Jamestown woman making name for herself in world of fashion design
A Jamestown fashion designer is making big waves, and the ripples are being felt well beyond the local area. Kate Brierley, who got her education at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, has become a respected designer with her own retail space in Newport.
Brierley grew up in Brewster, N.Y., about an hour north of the city. When she was in her 20s, she did a lot of traveling, splitting time between Switzerland, New York City and Amagansett, which is at the tip of Long Island. She describes her travel as a self-created course in the arts. At the same time she was already working with clients as a stylist and shopping for them.
Frustration began to mount for Brierley when she couldn’t find the items she was looking for. That’s when she decided to get formal fashion training, enrolling at the Fashion Institute where she studied garment construction. After graduating, Brierley did an apprenticeship with a haute couture house called Chado Ralph Rucci.
“He’s really considered the master of construction,” she said, referring to Rucci. “He is the only American designer that has been invited to show in the Paris haute couture shows in the last few years. He is classically trained and that was an amazing experience for me.”
Brierley has been painting fabrics by hand and making gowns from the material for a number of years. Her work has been collected by the Fashion Institute’s museum, and one of the gowns that is on display there is called “Letter to Didier.” The painted images are meant to send a message to a friend who has passed away. The subject was a well-known Loire Valley winemaker whose work and rebellious spirit Brierley admired.
“He was fearless in chasing quality, and he used traditional techniques in modern times and made them relevant again,” she said. “That’s something that I feel I do, so I painted an abstract letter to him.”
Brierley, who describes herself as a detailed “problem-solution seeker,” said her initial inspiration to go into fashion came from her admiration of women of great style. She says she has always loved things that are well made and timeless.
“I really appreciate the incredible uniform,” she said. “That’s something that was created in me when I was younger. Then when I got older and wanted to dress myself, there wasn’t a lot that really spoke to what I really valued aesthetically. So I decided to try to design clothes that I wanted to wear.”
Brierley said her line tends toward the classic. Her clients buy her pieces as an investment and wear them throughout their lives. She points to the work of contemporary designers like Mainbocher, as well as legendary designers like Balenciaga, Vionnet and Chanel, as inspiration for her own designs.
Four years ago Brierley realized she didn’t have enough space to do her work and began looking for a new home. That search eventually brought her to Jamestown.
“It’s a magical place. I was really inspired and comfortable. I showed up at the house and I didn’t want to leave. My husband and I had been traveling a lot. We wanted to sink in a little bit.”
Ensconced in Jamestown, Brierley decided to start her own line, which she called Isoude. At first she anticipated she would continue to serve her New York clients and not have a retail space in Rhode Island, but word began to spread about what she was doing. Women began to appear at her house.
“I had too many women in my foyer,” she said. “I ended up renting a space on Bellevue Avenue in Newport. Originally it was just myself and my dressmakers, but since then it’s just totally taken off and has a life of its own. It’s now a full store with regular store hours.”
Brierley said visitors to Isoude will find a ready-to-wear collection that includes everything from day clothes to cocktail dresses to evening wear that can be bought off the rack. In addition, the store offers a made-to-order program where pieces can be made for clients that match their specific measurements and fabrication needs.
While recognizing that Rhode Island is not known as a fashion capital, Brierley said the area has provided a wonderful laboratory that has given birth to her young luxury company. She said the state has provided a nurturing environment for Isoude.
Brierley expects the future to bring a lot of travel for her. Isoude is growing rapidly and she envisions a time when there will be additional stores in other markets. As for right now, she appreciates her Rhode Island following.
“We have incredible clients who act like patrons,” she said. “They are very supportive. The local community has really gotten behind the company and it’s been fantastic. What we may not have available in terms of showrooms and fabric houses is made up for by a great community.”