"How can you make me look like Joan?"
That's the question that costume designer Janie Bryant often hears from fans of her work, especially for her figure-celebrating and sultry-chic '60s wardrobe for Christina Hendricks as office manager-turned-business owner, Joan Holloway on "Mad Men." (Understandably, "What is Jon Hamm really like?" is usually the other burning query.)
"The curvy girls would always ask me, 'When are you going to design cute clothes for us?' explained Los Angeles-based Bryant on a visit to New York in October. "That was consistent throughout every single event I ever did." The Los Angeles-based costume and fashion designer was in town for a sneak peek of her new size 12-to-24 womenswear line, JXB by Janie Bryant, which will launch later this month.
"Mad Men" ended its run in 2015 and since then, Bryant has been non-stop costume-designing for a wide range of productions, including Old Hollywood glamour on "The Last Tycoon," a terrifying Pennywise update in "It" and creator Matthew Weiner's new series "The Romanoffs," now on Amazon Prime. Not to mention, she's racked up design collaborations with fashion brands, like Black Halo, Unique Vintage, Maidenform and Banana Republic. But the aforementioned oft-asked question was always in the back of Bryant's mind.
"I felt like women from sizes 12 to 24 really needed something that was special, beautiful, flirty, feminine, sexy and really fit them well, with great fabrics," she continued. "They inspired me to create JXB. It's been two years in the making."
The direct-to-consumer line focuses on denim — the finest Japanese Kurabo — and high-quality, investment fabrics: silk, Mongolian cashmere and real leather, all infused with comfortable and figure-enhancing stretch. JXB debuts with an inaugural campaign starring brand ambassador Marquita Pring, who also gave first-hand input on the fit of the pieces as she shot the campaign.
"I've been modeling for 14 years and never once has anybody come to me and ask, 'How does it fit? How does it feel?' or wanting advice or suggestions," said Pring, joining Bryant for the meeting in the brand's PR agency HQ.
Bryant says the model and activist was her number-one choice to represent the debut collection and the two immediately bonded over their shared values. "We really wanted women involved that had really voiced their opinion about wanting the fashion industry to change and who were like-minded and believed in women's empowerment," said Bryant.
Bryant and Pring's sartorial tastes happen to align, too. "Your thing was definitely 'tighter, tighter.' You love tighter, which is incredible because that's how I am," said Pring, with a laugh, to Bryant. "I want to be just snatch at the waist. I want it to fit my curves, you know? I've always found with other denim companies, I get cut and pinched in places where it's not flattering." Plus, the foundation of JXB jeans feature "Fit Fluid," a mesh and lycra control panel running from the side seam into the fly, across the stomach and onto the back to "really contour the body," says Bryant.
The denim selection offers front-split skinnies, pearl-embellished distressed styles, dark-wash flares, a figure-defining patchwork coat and the most adorable, made-for-Boomerangs oversize jacket with silver beaded fringe down the back. The season-less line also features classic and versatile pieces to layer and mix-and-match, including a super chic rose-gold moto, various takes on a crisp-white button-down, waist-defining floral maxi-dresses, downy soft cashmere in sculptural silhouettes and wear-with-everything leather leggings. New pieces will be introduced every six to eight weeks.
With prices starting at $98 for cotton tees, $480 for knits, $660 for silks, $1,100 for leathers and $298 for the denim offerings, JXB sits proudly in the luxury category — which is precisely Bryant's point. Through dressing a diverse range of shapes and sizes in her costume design work, she regularly experienced a dearth of high-quality options that met her expectations and reputation for design and detail. And we know that luxury fashion has a plus-size problem.
"Having better fabrics would create better fits and just better quality all around," said Bryant. "It feels better. It looks better. It fits better."
Pring, clad in the black floral wrap dress, was refreshingly frank in her agreement. "The clothes I do often model, I'm not really a fan of, honestly — a lot of the fast fashion," she said. "I'm so happy to be able to identify with a brand that is of quality. You can invest in a piece and have it for a long time. I was happy to have an option."
Bryant also wants to use JXB's direct-to-consumer model to communicate directly with her customers (and die-hard fans). A social campaign, UnXte ("unite" and hashtag "#X"), will accompany the brand's launch. Bryant plans to grow UnXte into a greater community platform, starting with Instagram takeovers by Pring and fellow brand ambassadors Tara Lynn, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2019 Rookie, and Saffi, British model and actress. The three will regularly jump on the JXB Instagram (@brandjxb) to "give tips, hear their feedback and exchange advice and ideas," said Pring.
Bryant, who has more than 42,000 followers on her own Instagram, will join in when she can, too, although she's prefers more direct contact. "I don't even text. I love communication," says Bryant, who values regular contact with her fans and supporters, who essentially helped bring JXB to fruition. "Let's talk on the phone!"
"Like every other week," joked Pring, with a smile. "Show up at the office and just hop on."
Homepage photo: Courtesy of JXB