Art manager

Ex-Chanel manager launches clothing line

A WOMAN by Wargrave has launched its own range of women’s clothing.

Justine Kennedy, who was an account manager at Chanel, has always loved tailoring and decided to start her own tailoring and alterations business last year.

Now she’s busy designing dresses, tops, blouses and shorts for her By Just Designs collection, which launched online this week.

She said, “This is my very first collection and I’m so excited about it.”

Ms Kennedy, 51, who lives in Hamilton Road with her husband Simon, studied fashion design at university and has worked for major brands such as Dewhirst and World Duty Free.

She had been head of national accounts at Chanel in London for four years when she decided to step down in May 2021.

She had gotten used to being home during lockdowns, when she started making clothes again, and no longer liked commuting.

Ms Kennedy said: ‘It would take me two hours door to door and I was unprepared for this change so I quit and started my own business from home.

“I think for a lot of people the thought of going back to work in the office was daunting. It’s important to put your mental health first.

“I joined the Wargrave Facebook page and my business took off from there. Most of my clients come from referrals and word of mouth.

“I felt so lucky not to have to go back to work in London and I have such lovely clients.” She makes all the clothes in her collection, which will number up to 15 pieces. Customers can also order bespoke items.

Ms Kennedy said: ‘It’s just me making the clothes and it’s all handmade. It takes me about a day to make a dress but it’s a busy day.

“I love trendy sleeves and anything with pockets. I source all my materials from Fabric Godmother. The designs are beautiful and I love the quirky pieces.

“I am inspired by the couture of the 50s. My favorite film of all time is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey Hepburn’s outfits in the movie are amazing.

“When I worked for Chanel, we were flown to Paris to see the company’s archives, where a lot of the clothes dated back to the 1950s.

“I love Dior too. I find the behind-the-scenes processes so interesting and the way the woven fabrics are handmade.

“Chanel occasionally invites VIP guests to see couture launches and there is only one item ever made of each model.

“We never found out who was in the store looking at these items privately, but once they left we were allowed in to look at them.

“The woven garments are my favorite because the fabrics are hand woven and the attention to detail is just amazing.” She was working as a buyer for World Duty Free in 2012 when she was invited to the launch of Lady Gaga’s first fragrance, Fame, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Ms Kennedy said: ‘It’s one of my favorite places in the world because I love art galleries. I stayed near Central Park.

“The launch was the weirdest and most wonderful experience. As I was getting ready the night of the event, I knocked on my hotel door. A gentleman had been sent by Lady Gaga with a gift .

“He was only wearing black leather pants and a black leather eye mask and was holding a box. Inside the box was a black leather eye mask that I had to wear and he helped me put it on.

“I was then escorted out of the hotel and taken to the Guggenheim. Lady Gaga appeared encapsulated in an egg, where she was supposed to be sleeping.

“We were then invited to touch his hand. Once she woke up, there was a performance that ended with a hairstylist shaving the lower back of her hair and tattooing a cherub.

“My birthday was the next day, so I went to Tiffany’s and bought a beautiful bracelet and a cake from Magnolia Bakery, which is featured in sex and the city. I ate my birthday cake in Central Park.

During the lockdown, Ms Kennedy started making face coverings for her friends and neighbours.

She received donated materials and turned them into personal protective equipment for staff at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough. She made 600 items, including scrubs, masks, hats and toiletry bags to put the scrubs on for cleaning.

Ms Kennedy said: “I pulled out my old sewing machine because my daughter, Chloe, who is 26, wanted me to make her a dress.

“Then I was approached by a nursing home in Birmingham where my grandfather lived. They had no scrubs or masks and were desperate for PPE. I started making scrubs for the nurses and I have dismissed.

“Once the restrictions were lifted, I was asked to return to the London office. I worked in New Bond Street above the Chanel store.

“The pandemic had such an impact on me that I didn’t want to start commuting again.”

Once she was home all the time, she launched her alterations service.

Ms Kennedy said: “I got so many requests that I invested in new sewing machines. Last summer, I had eight prom dresses in one week for alterations.

“I get pants and suits that need to be tucked in. I always make sure to leave as much fabric as possible in case more changes are needed in the future.

“Some people find clothes that they’ve had in the back of their closet for years and bring them to me to makeover.

“I like to buy clothes that last me a long time and are of good quality. I think we have a good opportunity to try to reduce the consumption of fast fashion by recycling old clothes and buying pieces that will last forever.

For more information, email [email protected] or visit www.byjustdesigns.com