each time I've entered the willow knows studio, i feel an immediate lightness. sure, this might have something to do with the irresistible beauty of the airy atelier, housed in a former industrial space. where there are not large paneled windows draped in equally massive sheer curtains, there are white walls reaching high into the ceiling. the entire space is an experience of light, but the buoyancy I’ve felt seems to come more truly from the exquisite work created here, and the woman behind it – the lovely Jess Lee, founder and designer of willow knows, a collection of hand dyed textiles and one of the newest brands on the shelves of scarpa.
“i didn’t start willow knows with the intent to start a hand-dyed textile line,” she tells me, perched on a tall stool, cropped hair tucked neatly behind her ears. Jess, who studied textiles in college, moved to New York to work in film and had wanted to start her own clothing line. she soon realized that a smaller city would be more conducive to her work and decided to relocate. “i had just gotten to Charlottesville, and i started dying these tiny little scarves in my backyard as a new creative outlet,” she explains. she found herself, “desperately needing,” to use her hands again. returning to a medium she loved in her collegiate years, the work was initially an exploration, perhaps just a catalyst for something else. but her hand-dyed work was instantly well received, and after two seasons of creating scarves, she expanded her line into an apparel collection.
“my concept has always been easy, wearable silhouettes. it’s what I love to wear,” she explains with a smile, “to feel like you’re wearing nothing.” her crepe de chine pieces, including the popular cocoon dress, hang behind her from a suspended branch. and it’s true – they seem barely there, their edges softened by the bright light of the curtains behind them; a breeze from an open window sends a shutter through each piece revealing eddying patterns of dark blue and cream. ask Jess about her inspiration and she jumps to color – and it's obvious that she has an uncanny sense for it. “the textiles are a way of saying something i can’t say otherwise,” she explains. she sees her work housing, “a tension and argument between things that are fluid and things that are still.” one particular piece that most readily embodies this concern is a cropped t-shirt with a silk front and a chiffon back, all in dark blue, save for a shot of cream that extends across both panels of fabric. “design as conversation,” she offers.
jess’s attention to the seasonal tides also plays integrally into her work. in the warmer parts of the year, she looks toward her immediate surroundings for inspiration—rebirth, growth, bounty. in darker and colder months, she turns her focus inward and to imagined spaces – the deep sea bubbling up, a constant motion – its own complications and juxtapositions stilled for just a moment in swaths of silk.
our thanks, jess, for sharing your time and gorgeous space with us!