Mary Jo Matsumoto Fall 2011

September is fashion’s big moment for change and fresh beginnings. But every change of season comes also with the challenge of investing carefully in pieces that will endure fashion’s caprices and that will stand the test of time. Discovering a collection that is truly timeless…minimalistic and clean, qualities that bring out the beauty of a garment and which make an item elegant, wearable, functional and durable.  This is the exact impression that the Mary Jo Matsumoto Fall line left me when I first saw it a few months back. And how can you expect less from a designer who collaborated with the patternmakers who had also worked with James Galanos, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent?

For a fashion lover I don’t think there is anything more exciting than to find out how a collection takes shape from the designer himself/herself. Maybe except for owning one of the beautiful creations we admire on the catwalk or in the advertising campaigns, like my favourite pieces from this collection, the incredibly simple and elegant grey silk charmeuse midi dress with raglan sleeves or the black silk velvet halter gown, the epitome of sophisticated evening glamour. I am honored that Mary Jo was kind enough to share such details with me and my readers.

Tell me a little about this line. Who is the woman you design for, the Mary Jo Matsumoto woman?
In some ways, my clothing line is about the perfect wardrobe that I wanted to own. Each piece is constructed as a “forever” piece, lined in silk. I design for a woman who enjoys fashion and likes an occasional touch of whimsy, but might have a very busy career/social life along with being a mom.  I also wanted to give women the experience of wearing a suit that wasn’t black. A feminine soft pink wool can look amazing and modern and gray is softer and more forgiving on a woman than some of the harder colors we’re accustomed to.

The key pieces of the line are based on late 1930s piece from my personal collection, and almost every piece contains a unique vintage detail that I felt was beautiful and rare, like the portrait collar jacket or my knot dress. Even simple pieces like the pencil skirt are taken from the construction of a pencil skirt from the 30s, which had a real kick pleat, not the cheap V-slit that you’ll often see in modern pencil skirts. All the pieces have little luxuries like extra fabric at the waistband so that the fastener doesn’t rub against your skin (and can be easily altered if you gain or lose weight). This was standard 50 years ago, but factory made clothing really changed that–if you’ve ever owned a dress where the snap, hook or zipper rubbed uncomfortably against your skin, you know what I’m talking about.

What was the inspiration behind the collection? 
My collection started taking shape when I first fell in love with vintage clothing from the late 30s, and my friend and vintage dealer David, opened doors to meeting some of the last great patternmakers who had worked with James Galanos, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. I feel so fortunate that I had this opportunity to work with them, and as a result was able to create a line that was classic with some of the vintage details that are really hard to find {and patternmakers who had actual experience constructing these kinds of details}. To me, if you copy vintage literally, then it’s just about costume making, but if you find special details and modify them for modern women who need to travel, walk, sit, eat, and breathe comfortably in their clothes—whether it’s at a party or at work-then it becomes something unique.

My goal is to make beautiful clothes that can function in lots of different ways. In a perfect world we would all wear cocktail dresses and fancy outfits on a daily basis, but the way our world works, we rarely wear the full suit together. We might wear the jacket with jeans, the silk top with a pencil skirt, the pants with a tee shirt. This is the world we live in and so separates are essential. I wanted to create some great separates along with a few key dresses.

When did you know you wanted to be a fashion designer? 
I was a good student as a kid but never liked math and would doodle all over my homework pictures of girls wearing intricate outfits and gowns. My math tests would come back and the teacher would write, “study more next time, but nice drawing!” I think kids always have a sense of what they’re supposed to be doing in the world. I didn’t study to be a fashion designer–I was at NYU studying film when Marc Jacobs was launching his first collections. Some of my friends were the videographers for his first shows. I think the film production experience served me well in the process of manufacturing, and my love of film + art also play a big role in my design life.

What is your greatest challenge as a designer?
My greatest challenge so far as a designer is the cost. Working with the best patternmakers, finest fabrics, and best sewers makes the garments more expensive to manufacture than something I could have made at a factory in China. Deciding whether I’m going to stay in this arena or succumb to the pressure and create more affordable lines has been an ongoing debate at work this year and I don’t have a final answer.

Thank you, Mary Jo, for accepting my invitation.

You can see the entire Mary Jo Matsumoto Fall collection as well as the designer’s lines of fine jewelry and handbags on Mary Jo’s official website, Mary Jo Matsumoto, and you can also visit her blog, Trust Your Style.

photos: courtesy of Mary Jo Matsumoto

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