This month, Eden Prairie-based fashion designer Jeannine Cavallo has debuted her luxury women’s clothing brand, J. Cavallo. But despite being born in the Midwest, the 18-piece line has a decidedly worldly perspective: It’s manufactured in New York City’s garment district with prints created by women in the Congo.
Cavallo’s mix-and-match collection of silk-organza scarf-neck blouses, and silk-wool dresses, slim-cut pants, tailored jackets, and sculpted bustiers are beautifully cut and extremely well-made. But what first catches the eye are the line’s unique, colorful prints. Dubbed “Congo Night” and “Congo Garden,” the respective patterns evoke a nighttime constellation and a lush garden. In fact, they were conceived through a traditional tie-dye technique by women artisans in the Congo through the nonprofit organization Women for Women International. (Ten percent of sales from the collection go to benefit the organization.) From these patterns, Cavallo developed a digital print.
The designer, who began sponsoring women through the organization more than seven years ago, says the idea to work with the women on prints was inspired when she had ordered some fabric dyed from them. She says she was “blown away” by the craftsmanship, and realized the patterns would look great on richer fabrics. “It occurred to me that I could use it as a business tool and as a way to help them,” she says.
The impeccable quality of J. Cavallo’s garments and fabrics are a testament to the women in the designer’s life. Raised in Detroit by a family of seamstresses, including her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Cavallo learned to sew and drape fabric at a young age, as well as the importance using superior fabrics.
But she didn’t originally set out to be a fashion designer. “At one point, I thought I was going to study design,” she says, “but life happens, things happen.” After putting herself through school and studying for the LSAT with the intention of becoming a lawyer, she became pregnant with her daughter. In December of 2007, her husband announced they were moving to Minnesota for his job. She decided to go back to school at the University of Minnesota to study medicine. But when her mother became sick, she stopped attending in order to become her full-time caretaker. She says it was during that time that she rekindled her passion for sketching and sewing clothing.
“It was my way to cope with what was going on,” she says. When her mother passed away in October of 2010, the designer says it was the “catalyst” for launching J. Cavallo.
On the inspiration behind her designs, she says she “loves the romance of the ‘50s, the independence and creativity of the ’60s, and the boldness of the ’70s.” At the same time, she wanted the line to be made up of classic pieces because of the boldness of the print. After creating her initial sketches and prototypes, she works with a pattern-maker and a sewing contractor in New York who work with major fashion houses such as Ralph Lauren. Marc Jacobs, and Balenciaga. “I fly to New York and we mock (the designs) up, tear them apart, and put them together until we get it right,” she says of her design process.
So far, she’s been in contact with Nordstrom, Canadian luxury department store Holt Renfrew, Bloomingdale’s, and Barney’s New York to sell J. Cavallo’s fall/winter 2015 collection. For now, items are available on a made-to-order basis directly from the designer’s website—though we have no doubt we’ll be seeing J. Cavallo hit stores soon.
Now available. shopjcavallo.com. Here’s a selection of the collection:
J. Cavallo “Congo Night” Blouson-Back Dress, $2,680 @ shopjcavallo.com
J. Cavallo “Congo Garden” Hourglass Bustier, $2,190, & Pencil Skirt, $1,390 @ shopjcavallo.com
J. Cavallo “Congo Night” Hourglass Bustier, $2,190, & Slim Leg Pant, $1,590, @ shopjcavallo.com
J. Cavallo “Congo Garden” Fitted Blouson-Back Dress, $2,680 @ shopjcavallo.com
J. Cavallo “Congo Night” Scarf-Neck Blouse, $1,390 @ shopjcavallo.com
J. Cavallo Sculpted-Back Top, $2,250, & Pencil Skirt, $990, @ shopjcavallo.com
J. Cavallo Blouson-Back Little Black Dress, $2,285 @ shopjcavallo.com
J. Cavallo “Congo Garden” 3/4-Sleeve Sculpted-Back Jacket, $2,200, & Pencil Skirt, $990, @ shopjcavallo.com
[Photos by William Clark Photography, model: Anita Joo/Ignite Models]
Watch a video about the making of J. Cavallo below: