From being in a little Welsh punk-pop band to signing a six-record deal in America, hanging out with the Beastie Boys, and dressing the likes of Rihanna and Lady Gaga, you can hardly call Jayne Pierson boring.
Her CV is an impressive list of jobs in the creative world and features instantly-recognised names and labels including EMI Records, Vogue, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Westwood.
Jayne operates in an international world but her roots are firmly planted in west Wales and her home town of Llanelli.
Her father is Winston Thomas, the self-made millionaire who bought Pembrey Airport in 1994, and that’s where she has her design studio.
Literally in the middle of a field in Pembrey, in a narrow room in the smallest airport terminal building in Wales, there is rail after rail of clothes worn by A-list celebrities and the great and the good of the fashion world.
Although Jayne doesn’t like to call what she does “fashion” she cannot hide from the fact that her name pops up nearly every month in glossy style magazines all over the world.
There are double-page spreads featuring the likes of Little Mix and the Pussycat Dolls all wearing her designs and Jayne even made the tabloid showbiz columns when model Amber Rose stepped out in one of her outfits.
Perhaps design was always in Jayne’s blood as her mother was a fashion designer and worked with Saks Fifth Avenue New York and then Neiman Marcus as a head designer in the States.
Born in Llanelli, Jayne moved to Dallas, Texas, when she was very small. But growing up, fashion held no interest for her. She was dreaming much bigger – she wanted to be in a band.
“Because my mum was into it I didn’t really have much interest in it,” she explained, talking from her home today in Llanelli. “It was just something that my mother did for a job.”
Aged 14, Jayne realised any future band mates were unlikely to be found in Texas. “It just wasn’t the kind of stuff I was into,” she said.
After finishing high school she eschewed America and headed back to Wales to study performing arts at Gower College and then went on to complete a degree in drama at the University of Kent. That’s when she met Marika Gauci in 1992.
The pair struck up a firm friendship and started writing songs, Jayne on the keyboard and Marika on bass. They recruited a guitarist and a Welsh punk band called Gouge was born.
“We started rehearsing constantly, for quite a few years, writing songs and getting an understanding about what we needed to do,” said Jayne.
(Image: Jayne Pierson)
They released a couple of singles and then secured a deal with EMI in America. “We were in Los Angeles doing an album and things just evolved from there,” she recalled.
The critics were kind and, before long, Jayne found herself rubbing shoulders with upcoming stars and partying with some of her idols.
“We went on tour with some really big names. We played in the Dragonfly supporting Jesus Lizard – Courtney Love was playing there too. We played TJs in Newport with many bands along with Oasis and Gwen Stefani and No Doubt.
“We played South by Southwest in Austin Texas with Supergrass, Atari Teenage Giant and the Beastie Boys.”
They managed to reach number 12 in the charts and Radio One DJ Jo Whiley nominated one of their songs as her favourite single of the year.
(Image: Jayne Pierson)
(Image: Jayne Pierson)
Eventually the group disbanded due to “musical differences” and Jayne stayed on as a singer/songwriter with EMI. She went on to work with Dreamworks and Pixar and even appeared as a backing singer on the 1998 animated film Antz.
Off the back of that she started working for the management side of EMI and found herself being asked to make clothes, mainly for friends and colleagues.
“I used to make them for myself when I was in the band and I was always styling the band,” Jayne said. “It was just something I did and I didn’t really understand it was a thing called styling or design. I just did it without knowing or thinking about it.
“I always had a sewing machine and if I fancied something I never had any money to go and buy it so I would always make it out of a tablecloth or a pair of curtains.
“I’ve never really had the money for clothes. That’s how it evolved.”
As she talks the word “evolve” pops up time and time again. It seems the young Jayne didn’t really follow a set path but rather let life pan out as her creative juices flowed.
“Making clothes was always a fun thing to do, never a chore,” she continued. “As I got a bit older I realised I should study it and do it properly, basic skills like tailoring and patterns.”
(Image: Jayne Pierson)
So she headed back to Wales once again, this time to do a degree in fashion design at the University of South Wales in Cardiff. After graduation, by now in her early 30s and married with baby daughters Daisy and Molly, she entered the world of internships.
“I can remember sitting in the garden one day thinking unless I want to be living in Wales constantly for the rest of my life, even though I love Wales, my clientele isn’t only going to be in Wales so I have to branch out a bit,” she explains.
“I literally just applied to the studio manager at Alexander McQueen and I didn’t expect them to say: ‘Yes, come for an interview’. I went up there not thinking I would stand a hope in hell.”
Her interview was in London and she went up by train, taking samples of what she used to design for her band in a Tesco plastic bag.
“They probably thought: ‘What on earth is this about? This is not a portfolio,” she laughs. “I didn’t even know how to present my work in a professional way. But the interview went really well and they said: ‘When can you start?’ which was a huge shock.
“I wasn’t a rich 30-year-old. I had to really scrimp to afford it – plus I had two small children. It was a huge thing but I was completely immersed in it because I think if you’re going to do something you’ve got to do it properly. Otherwise why bother?”
It was while interning with the late Alexander McQueen that she had an “epiphany” and finally realised she’d made it.
“Everything I’d been doing previously related to that moment,” she said. “Not getting paid didn’t matter. I’d eat Pot Noodles for life to do this, I didn’t care.”
(Image: Jayne Pierson)
She really did live off Pot Noodles and would sleep under her studio desk at night. Her ex-husband Ross would look after their two children and she would try and pop back at the weekends. When funds were too tight to travel back and forth she’d stay on a friend’s couch in London.
“Most of the time I didn’t have time to go home and sleep – I’d just sleep under the desk,” she says. “But I learned so much I didn’t care. It was the best of times – it was so fun. If we had a really really late one – sometimes we’d work all day and all night – we’d all eat at the same time so Lee [McQueen] would get take out and we’d all eat at the table and carry on after.”
The glamorous world of fashion has a very unglamorous side but it did little to dampen her enthusiasm. From those intern days she was offered jobs with McQueen and would jet off to exotic places like the Paris fashion show. Later she went on to intern with Vivienne Westwood.
The breakthrough came after she successfully applied to do London Fashion Week. “I fully didn’t anticipate them saying yes,” she said. “It snowballed from there.”
(Image: Mary Germanou)
The small world of celebrity means word of mouth gets her name out there. She set up her own label and soon Jayne’s work caught the eye of Rihanna and Lady Gaga.
Ellie Goulding was one of her first clients and she recently flew out to Ibiza to work with David Guetta and Kiara. One of Alicia Keyes’ jackets is still hanging on the rail in Pembrey.
Early on Jayne realised she didn’t have to be based in London to be successful and her studio could be wherever she wanted. Often her clients will come to her with an idea and a budget and Jayne gets on with it. Sometimes she never meets them while sometimes she jets off to wherever they are for fittings.
“As long as you have the means of getting the collection into London then people will come,” she said. So, for the third time, she headed back to west Wales.
“I lived in London for 12 years and I hated it,” she continued. “It’s dirty, smelly, overcrowded. Unless you’re extremely wealthy you can’t really afford space. I don’t see the point. When I could be in Wales, in a nice big office space, next to a beach, it’s a no-brainer.
“London is so overrated. It’s nice to go there for a break but when you’re living there the standard of living is so high you don’t get time off just to stroll by the river or go to the museums – your time is in a constant whirl of activity affording you the price to be living there.”
She’s been in Wales for 10 years now. “I’ve managed to forge something that suits me and suits how I like to work,” she added.
“High-end fashion is extremely small. Everybody knows everybody, you all go to the same parties and hang out at the same places. It’s so insular and kind of incestuous and I think it breeds contempt. I think it’s healthier to be on the outskirts.”
Jayne has always followed her own rules, she said, even in the dog-eat-dog world of fashion. “I have a love-hate relationship with the term ‘fashion’,” she says. “Yes, fashion is so trivial and based on trend and most people think it’s something to do with commercial high street fashion’ which is unsustainable and wasteful, but all of that I absolutely cannot stand.
“My business has always been small, bespoke, always made to order. I’ve never produced huge amounts of collections.”
Her eponymous label stays true to her beliefs and she tries to recycle and upcycle everything as she goes so there’s a “circularity on the design process”. She also tries to use traditional Welsh skills and products wherever she can.
“I’ve always struggled with the concept of fashion,” she continues. “I don’t see it as something I do. Even though it’s design I prefer to call it wearable arts.
“What keeps me going are the stories. Essentially what I do is story telling and telling stories about these characters who live in this world. Just by putting something on you can become somebody else. That transition is fascinating to me.
“Backstage someone can be really boring, they’re not in their outfit, and then you put them in their outfit and see them transform in front of your eyes. The transition from real to the unreal and back again is fascinating.”
(Image: Mary Germanou)
Now aged 52 and with her twins teenagers, Jayne can afford to be selective with how she works and who she works with. Her next plan is to create a “more wearable” collection with a good friend, Angela Jones.
“We want to make an easily accessible, as opposed to commercial, more wearable collection in next few months,” she explains.
“What I do for the main line will always be made to order and bespoke but I wanted to do something that is not only accessible but mindful of social responsibility and sustainability.”
Her message is refreshing in a world known not known for having a conscience. But for Jayne, it’s clear: “You don’t have to pursue fast fashion.
“We have taken the decision to reconsider our priorities as a business, choosing to prioritise community, environment, and the future of the next generation of creatives over profit.”
The off-shoot company, called Pierson-Jones, will also look to work with youngsters to “nurture” new talent and give opportunities to the next generation of Welsh designers.
“We want to do everything we can to address the socio-inequality that is so pronounced in the fashion sector,” she added.