Why A Fashion Lifer Likes It Here,
And Why You Should, Too
Despite her current Brooklin, Maine, address, the one she had in the Pyrenees before that, and an extended stint in India, Jessica Kerwin Jenkins’ name is familiar to most fashion types. As the Eye editor at W, she covered the New York nightlife scene, and later, as the magazine’s European editor, she reviewed the runway shows in Milan and Paris. Along the way she kept a manila folder full of newspaper clippings, postcards, and other ephemera. “Every time I came across something that was just breathtakingly lovely, something that made me sigh with wonder, into the file it went,” she says. That file is now her first book. Encyclopedia of the Exquisite: An Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights hits bookshelves today, and it’s a fun read. Jessica elaborates on the origins of everything from the Japanese kimono to Europe’s seventeenth-century beauty mark fad to “frillies”—that’s lacy lingerie to you and me. But don’t take my word for it; Michael Kors, Tory Burch, and Sarah Jessica Parker have provided the glowing jacket blurbs. I e-mailed Jessica a few questions about her encounters with the exquisite.
Where did idea for book come from?
After a while, in my mind I started to call the manila folder my “Why I Like It Here” file, “here” meaning on the planet. When I was having a bad day, flipping through the Post-it notes and scribbled scraps carried me off to a place where things didn’t seem so bad. Eventually, when I left my day job, I gathered all the ideas together into a long list and went to the New York Public Library, where I began my research.
What’s the most exquisite thing in the book?
That is the hardest question for me, because this book really is a collection of all my favorite people, places, objects, and ideas. I liked writing best about the things that led me in directions where I didn’t expect to go, like confetti, which, during Carnival in medieval Venice, were candies that the rich people threw from their palazzo balconies to the less fortunate people below.
Is there anything in the book you haven’t tried that you’d like to?
There are so many things on my list! I’d like to go up in a hot air balloon. I’d like my own boudoir. I want to have my hair built up into an elaborate eighteenth-century pouf. I’d like to visit Lucy, in Margate, New Jersey, one of a series of elephant-shaped structures built in the late nineteenth century. I need to work on my origami, and on my badminton game.
What’s the most exquisite thing you encounter in your former and current life as a journalist?
As a fashion journalist, you’re invited into some of the most incredible places in the world. I’ve had dinner in the Tower of London, the ducal palace in Venice, and at the Tuileries at Versailles. In Jaipur, I once played in a surreal elephant polo match in a charity event sponsored by Cartier. And then there are the fashion shows, which, when all the elements are just right, can give you goose bumps. Alexander McQueen’s shows certainly did.
What kind of exquisite things do you encounter in Maine?
Maine offers its own kind of exquisite. There’s the ocean, of course, which is ever changing and always beautiful. And, a few months back, I had a great surprise running into a bear while I was out hiking. What a gorgeous animal! But the best thing about living in Maine is having the time and the space to pursue the exquisite—planting a big, wild flower garden, trying to read poetry, and making lots of sweets in the kitchen.
What’s your next book about?
One idea that I’ve taken from fashion is the idea of using a mood board, like the ones that designers cover with inspirational images when envisioning their next collections. A few weeks ago, I finally took down all the pictures I had looked at for so long while working on Encyclopedia. I’ve got my pushpins at the ready and am just now starting to dream a little and to get into what’s next.