‘Real’ is the new black, says Hub designer
Reynolds D. Graves | 6/3/2009, 7:34 a.m.
Henry Nathaniel Jackson is an international fashion designer, not an economist. But the couture creator, who has worked with the likes of Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, has his own stimulus package on tap: his 2009/2010 HNJ fall fashion line.
While sticker prices on his pieces range from $1,000 to $10,000, the Boston native said he isn’t worried about staying in the black.
“If I were selling regionally, I would be concerned,” Jackson said. “[But] I’m also selling in Paris, New York City and parts of Asia, as well.”
Jackson held the Boston launch of his new collection at the Hyatt Regency downtown last Saturday. The line consists of what the designer called “real” women’s sizes, a decision inspired by the demand for a high-end, fashion-forward look designed and cut for women who may not be served by the industry’s often-narrow focus.
“The average size of women in America is 14, so I am dealing with a majority of women instead of a minority of women,” Jackson said. “We’re giving women the opportunity to wear something different.”
Asked to choose his favorite outfit from among the nearly 20 on display last Saturday, Jackson highlighted a bright orange dress worn by Chanel Clark, HNJ’s cover girl.
“I particularly like this dress because of the vibrancy of color,” he said. “I was envisioning Michelle Obama, and it really has an elegance that maybe only women of color can wear.”
For her part, Clark said she sees Jackson’s fashion line meeting an existing demand for a broader range of sizes, and noted that as a resident of New York City, “there are a lot of wealthy women in the size range that are ready and willing to spend the money.”
However, when it comes to actually selling the plus-sized women’s line, Clark said she is concerned about the attention that Jackson’s fashion line is receiving — or rather, the lack thereof.
“It’s hard when companies and magazines won’t promote it, but once it is marketed, we can show Vogue or Cosmo that we can wear his clothing,” she said. “If a plus model can wear it and make it look as good as a skinny model, and it can be put in a magazine, then the product will sell.”
In keeping with the theme that Jackson’s clothing line is for the “real” woman, a member of the audience, Dianne Holland, was asked to model a red cocktail dress at last Saturday night’s fashion show.
“I guess they just picked someone randomly from the audience to come up and show that any woman could wear the clothes that he makes,” said Holland, a human resources professional from Milton. “I felt honored, actually, just to get up there and work it.”
Her selection wasn’t 100 percent random, however — this was not the first time that Holland had worked with Jackson.
While modeling her way through college, Holland appeared in a few of Jackson’s shows in 1978 and 1979, the same years that he won the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union’s “America’s Next Great Designer” award. Back then, Holland noted, Jackson hadn’t turned his creative attention to “real”-sized women.
“I was glad to see Henry has expanded his collection to include the average woman,” she said. “Everybody is not a size two, and there are some of us out there that are [sizes] 8, 12, 14, 16 and higher.”
Perhaps no one in attendance appreciated Jackson’s work more than his sister, Deborah L. Shariff. The Dorchester-based filmmaker beamed with pride as she described watching her brother grow from a young man in the Camden Street housing development on Shawmut Avenue into the successful fashion designer that he is today.
“I was just telling … Henry that I thought it was wonderful how it was so attractive to see plus- and real-sized women in dresses and evening gowns, strutting their stuff,” said Shariff. “Bringing the show to Boston, where he was born, was just fantastic. … I can’t wait for him to really blow up so the world can get an opportunity to see his designs.”