With her graduate collection submitted, fashion student and founder of clothing label Eau de Chanté Jade Barker speaks about how her three-year degree has paralleled with her journey transitioning into a woman, and why she deserves to dress freely and express herself creatively.
Emerging designer Jade Barker is taking scissors to heteronormative fashion
“There is something really, really empowering in being like ‘Cool, I’m going to dress the way I want today,’ and that’s kind of like a fuck you to society,” Jade Barker tells CityMag.
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“But then there’s days where you wake up and you’re like, ‘Okay, well, I got clocked yesterday’ – clocked as in someone calls you out or misgenders you – and subconsciously you’re like, ‘Tomorrow I better femme it up and wear a skirt and boots’ so I don’t get clocked.
“But that is somewhat of a compromise, of who you are and your style, to please society.”
When CityMag met Jade at the TAFE SA Adelaide campus she was busily fretting over a ruched blazer sample on a mannequin.
We meet in the studio to talk about her final collection and her perceptions of clothing – a conversation instigated by a Facebook post where Jade opened up about her sexuality and study.
“I’ve committed 40-60 hours a week to learn and appreciate all of these [design] aspects,” she writes, “I also came out and started transitioning 6 months into this process which has been exhausting, challenging, empowering and motivating, which has contributed greatly into my designs and the way I view ‘fashion’.”
But before we dive into how Jade views fashion now, this reporter is distracted by her outfit.
Today Jade is dripping in a black Comme des Garçons blazer, wide-leg skort, wrap top and cordless yet “fabulously arrogant” Apple headphones.
The outfit’s pièce de résistance are the chunky pink-lensed tortoiseshell sunglasses that scream ‘I don’t care enough to look at you.’
To the contrary, though – and despite the title of Jade’s final anti-fashion collection: Who Really Cares? – other people’s words do weigh on her.
“I know who I am,” she says.
“And I know how I like to dress, my identity, my design aesthetic, all of that, and I stick to that – but I have to remind myself a dozen times a day to be true to myself.
“The thing is there is kind of a conflict within myself because, for me, being trans and not necessarily dressing femme femme, or what society would label as femme, those social constructs of a white dress or floral top or things like that… it’s a constant conflict and challenge.”
Jade’s innate style sits more on the traditional “masculine spectrum,” she says. But the designer says she’s felt more comfortable slipping into this spectrum lately, which coincides with her finally finding the confidence to use the female bathroom at TAFE.
If floral tops and white dresses are the apex of womanliness, she sits on the other end by wearing a lot of black and loose clothing.
However, if there’s a day when someone misgenders her, she feels that need to “femme it up” tomorrow, which ultimately limits her creative dressing style.
But Jade takes aim at these social constructs and compromises, which define her dress every day, in her androgynous-leaning collection.
Who Really Cares? looks bound by the ethos of timelessness, black and asymmetry.
Jade avoids trends and leans towards shapes and silhouettes that can’t be pigeonholed into a period or worn only by a certain age group.
Jade also admits she was inspired by an iconic object most of us see on a regular (often drunk) basis.
“One of the outfits I’m making, the top with the big cone, that was inspired by an empty tub of mayonnaise from Yiros House,” she says, laughing.
“But I kind of could see a 45-year-old woman who is really into art and wears big oversized glasses wearing this collection, or someone maybe in their mid-to-late 20s who’s just really into fashion wearing it as well.”
Clothing and dressing is important to Jade if you know the cipher of someone’s style, she says, you can learn a lot about them. (She says this reporter’s hole-ridden Dr. Marten shoes were “grungy,” which we will take.)
In reflecting on this designer’s nascent career – through her inaugural collection’s style and concepts – and you can decode her story, too.
“My design style has changed so much throughout this three-year degree,” says Jade, who began transitioning in her first year of study in 2017.
“First year it was, you know, very ‘70s, a lot of colour.
“Then second year went through and the colour started to disappear a little bit more, still like a lot of ’70s silhouettes and inspiration there. But now in third year, it’s gone a bit different where it’s gone very anti-fashion and it’s not trend focussed.”
Jade manages to find the beauty in the world around her (even a mayonnaise bottle from Yiros House) and value in the adversity she has faced.
“If I’ve got this far and gone through the whole degree with it happening, I definitely can probably do anything, really,” she says.
Jade’s final collection, Who Really Cares?, will be sent down the catwalk as part of her clothing label Eau de Chanté, in February 2020. Follow her label’s Instagram to stay in the loop.