Pop Culture

Jackson Wiederhoeft Glides Through Fashion Week With Catnaps and Sewing-Party Camaraderie

Jackson Wiederhoeft has always had a vivid imagination. Long before the 28-year-old launched their eponymous fashion label, Wiederhoeft, in October 2019, the Houston native spent childhood summers leaning into escapism. “I would go to the library and rent out the R.L. Stine Goosebumps books, and I would just sit in my closet in this little fort that I made and read,” Wiederhoeft recalls. Come fall, there would be further dips into fantasyland, by way of Halloween costumes fashioned with Nana’s help. “I feel like these kinds of worlds that exist inside us, for me, have been the birthplace of creativity,” shares the designer, whose finely wrought confections invite theatricality into the everyday. (The 32 custom looks for a recent wedding party—jeweled corsets and lamé-embroidered suits and Candyland robes—paint the picture.) “I think garments become a mode of expression for things that we can’t necessarily put into words.”

That sentiment rang true earlier this month, when Wiederhoeft presented their spring 2023 collection during New York Fashion Week—a feat of near-marathon proportions, as laid out in this wellness diary. (Even the studio elevator was on the fritz, sending the designer’s team up and down a dozen flights of stairs.) The black box-style performance took place in a darkened gymnasium at St. Patrick’s Youth Center, in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Onstage, a set of ghostly Tim Burton-esque playground equipment served as the backdrop for two young protagonists (Kelis Robinson and Larissa Leung, both at Juilliard) and a fairytale cast that included model Teddy Quinlivan, drag artist Aquaria, and Martha Graham principal Leslie Andrea Williams. “The basketball hoop was over Women’s Wear Daily,” says Wiederhoeft with a laugh, revealing a taste for glamour shot through with the absurd.

Highbrow pomp is one holdover from Wiederhoeft’s years working with Thom Browne. A sense of backstage composure is another. “I think I learned that from Thom, just his calmness before a show,” Wiederhoeft says. “No one wants to see the person in charge having a meltdown. It’s not going to be good for morale.” In that spirit, this three-day chronicle is also about collective well-being: relishing late-night camaraderie and making quick amends when the stress flickers. It’s an important skill for someone who operates in the white-knuckled world of bridal wear; Wiederhoeft prefers the term “celebrant,” as much for its gender neutrality as for its reminder to bring “joy back into the mix.” After all, fashion, like the wedding industry, is notoriously brutal. “There have been situations where I’m surrounded by the most creatively minded people I’ve ever met, and everyone’s so unhappy,” says Wiederhoeft, a nominee for this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. “God knows I’m not perfect, but I think, why are we doing it if we’re not having fun?”

Monday, September 12

1:47 a.m.: My designer Hana and I are sitting on the floor of the studio, weaving orange silk charmeuse strips into a macramé skirt (which will later become Look 9). We are sleepier than usual because our building flooded on Saturday, so we’ve spent the whole weekend walking up and down 16 flights of stairs. But honestly, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than with my hands on a garment. My old friend Alexander recently told me I seemed a little down and I should sew something, because that always made me feel better. It’s true—creating something with my hands, there’s no better feeling.

Floodwaters pouring through the elevator, four days before the show.

Courtesy of Jackson Wiederhoeft.

How I feel going down 16 flights of stairs for the seventh time in a single day.

Courtesy of Jackson Wiederhoeft.

2:19 a.m.: The doorman is asleep when I pass him on the way out. I blow him a kiss goodnight as I start my hour-and-a-half walk from midtown to downtown Brooklyn. Walking is my favorite exercise; it’s my way to reconnect with myself and get my breathing back to normal.

3:04 a.m.: On Canal Street I call a car—because even girlies who are very excited about their fashion show really shouldn’t be crossing the Manhattan Bridge past 3 a.m.

8:13 a.m.: Take an absolutely fire selfie in the reflection of my dusty television screen. Later I Photoshop out the Tums in the reflection.

8:51 a.m.: I am listening to Einstein on the Beach (a Philip Glass opera) on the train because it’s the only thing I’m capable of listening to right now, a never-ending harmony of 8-counts. It’s also the basis for our show music and keeps me in the groove.

10:29 a.m.: Fitting the icon Veronika Vilim for her look: a head-to-toe bright red fantasy covered in ostrich feathers. It’s giving Robin Hood meets Muppet meets Carmen San Diego, and I’m so happy. She brings the character to life instantaneously.

Sketching hair for Aquaria’s look on a Post-It note at the factory.

Courtesy of Jackson Wiederhoeft.

Veronika Vilim’s fitting for The Herald.

Courtesy of Jackson Wiederhoeft.

2:50 p.m.: I’m upset with myself when I realize I haven’t had a sip of water yet today. Our factory owner Sen calls me with a zipper emergency, and I run down 16 flights of stairs like the evil witch from Snow White, hamstrings on fire. No water is consumed.

3:48 p.m.: On my way back from the factory, It girl around town Linux is spotted trotting down 38th Street in a red velvet dress. Fashion week emergencies, everywhere I look. I remember we have to get her a look for our show.

3:56 p.m.: My first sip of water of the day arrives as my mom (who is in town for the show) places a cup in my hand and watches me drink it. No better feeling than mommy taking care of you.

5:03 p.m.: In a cab uptown, I broke my own cardinal rule about writing emails with an all-caps “URGENT” in the subject line. Putting myself in time out, but not for too long, because rules are meant to be broken during fashion week.

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