Auckland-based designer James Dobson began his eponymous label Jimmy D in 2004. Renowned for his masterful play on androgynous, oversized silhouettes combined with body-conscious elements, the talented designer has been featured in international publications such as Vogue Japan and Vogue Korea. Sportswear International selected Jimmy D as one of ‘The eight most directional collections today.’
This year, Dobson will be able to add another accolade to his already impressive resume; sitting on the judging panel of the 2019 World of WearableArt (WOW) alongside celebrity stylist B. Åkerlund.
We spoke to him about his WOW expectations, his issues with so-called sustainable designers and being included in Te Papa.
How did you become a WOW judge?
I was honoured enough to be approached by the WOW team last year. We had a phone meeting, talked about the process and all were instantly on the same page and got on super well.
I think having judged a few awards previously, including being a guest judge on Project Runway NZ, probably popped me up on their radar. I also know that a few members of the WOW team have Jimmy D pieces in their wardrobe which is flattering!
WOW gives designers the opportunity to be innovative, original and push the boundaries of creativity. Can you describe how this aligns with your own label’s ethos or aesthetic?
I’ve always made sure with my own label there’s a mix of wearable, commercial pieces and pieces that represent more pure, undiluted creativity. I think fashion should challenge and always be striving to push forward. Something that is truly new will probably be a little unsettling at first, and I’ve always thought that true newness is always on the knife-edge of bad taste — things that feel so wrong now will feel so right soon. That’s the fashion cycle.
What will you be looking for as a 2019 World of WearableArt judge?
Things that are free of commercial constraints, and looks that give you goosebumps! I’m really excited to see how this years entrants are working with technology and the environment in a way that is more than just lip service.
You started your label back in 2004. How has it evolved in this time?
A few years ago we did a small retrospective of the label and going back through the archives I was surprised at how consistent we’ve been over all this time – darkness and humour have been a strong force in all the collections since the beginning. We’ve definitely been embracing colour and print a lot more in recent seasons. I’m enjoying finding the potential for darkness and weirdness in colour at the moment.
Where do you go for inspiration when working on a new collection?
I think the best thing is not to go looking for inspiration, but just generally feeding your creative side. I also really like removing myself from my normal surroundings – whether it be travelling overseas or just sitting in a café somewhere and being alone with my thoughts — there’s too much ‘noise’ in my workroom sometimes!
How do you want people to feel when wearing your clothes?
Invincible, powerful, sexy and like the best version of themselves.
What’s been your career highlight?
Having Te Papa purchase two complete looks; one from my AW11 collection, and one from my last AW19 collection. It’s pretty humbling to know that there are pieces of mine that will be archived forever in a national collection.
Do you have any design heroes?
Just anyone that isn’t afraid to be fearless with their creativity and have an uncompromising vision — it’s a cliché but designers like Rick Owens, Rei Kawakubo, Vivienne Westwood and Helmut Lang would be some of my heroes.
What’s your best advice for someone wanting to follow a similar career path?
Just make sure you’re offering something different, and try to say something with your clothes. It isn’t enough to be New Zealand made — if you can go into a chain store and can buy something similar you’re not going to survive.
How important is sustainability to you in the current eco-conscious climate?
I kind of have a problem with the term sustainability, it’s very vague and is a smokescreen that a lot of designers are hiding behind at the moment. This is why you won’t see us putting our hand up and saying we’re a sustainable or eco-brand even though we’re probably just as sustainable or eco as some of the brands that are wheeled out as exemplars of these terms, and we’re not putting our hand up until we know the supply chain of every fabric, button and fusing we’re working with and deal with any fabric waste in a truly ‘sustainable’ way.
What I can say is that we are 100% New Zealand made, we work with our makers on pricing that truly values their time and skills, and we source a lot of our fabric from the same suppliers that some of the biggest eco brands also source fabric from. In our last collection 87% of our fabrics are entirely natural fibres (not mixed with any spandex, polyester etc) which means they are biodegradable, but we do have more work to do to make sure these are all 100% free of toxins from the dying and the manufacturing process (even organic cotton can be dyed with inorganic dyes).
Ultimately, we’re about making clothes that people will cherish, our design process and price point means we’re not making disposable trend-based fashion. We’re a work in process but we’re open about that!
Where can we follow you?
What don’t you leave the house without?
The feeling that I’ve left the oven on.
The World of WearableArt is on 26 September – 13 October. Get your tickets here.
All images courtesy of Jimmy D and the World of WearableArt.