We interview New Zealand fashion export, Heathermary Jackson

Interview by Adam Bryce

Heathermary Jackson made her name as fashion director of The Face magazine in the late 90s. Now, she's a freelance fashion stylist and consultant, and fashion director of the independent PUSS PUSS magazine.

Adam: The first thing I want to ask is going back to growing up in New Zealand. In a traditional sense, we don’t really have a fashion culture so the idea of becoming a stylist or ending up in London or New York and doing the work that you’ve done — how does that come about? How did your interest come about and how did it go from being something you’re interested in, to doing the things you’ve done?

Heathermary: When I was a kid, I was really into clothes. I didn’t really realise why and I didn’t have a family that had anything to do with fashion — teachers and accountants and that side of things. Then I was very much into musical theatre, ballet and performance; my dream was to go to Juilliard. Then, when I was 16, we went overseas to England and New York and I went for an appointment and spoke to them. It was really what I wanted to do.

I wanted to leave school at 17 but my parents said I needed a career behind me, that I couldn’t just go into this acting thing. So I became a hairdresser. I did an apprenticeship, saved money and moved to London to audition at drama school. I auditioned and got into London Academy of Performing Arts and did a three-year musical theatre course. During that, I liked parts of it but not all of it. Finally, I had to get a job, while I was doing this course. I got a job at a restaurant and one of the girls at the restaurant worked at this big PR company called Club 21. They did the PR for Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani and Bvlgari. I ended up getting an internship there.

At the time, I didn’t know what a stylist was but I was working in the cupboard with the samples and I had to sample the clothes out to stylists. There, I really fell in love with Dazed & Confused, The Face and i-D magazines. I knew The Face a little bit when I was growing up but it was really difficult to get your hands on. I ended up working for this company for a couple of months, just for free and they offered me a job. But at that point, I kind of worked out that I really liked the styling side of things.

This girl who actually got me the internship had gone to school at St Martin’s with Katie Grand. She said ‘look, why don’t I call her and see if we can take her out for lunch to talk about DKNY for Dazed & Confused’ because she was the fashion director there at the time. So we did, and we got on really well. By the end of the lunch, I asked her if she knew anyone that needed an assistant, and she suggested that I meet her friend Charlotte Stockdale who had just moved back from Paris. We met  and then I started working for her. 

Adam: How long were you assisting Charlotte?

Heathermary: Two years. 

Adam: She ended up at Dazed, right?

Heathermary: She was freelancing for them but the first shoot I assisted her on was for The Face. I came across the pictures the other day — they’re very interesting, very abstract. It was all this skin and I had to research nude-coloured underwear. I loved assisting actually, I loved getting an idea and then having to run with it and finding new designers to show her, getting into that side of it. 

Adam: I can see, because you have so much energy, that you wouldn’t be put off by all the running around. 

Heathermary: Yeah, absolutely. I remember I had never been to Paris before, I was probably 25, maybe 26. I remember I had to go on the Eurostar and travel with six suitcases, suitcases that weren’t even on wheels. I got to Paris and I didn’t even speak French. I had to line up with all these bags, get a cab, get back to Charlotte’s apartment in the 3rd Arrondissement and carry these suitcases, one by one, to the sixth floor.

For three days I cried, every morning, while I mapped out the returns I had to do. It was a character-building experience and a good way to learn Paris and, ultimately, learn how to speak the language because nobody would speak English to you back then in 96/97. 

Adam: I often think, with stylists, there’s a lot of talented people out there but it’s about that period of assisting that will weed people out. There are some tough things that you gotta do that will make or break how hard you want it. 

Heathermary: When you’re an assistant, you’re the first one on set and the last to leave. It’s really hard, hard work and you have to want it. As the industry has changed and evolved, they have it better now. Better than when we had it when we were assisting. But there are so many people assisting now that maybe it was easier for us, easier for us to get hold of the samples. It has accelerated so much, there are just so many stylists and celebrities. It’s such a different thing.

I remember when I first started, Charlotte got her first computer and we had to fax over requests and then phone up to follow them up in Milan, in Paris. You had weeks to prep for a job because you had to. It was slow, it took time. Now if you don’t answer an email within five minutes, you’ve got someone freaking out saying ‘you need to answer now’.

Adam: It’s not unusual here for someone to call you on Friday and say, ‘hey can we shoot a lookbook on Monday or Tuesday’ and you somehow make it work. That would have certainly been something that would have been planned in advance back then. I sometimes feel like it comes from a misunderstanding of what stylists and photographers actually do. 

Heathermary: Yeah I also feel like social media, I love that we have it, but there’s another part of me that absolutely hates it, and thinks it has been the demise of images. The quality of images and the pace that we go, a big reason for that is social media. I used to collect magazines, I used to collect books. Now I realise I don’t buy books anymore. 

Adam: There’s this thing now when you’re shooting on set. You’re trying to capture the best possible image and, in my head, I’m always thinking about things for the layout a magazine, for the cover, even though that’s not what it’s for. You’re constantly being reminded by people ‘make sure you get things cropped square for Instagram’ or ‘make sure you get an image for the wide banner across the website’.

What do you think are the biggest changes in the industry when you think back to the 90s to now?

Heathermary: Well, I was talking to someone about it the other day because, obviously, there are rumours about the future of fashion. And, honestly, I stopped going to fashion shows quite a few years ago. Once I had a kid I didn’t really have the whole time to do the whole — well, back then it was a fashion month, now there are all these other shows included in there that everyone seems to go to. I don’t actually know how anyone has the time to do any work, with the number of show weeks that there are. 

Adam: I think that’s potentially why the people that go to those shows are influencers, rather than…

Heathermary: Well that’s another thing. Once I started going to the shows — and I don’t have 500,000 followers — but, even with the fashion director title of a magazine, you still get put back in the sixth row. I’m 5 foot 2 and can’t see anything anyway so I may as well just look at it all online. Also, when I was young and assisting, my boss was amazing and let me come to the shows.

The industry was pretty small, when I look back on it. It felt like you were part of this amazing movement where the shows were leading — and that was when styling and photoshoots were also leading. Designers were using the stylists’ work as inspiration for their collections but, now, it’s not like that, because you have to shoot full looks. Especially now with Instagram, you have to be really careful with what you use; if you want to be re-posted, which obviously is important to everybody. 

Adam: Essentially, the role of editorial has changed completely. Even if it’s shot for print, the images themselves are probably going to be distributed for the brand through Instagram, right?

Heathermary: Yeah, it’s true. Again, it’s like adapt or die, basically. I don’t have any answers about what’s going to happen now but things are going to change, a lot. 

Adam: I want to ask about The Face. You became the fashion director at The Face, which at the time, was possibly the most influential magazine for fashion. You played a big role in the invention of that high-low mix of fashion and culture.

Obviously, it didn’t happen overnight, but you were pretty young to have that role and it happened reasonably quickly, right? 

Heathermary: Yeah, I guess it did. I was assisting for two years so I was in that whole extended group of people that were doing all that stuff — across i-D, Dazed, The Face. Katie Grand was the fashion director at Dazed and was offered a job at The Face. She then took me out for lunch and said, ‘I want you to come with me as my fashion editor’. Of course, I said yes and I did that for a couple of years. Then she left to continue doing Pop magazine and whatever else she was doing. Then I went for her job, and got it. 

Adam: When you were at The Face, it had this aesthetic where it brought culture to fashion. It sort of derived, I guess, from the earlier Buffalo movement and that really came through. I feel as though your style and the way you were keeps that high-low mix. 

Heathermary: I was always really into the idea of mixing the low with the high. For me, it just feels authentic. Also, realistically, the advertisers that spent money at The Face were really the lower-end designers. So you really had to include these people, and the way to do it in an interesting way was actually to mix it with the high-end ones. And for me, I’m never going to be a ‘designer head-to-toe person’. That’s really not what I’m into.

Adam: I feel like you’ve stayed true to your aesthetic throughout and brought that to the table wherever you’ve worked. Do you think that’s by default because it’s your natural way to work?

Heathermary: There are some clients that I have who need more ‘real’ styling. And, what I’ve heard over the years, is that I’m the person that people will get if they want something that actually looks lived in, rather than the people who turn up with a bunch of racks from Zara and throw on crispy sheet clothes. Whereas I would prefer to mix stuff from a thrift store, or vintage and mix that in. 

Adam: One of the things that makes someone’s work stand out, whatever you do, is having a signature style. Is that something you are conscious of?

Heathermary: I think so. I always have to like what I’m putting together. I don’t like things that are crispy-clean, it’s not really my taste. So, I guess ,it is deliberate. I just think things look so much better when things are worn in. It takes it to a place that I want to see. 

Adam: Apart from PUSS PUSS magazine, one of the big projects you’ve been working on is the David Byrne project. Tell me about what and how it came about and what it is, because it’s almost going back to your roots in a way.

Heathermary: I thoroughly enjoyed it, actually. I met David years ago. I was pregnant with my son and my ex, Mark, was wanting to make a movie and got connected with him. David ended up saying that he wanted do a cameo but, then, the recession hit and the funding went away and it never happened.

Then, fast forward a few years and my neighbour, who unfortunately passed away a year ago, was Jim Walrod — an interior designer who I knew for a really long time.

He moved into an apartment across the hall from me. When Jim passed away, his core group of friends came over to my apartment the day it happened. I met these people that he had always talked about but I didn’t know. I ended up getting along really well with Kim, who used to own Paper magazine. About a week after we went for lunch she called me and said, ‘do you do any music stuff?’ I said ‘I used to, but I haven’t for a while’. And she said, ‘well my friend David Byrne is going on tour and he needs his tour costumes designed. He doesn’t really want to work with a fashion person and I feel like you are more of an art-fashion girl and I feel like you guys would get on really well.’ I said I would love to meet with him and I ended up going over to Governer’s Island, where he was doing an immersive art installation at the time. I went and met him, we got on really well and it went from there, really.

I started working out what we were going to do and finding someone who could do it for us. The tour went on for a year and then turned into a Broadway show. Oh my god, what an amazing show. That was a fantastic experience, I’m obviously a huge fan of David’s music. What else have I been doing? I just worked on Michael Stipe’s latest video, Drive to the Ocean

Adam: Had you known Michael before? For a while? 

Heathermary: Michael lives here in Athens, in Georgia and he was one of the reasons, along with a few other people, why I wanted to live here. He’s a good man and I grew up loving his music. I don’t think I have actually told Michael what a fan I was. I have vivid memories of being an angsty teenager listening to Everybody Hurts on my radio, crying. But I wouldn’t gush about that in front of him. 

Adam: Probably not the best move. 

Heathermary: He’d probably be flattered but I wouldn’t want to make him awkward. 

Adam: We’ve talked about it a little, but how is that balance with being a mum and doing the work you do? Your job is a lot of travel, a lot of hard work, a lot of needing a lot of creative time to think. How do you manage to balance that?

Heathermary: Only in the past year, I’ve found an amazing babysitter that William, my son, is really happy to be with. I’ve got a great team of assistants and, the beauty of the internet is that a lot of it can be done remotely. It’s a lot of juggling and having a really good team that you can rely on to get everything that you need. I have to let go a little bit so that things happen a little more organically. Unless you’re doing Vogue or W, you aren’t going to get the exact look that you want. You have to be creative with what you get. 

Adam: As we said, sourcing now, as opposed to sourcing 20 years ago, must just be such a hustle now. 

Heathermary: Yeah it is. And, more and more normal now, is that you share outfits throughout the day, so it’s a whole logistical puzzle for your assistant and whoever’s at the magazine to coordinate it. 

Adam: That’s good though, at least people are working together to make fashion, right?

Heathermary: Yeah, I think that became more normal. I would say, ‘look I’m really happy to just have it for the morning, can you just try that?’ And I think enough people must have been saying the same thing, and it was realised that ‘oh, actually you can do that.’

The Face, November 2002

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