Guest Blogger from New York: Elena Bowes looks at Jussara Lee

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Today’s guest blogger is reader Elena Bowes, a London based American cultural writer who finds herself in New York a lot. She has volunteered to search out interesting stores and events happening in NYC for us, for anyone visiting. Over to you Elena…

I was born in San Francisco, moved to New York City after university and then onto London in the eighties. With two of my three children now grown and living in or near Manhattan, not to mention a toy-boy (two months younger, every second counts) also based in the Big Apple, I find myself flying across the Atlantic a lot these days.  On my frequent visits there while the aforementioned are working and far too busy to see me, I will be hitting the pavement and scouring that throbbing metropolis for one-off gems – from cool shops to unusual art exhibits to anything that grabs my fancy.

On a recent trip, I met fashion purist Jussara Lee whose boutique on the corner of Bedford and Morton Streets in the West Village (corner shop, good karma) is worth checking out, especially if the delightful Jussara is in.

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A native Brazilian of Korean heritage, Jussara is all about craftsmanship and fit. She blends luxurious fashion with sustainable practice. She is as passionate about the detail of the stitching on her hand-tailored, custom-made clothes as she is about zero-waste. Dresses can be made from left-over wedding dress scraps, patterned jackets begin life as blankets and she only uses vintage mother of pearl buttons salvaged from recycled garments.

“I am very into no waste. This is really my whole life philosophy. Too much stuff, too much garbage, it’s a lose, lose situation. Whatever we can do to prevent things from going to garbage and creating more landfill, we will do.”

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While zero-waste is her goal, there is plenty in the shop that is not recycled. Yet. Jussara is known for her classic white shirts made by old-school men’s tailors in Brooklyn and Spanish Harlem. Always elegant, simple and dignified, the white shirt is the perfect symbol for her brand. Everyone from architect Richard Meier to the Pakistani porters who carried Jussara’s luggage to K2 base camp to our mutual friend Sara Tayeb-Khalifa (above) have posed for Jussara’s white shirt campaign.

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She collaborates with other craftsmen and artisans whose philosophy chimes with hers, like Corgi, the Welsh knitwear brand founded in 1892 that makes Prince Charles and his grandson Prince George’s socks (who knew? A). Jussara designed and Corgi knitted this cozy sweater…

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While most of her designs are in monochromatic shades of blue, black and white, she also stocks designs with a rainbow palette, including silk-embroidered pieces from Pakistan and handbags crocheted by a clutch of older Florentine women.

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Jussara’s stylish and inviting shop has a lot of history behind it. She first knew she wanted to be a designer when she was a little girl.
“I had a doll that I used to dress. I think I was six or seven, and I had a tiff with my friend. I had made this really cute outfit of ripped pyjama fabric for a doll. And my friend was green with envy and wanted to be my friend again. That’s when I knew the power of fashion, the power of clothing.”
Jussara followed her dream and came to New York in the late eighties to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). At one point she had a big shop on Greene Street in Soho, shops in Hong Kong, a showroom in Tokyo and was supplying Barney’s and Bergdorf’s. When she split with her husband and business partner she had a rethink. “It was all a little too much. It sounded a lot better than it actually was. (The big department stores) don’t pay. They return things. Plus, I didn’t like the idea of turning collection after collection. I was like, who needs all this? I shut everything down. I just said Basta.”
She’s never looked back. She wants to be her own boss and this charming boutique suits her to a tee. Jussara now wants to talk on panel discussions and lecture fashion students on how it’s possible to stay small, to skip fast fashion and follow your dreams.

For more from Elena, see her blog.

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