5 Minutes with…Jessica Akerman

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The £1 Dress!

We caught up with Jessica Akerman – artist and research forum events co-ordinator – to discuss her wardrobe. In her spare time, Jessica has been dressing for London Fashion Week (Mary Katranzou last year, Paul Smith and Topshop this year), helping the models with the quick turnaround in between shows. She obviously has an avid interest in dress and fashion, whether she realises it or not, and follows the style instagrams @vonsono and @susiebubble, in between sourcing interesting pieces from carboots, charity shops, sample sales and vintage stores.

On the sunny Thursday lunchtime that we met, Jessica was wearing a fabulous corduroy pinafore from the shop Mint in Stoke Newington, bright blue sandals from Miista in Shacklewell Lane, and a collection of jewellery that included gold bird earrings bought in Westcliff-on-Sea (in a ‘fantastic second-hand shop’); a fun Swatch watch (‘I love Swatch, I love the designs, the colours’); plastic chunky rings; and a beautiful art-deco style pendant that contained strands of hair belonging to her two children. She was obviously suspicious about the prospect of being interviewed, and had brought along a change of clothes – her 1980s ‘jazzy shirt’ – but settled on the pinafore, which had its own interesting story to tell:

‘We were having our kitchen done up, and we didn’t have a washing machine, so I was spending most of my weekends in the laundrette – waiting for the washing to finish, wearing a tracksuit and a Friends of the Earth man’s anorak. I went and found this couple of really nice Cord pinafores in the sale space of Mint, put them aside, and went back to get some money out and check on the washing. When I went back to the shop, someone had put them back on the rack, and I nearly started crying. But the man who was working there took me around all of the rails, looking for the dress and looking on the arms of all the women in the shop. And then he found it, and sort of gently wrestled it off this girl, who gave it up begrudgingly… but he told her he would give her some money off her own purchases at the till. The thing is that I never buy clothes for myself, and I can never find anything that suits me, and I was feeling like a right trugger because I was in a tracksuit, and I’d been at the launderette… but it was a happy story in the end’.

Jessica has also had her hair recently re-dyed to its natural colour, and had painted her nails gold. We felt that this was important to mention, since she pointed these details out to us, and obviously has a keen awareness (as we dress historians do) of fashion not solely in terms of items of clothing, but all of the additional modifications that we attach to or adapt our bodies with. She was also enthusiastic to tell us about her Urban Outfitters brown leather bag, which was the product of some extensive (online) research, and brought over from the U.S. by her partner, taxes in addition. Unfortunately, she was somewhat disappointed by the quality, since the lining had already begun to tear. [If you are reading this, @urbanoutfitters, then please do get in touch and we can organise getting a replacement to Jessica]

When quizzed as to how she might describe her style, Jessica responded with the usual ‘hmmmm… I don’t know really’, ultimately settling on ‘eclectic’. I asked her how she negotiates ‘off-duty’ and ‘on-duty’ clothing – combining outfits for the Courtauld, doing the school run and being creative in her Ridley Road studio in Dalston. ‘I look for practicality mostly… I suppose it doesn’t differ too much between home and work, although I wear less make-up at home, and definitely dress up less’.

One of the favourite pieces that Jessica has ever owned is a 1980s dress with ruffled sleeves in green and black that she bought for £1 at a car boot sale in Somerset. ‘I was 8 months pregnant at the time, so I didn’t actually know if it would fit. But when Kit was about 4-months old I was able to go out, and that was very exciting… it was like I’d won a prize, especially because it was so inexpensive’.

Thank you very much Jessica, it was great to hear some stories from your wardrobe. If you’d like to find out more about Jessica’s creative work please go to: jessicaakerman.com