June 2011: A collector's items


 If it’s true that every person has a story, then it stands to reason that the objects a person acquires in her lifetime must also have stories. And 25-year-old Jess Lee’s got stories.

Sporting a degree in fashion design from Virginia Commonwealth University, Lee works from the bedroom of a charming Woolen Mills rental that she shares with her boyfriend. A self-professed “lover of objects” (“I’m a collector of things that have meaning,” she says), Lee’s filled her room with vintage clothes, linens and other objects that make her happy.

“I’m such a visual person, and people are always like, ‘Why are you hanging up your clothes for decoration?’” she says. “But this is my room where the creative juices flow. That’s the idea, anyway.”

Lee works in the film industry as a freelance stylist and designer’s assistant, but spends much of her time on Willow Knows, her clothing line incorporating her own designs and spruced up vintage pieces like the ones she hangs in her room.

“You know how people say when they get dressed, they’re expressing themselves through what they’re wearing? I also think that’s very true for one’s space,” she says. “It’s just kind of, I guess, my own space that is full of the ideas and feelings I’m trying to portray in my collections.”—Caite White


“I felt like when I graduated, with having a degree in fashion design, I had to live in New York City. And that’s what all my friends were doing and I tried really, really hard to love it. And I tried really, really hard to feel like I wanted to be there, and I was supposed to be there.

“[In New York], I shared a studio apartment with two of my best friends and it was just chaotic. I definitely couldn’t be doing the things I’m doing if I were there.

“These sheets…It’s kind of weird, but these are my favorite sheets of all time. I have a whole set. They were my parents’ when they first got married. And a lot of people think it’s strange I still have them. But I think they’re beautiful.

“That window is from my parent’s house. They live in Newport News, Virginia, and we put on an addition on my house when I was younger and that’s from all the windows that were left over. I’m always collecting things. I probably get that from my parents. My dad still has stacks and stacks of those windows and we put the addition on the house probably 15 years ago.

“This dress right here was my grandmother’s. This dress was a dress that I found at a vintage store and I cut the sleeves out. This is a good example of, like, this has been on my to-do list for months and months and months and it’s like been in the closet and it gets pushed to the bottom of bins…and now it’s hanging here as a visual ‘Please get this done.’

“Those fabrics over there—that little camisole—that’s something that needs to go in the shop and then all the lace and stuff that I just hand-dyed. Those are all also things that are going to be put into something. I hang things in my room as a visual reminder of what I want to create. I use my walls as a designer would use a sketchbook—always changing and rearranging things as I check off my to-do list. Sometimes I lay in my bed and stare at the fabrics and dresses surrounding me, visualizing what I’ll work on next.”