and harvesting one’s own power to do so] to safeguard his own legacy. Jaxon was probably smart in anticipating his erasure from the fashion historical narrative. While breaking into fashion, Jaxon saved several documents, clothing labels, and autographed tear sheets to ensure that his creations were not lost in the archives of firms, newspapers, and magazines, never to be seen again. At the end of the day, Jaxon was dynamic, and according to his friends, family, and love Lloyd Hardy, Jaxon was very clear about who he was and what he desired. Arlene Patterson, Jay’s sister, once declared, “Jay was ahead of his time.” Jaxon was bold and unafraid to pursue his aspirations; he adored his job as a designer. ay Jaxon was a three-in-one player. A true designer in every sense of the word. He designed his own patterns, created his own pictures and technical flats, and hand-sewed as well as machine-sewn clothing. When checking outfits such as suits, furs, eveningwear, hats, skirts, slacks, and Westcott vests that Jaxon created for his friends who are entertainers in the industry, it was clear that these items were sewn by hand. Whether an artist creates bespoke, hand-sewn, or haute couture garments, the process is extremely time consuming and labor intensive. It is uncommon for designers to be adept in all aspects of the design process (which includes pattern making/draping, sewing, illustration, and technical flat drawing), [but] Jaxon demonstrated this personally by creating chic and timeless items. Additionally, he could design for any brand; Jaxon’s portfolio is large and extensive. He designed for a variety of clients, including Benson & Partners, Jay Jaxon for Muney, Jay Jaxon for Jou-Jou, Jay Jaxon for Pierre Cardin (American Collection), and John Kloss. To adapt to various brands’ auras, firm legacy, and global mark, a designer must see the whole picture and be completely immersed in that brand. Jaxon accomplished this with ease.