Brazilian-born designer Jussara Lee is a fashion veteran, having worked in the business for nearly twenty years. The Fashion Institute of Technology graduate launched her first ready-to-wear collection in 1991, participating in the Bryant Park/Seventh Avenue/wholesale scene for ten years (and twenty seasons) before chucking it all in 2001 in favor of a made-to-measure boutique in the meatpacking district that's become a go-to spot for hard-to-find, well-crafted labels like shoes from Sue London, hats from Worth & Worth and Magar Hatworks, Brelli umbrellas, and Eairth jeans. We caught up with Jussara to talk about how fashion has changed, why Sex and the City fashion needs to go away, and more.
You call your look understated elegance. Why?
People have a tendency to infringe their taste on others. It's understated because that is just my opinion: that elegance is desirable and that the clothes I make are the most well balanced.
If you could describe the woman who you want to wear your clothes, what would she be like?
Guilt-free women who can't stand looking like anything but the best.
You've been in the business almost twenty years. How have you seen fashion change?
It has lost its integrity in a way because everyone is into it but they all follow the same path, so that's why the trends — I don't respond to them. Fashion is my profession; it's not entertainment to me. I'm constantly thinking, what's going to make someone look good. I'm not very into the celebrity scene. The whole Sex and the City thing was a huge influence on ordinary people. It looks too done up to me. It's too much hair. Everyone looks like they've spent too much time, too much money, and then in the end everyone looks the same. It's curious that people would go the whole extent to look so the same.
How do you respond to challenging moments in fashion?
I had a moment after September 11 where I thought it was so hard, and I didn't want to do it anymore. But that's when I was celebrating ten years of the Seventh Avenue thing. It was the perfect moment to say "I'm bailing out" — downsizing, forget about wholesale, just do something that I think is good. And if it works, good. And if it doesn't, I'll figure out how. It was a very difficult moment. But if you're passionate about it, it's worth it.
Do you think the economy is affecting your business?
I'm oblivious to what goes on. I haven't really felt it yet. I think it's because the people that come and order clothes, they buy it knowing it's not an excess, it's long-lasting. Who can't use a great black jacket? That's what we convey. They don't think they're splurging if it can last a long time. You just need to be able to afford it, which is a bummer.
What's the first designer item you ever bought?
Probably Jean Paul Gaultier. I was attending FIT and he was the shit – just so much fun and very revolutionary to me. It was a jacket, tailored and black. And it had a fun lining. It was over $1,000.
What designers or labels do you actually wear the most?
I'm cheap. I make my own clothes.
Where do you shop?
I only shop for groceries: Yoga Center on 13th Street is the best and any farmer's market.
What's one thing you really want to buy right now?
A snowsuit for my goddaughter.
What's something that every woman should have in her closet?
Fitted shirts but please no darts! Shirts are very pure piece of clothing, an ancient part of wardrobe. If you put darts in it, you are suffocating the whole purity of it, when you can achieve that fitted look without darts if you just cut it right.
What's something you can't leave the house without?
My hairpins — it's all about hairpins.
Jussara Lee, 11 Little W. 12th St., nr. Ninth Ave. (212-242-4128); daily (117).