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Frontal, Mitra Walter, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Lyons Wier Gallery, New York.

New York Fashion Week at My House

A visit to the New York studio/living room of a family’s style director who has a week’s worth of laundry ahead of her.

Jessica Francis Kane, the woman behind the eponymous JFK brand, is an under-the-radar talent who will have her New York Fashion Week debut this season. The pressure is on, but she'll start the week, as she usually does, with laundry. An extra touch, however, and something other designers are not yet doing, is adding fabric softener to the loads. Insiders say this could wreak havoc on her active-wear line, but JFK is “tired of all the static” and plans to proceed.

Nevertheless, complications abound. Busy schedules and some in-house miscommunication have resulted in JFK running out of contact lenses, so she will be walking this fashion week in glasses. (JFK is sole proprietor, designer, and model for her brand—another innovation in an industry struggling to stay relevant.) The glasses are not actually her current back-up pair (which broke when she sat on them last month in the Le Pain Quotidien on Hudson Street), but old ones from her college days. Retro cool? She hopes so.

The up-and-coming design star came of age at a time when bangs were feathered, girls wore lip gloss on lanyards around their necks, Moon boots were coveted, and leg warmers were the height of fashion. JFK is committed to the hand-me-down and believes in fleece. She started the JFK line five years ago when not folding her family’s clean laundry became habitual. “I wanted to push the boundaries of that,” she says thoughtfully, “to really see what was possible. To me, ‘ready wear’ means you can wear it straight out of the dryer and ‘bespoke’ refers to something hemmed at the dry cleaners.”

She does not create her own fabric, nor work magic with yarns. Nor is she known for strong lines or bold patterns. But she can expertly shave a sweater that has begun to pill and has had the same winter coat for eight years. Some call her a genius at “making do.” When a shoelace broke recently on one of her sneakers, she quickly re-laced the shoe with the shorter string, astonishing the crowd at Bleecker Street playground.

Others say she has a knack for shopping across catalogs in strikingly inventive ways, so that her style might best be described as L.L. Bodens’ End. This was popular with her children, her primary clients, until recently, when her 11-year-old rebelled and demanded to be taken to a Forever 21.

The venue for the JFK show is an untested locale in the West Village. The second floor of the public library on Leroy Street will host several shows on Friday afternoon between story time and math tutoring. All the designers showing there this week are mothers, sparking a controversy in recent days as to whether this is the “mommy ghetto” of Fashion Week.

She has a knack for shopping across catalogs in strikingly inventive ways, so that her style might best be described as L.L. Bodens’ End.

The designers in question, however, couldn’t care less, and are reportedly going out for a glass of wine afterward.

JFK laughs at the suggestion of a brewing controversy. Last year, after the JFK show at the indoor playground Jungle Java in Michigan over winter break, the anti-vaccination activist Jenny McCarthy expressed interest in wearing her line. JFK flatly refused, saying, “Over my dead body.” Asked now whether she regretted this—it might have been a big break for a new designer—she says, “I only regret the clichéd metaphor. I wish I'd expressed my disdain for that woman more originally.”

And indeed, at this week’s JFK show, all attendees will be given a copy of Eula Biss’s On Immunity. “I’ll probably be criticized for providing swag you have to read, and I doubt it will fit in those teeny tiny handbags, but it’s something I feel strongly about.”

The JFK collection favors grays and whites and other light colors that don’t reveal cat hair. She also keeps her accessories simple, with a black leather shoulder bag for this collection and the exact same leather shoulder bag for the spring. JFK footwear, however, has recently expanded. “The idea that I would have tall boots and ankle boots is very exciting to me. It’s not something I would previously have been able to imagine.”

A strength of the JFK line is her sleepwear, a name JFK insists is derogatory. “I work whole days in these clothes!” she says. The sets come in a variety of colors, patterns, and thicknesses. When visited last week in her New York studio (best described as a living room with a desk in it), JFK, sporting a fuzzy dark blue pajama set, demonstrated how she pairs this with a bright scarf to transition from day to evening.

JFK relies a lot on scarves.

Her outerwear includes affordable hats and mittens found on sale at an outdoor Christmas craft market. She is also attempting to reinvent the concept of the elegant leather glove. Hers are slightly melted at the palm from trying to warm her hands over an open fire in Copenhagen several years ago. She says the moment was an inspiration.

“Sure the leather is not as supple and shiny as it was,” she admits, holding them up and turning them lovingly in the light, “and some might find the cracking bubbles unsightly, but to me they now hold a memory.”

The active-wear line makes up the bulk of the JFK collection, with many options available. She has sub-divided the line into what she calls “eras,” i.e., pre-natal, post-partum, post-partum depression, trying to swim regularly, running, running again after a bout of sciatica. “I’m drawn to fashion as journey,” she says.

JFK plans to show short videos and other sneak peeks of the collection on her iPhone each day leading up to the Feb. 20 show. For her runway imagery she is partnering with her son’s third grade class, and although event information is still top secret, rumors have emerged that it will involve pizza and a movie. Some are saying there may even be a sleepover.

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