Obviously, Doctor, You've Never Been A Jenny Fax Girl
Jen-Fang Shueh of Tokyo label Jenny Fax makes clothes for your inner angsty teen. Photographed by Monika Mogi. Sittings Editor Jen-Fang Shueh.
A young woman with long hair that reaches her thighs wears a short, black acid-wash denim skirt that hangs below the crotch as if it’s falling off, exposing a pair of black retro-cut panties with a red lace inset. Another woman wears a white cotton shift dress, accessorized with a loose, oversized purple satin collar tied by a satin ribbon, with her shoulders draped by a cape that looks like a child’s beloved blankie. On her head, like a crown, is a bear-wedding figurine plucked straight from the ceramics collection your kooky aunt keeps in the wooden television unit in her living room. Welcome to the world of Jenny Fax, the Tokyo-based label founded by Jen-Fang Shueh, where the girls are sweet but sinister and they wield their innocence like a weapon.
“I think teenage girls are the most powerful,” Shueh tells GARAGE over Skype. “They are not so afraid of dangerous things. They want to challenge. When you grow old, you’re afraid that maybe this might be dangerous, that might be hard, so you won’t try new things. But teenagers don’t really care about a lot of things—that makes them the most powerful.”
Raised with one brother and two sisters, which is a big family anywhere but especially in Taiwan, she taught herself how to sew in order to fulfill that most basic desire of having “more clothes.” “My mom decided the budget for each child’s clothes,” she explains, “and maybe we could buy something once or twice a year.” When Shueh was in high school, she made her first dress: a copy of one she saw in a fashion magazine. “The Antwerp Six were really popular, and I really liked this dress by Ann Demeulemeester, so I tried to make something similar, but the pictures only had the front, and I had to imagine the backside by myself,” she says, laughing. t
"Teenagers don’t really care about a lot of things—that makes them the most powerful.”
Shueh left for France to study patternmaking at the École Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode, while sneaking into fashion shows, before eventually making her way to Belgium to train at La Cambre. She founded Jenny Fax in 2010. Her aesthetic leaned heavily on classic Harajuku subcultures like Decora and Gothic Lolita—early collections featured Cabbage Patch Kids and Japanese school-girl uniforms—but it wasn’t until she caught the eye of über-stylist Lotta Volkova a few years ago that she started to become well-known outside of Japan.
“Lotta emailed me wanting to rent some clothes for a shoot, maybe in 2013 or 2014. Then I think she got really busy,” Shueh says. “In the meantime, I started an Instagram account so people overseas could reach me. She contacted me and said she really wanted to work on something together. That was that.”
It’s no surprise that Volkova was attracted to Shueh’s world—the offbeat silhouettes, the inspiration found in 1980s and 1990s American suburbia and pop culture, the commitment to a look that is entirely her own. Since the two started working together, Shueh has brought Jenny Fax back to her roots a bit, as a way to introduce herself to her new audience.
“Before I started working with Lotta, I was still part of the subculture in Japan, and the design was more about those subcultures. I tried to change its image,” she says. “Now I have a lot of feedback from a global audience, and I want to show again what I did in previous years—like memories of a Jenny Fax show. It’s really about the glossy girl from Harajuku, the basic cute pieces that start them on their fashion expression.”
Shueh always talks about her “girls,” and each season they have an extensive backstory, part imagined, part mined from her own self. “Every season, there’s always a girl inside, like from when I was a teenager or a young woman,” she says. “It’s always the same girl, and I have to bring a different layer of memory for her to become bigger each season.”
Digging for memories is Shueh’s favorite moment in the creative process: “The most interesting part is when you start a collection and you are waiting, you’re thinking and going deeper and deeper and you are waiting for something to be revamped from that depth.” She often starts her process by listening to music, the same song over and over, as a way to disconnect from the world. Lately she’s been listening to a lot of instrumental music. “I work alone and I listen to this kind of, like, Starbucks music, supermarket music. If there’s singing then I will just focus on the words.”
Shueh is turning 40 this year, but she still retains that sense of teenage insouciance. (“I would like a big party,” she says.) I ask her what’s the most important thing she’s learned in the almost-decade since she’s had her own label.
“I think I didn’t learn anything,” she says. “If I did, I would be much bigger.”
Citations: Hair Hidetoshi Saiga using TONI&GUY Japan, Makeup Yuka Hirata, Models Elena Kendall at Bravo Models, Myla Shimizu at Awesome, and Eriko Kimura, Fashion Assistant Aya Tsunemi, Production Shogo Yanagi at MATT.