In today’s 28 Days of Black Fashion History, we celebrate Jay Jason Jaxon, the first American couturier in Paris. At 24, this young man trained in Paris at Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and eventually was called in to help save the ailing house of Jean-Louis Scherrer. This was so significant, he received a phone call from the First Lady, “Lady Bird” Johnson, congratulating him on his accomplishment. However, most of us don’t even know Jaxon’s name, and as this blog points out, it is virtually omitted from contemporary discussions on the evolution of haute couture.
A native New Yorker, Jaxon was born in Queens in 1941. He was initially studying at New York University and worked part-time as a law librarian when his girlfriend, struggling with a dress she was making for a party, inadvertantly redirected his path. He cut her dress and then made himself some pants! He liked it so much, he dropped out of school and worked as a bank teller for a year to pay for a course in costume design.
Once out of school, he was determined to get to Paris and be a part of, “or even near to, the French Couture”. He designed 6 dresses that he showed to Bendel’s and Bonwit Teller. They bought all 6 dresses and more, and Jaxon soon saved up $19,000 to move to Paris.
Being the first anything can come with its own set of complexities; however, not only was Jaxon the first American couturier in Paris, but he was also the first Black couturier. The press would often emphasize his race over his nationality which would leave Jaxon frustrated. But he continued to remind himself that his work was a culmination of and for all people.
“I’d like to make my contribution a mixing—making in love,” he said.
Although unclear exactly when, Jaxon eventually returned to the states. His later career consisted of costume design for TV and movies including “Motown 25”, “Ally McBeal”, and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. He also became a personal designer and consultant to many well known celebrities.