Stylish Interview with the Founder of Leisure

Read the YAM interview with Jessica Kerr, the fashion designer behind Victoria-based clothing brand, Leisure.

By Julia Dilworth | Photo by Jeffrey Bosdet

While how we spend our leisure time has changed for the short term, the need for comfortable yet polished basics certainly has not. With her womenswear brand Leisure — Jessica Kerr embraces an elevated esthetic.

Her brand offers bespoke-print fabrics; thoughtful, customizable details; and designs that work on every silhouette. Kerr shares the creative process behind her elegant and comfortable clothes — and her inspirations, her style advice and what she loves about this city.

How would you describe Leisure, the brand, the style, the look?

I would describe it as laid-back but always put together. Every time I’m designing something, the answer has to be yes to the following three things: Can I wear this to run errands but also to go out for dinner or on a date? Is it comfortable? And is it flattering on most body shapes and sizes? And if what we’ve designed ticks all three of these boxes, then we move it forward. 

What was missing in womenswear that you tried to address with Leisure?

You know when you’re shopping and you just think, if only they had thought about pockets, or if only it was adjustable? We put a lot of effort into making each of our pieces really customizable in small little ways. Like when we put a drawstring in, and we allow the fabric to move overtop of it, so you can adjust where you want the bulk of the fabric. We often have hidden little hooks, that you can adjust the level of cleavage, or we have fabric that can be moved to the front or to the back to give a little bit more forgiveness. I always found that with just a little bit more design, all of a sudden, a simple black dress is actually flattering on a lot more people. 

Plus, with a lot of designs in contemporary fashion, I found that they looked really great on a certain body type, but not all body types. (For example, there are a lot of women out there who really want to wear a bra, most of the time — with straps!) 

What’s your design process for each collection?

What we do — or normally do — is a collection based on a destination I’ve travelled to. I just get really fascinated by the history of a place, the design, the architecture and then translate them into subtle details within our pieces. Usually we design a custom print based on somewhere I’ve been, and then we add little details, like a mandarin collar or a Peter Pan collar — whatever is relevant to that time and place. Then we apply our design ethos, and that’s how we get a collection that has a distinction from other collections that we’ve made.

How has your creative process changed during COVID-19?

Every collection used to integrate a few event pieces, because our customers go to weddings and parties and events. And I always loved designing those because we really get carried away with all the details and fabrics. But now our customers are not going to those events, and I’m not travelling. So I guess now our collections are more like, what can I take a nap in and look put together in at the grocery store? But you know what? The majority of our collection has always been about elevated basics — looking put together and being comfortable — so it’s a natural transition for us to just remove eventwear. For now. 

What other changes did you have to make during COVID-19?

The pandemic really threw everything off, like our ability to get different fabrics quickly. We produce everything in house, from design through to shipping out to consumers. Everything is done in Bastion Square. And when the pandemic started, because we have in-house production, we very quickly switched to making masks. We just felt it had to be a priority because, at the time, there weren’t enough masks. 

We had a whole room full of roll ends that we could use to make masks for the Island Health contingency plan. In doing so, they introduced us to a medical grade fabric that we now put into all of our masks, covered by one of our nice prints.

I think as we start to realize that masks are part of our lives for the foreseeable future, that people will want to start to experiment. Now we order in fabric specific for masks. And we will have some fun silk ones coming for fall, and we’ll start to play around and come up with neat and cute ways to improve upon the design.

What can you tell me about your upcoming collection?

Rather than a place and a point of reference, this whole collection is going to be about Victoria and where we’re at. People’s lives are very different right now, and so we’re really going to focus on the elevated basics. I call them elevated because we really like to use luxury fabrics for simple things, like using a beautiful three-ply silk for a T-shirt. Three-ply makes all the difference, because heavier silk won’t cling to your body, and it drapes beautifully. And you can wear a white silk that isn’t see-through, if the thickness is there. Those are the types of simple things that we do to try and make everyday clothing really valuable. Something that we really value is the idea to buy something that you want to wear all day, every day. 

One of my favourite things about Victoria is the gardens and the abundance of green (I’m a season-pass holder at Butchart Gardens), and Victoria has the most beautiful gardens. So we’re always inspired to do a print with a floral. And there will definitely be matching masks — I think that’s a style statement of 2020!

What do you think is the difference between a dress that’s comfortable and a dress that’s not?

The material is definitely important. If it’s going to be a tighter fit, there should be an element of elastane. You don’t want to struggle to move. Fabric selection, how it feels on your skin, that’s also really important. And being able to adjust the fit yourself. Each of our dresses can be customized to you, once you have it on. You can decide how many front buttons you want done up, and we usually hide little hooks and eyes in the side seams of a V-neck. And after you’ve made clothes for five years, you learn that fitted isn’t always the best. You really want something that’s easy to throw on, which means it’s going to be loose in fit. And with our designs, you’re going to be able to adjust the tightness. Elastic is amazing. You’re always going to be comfortable when there’s elastic — but we hide elastic, so it doesn’t look elastic. 

What is style advice you live by?

I think you should wear what you feel great in because it shows — whatever it might be. For me, it’s an easy-to-throw-on-dress and sandals, always a flat. There are always pockets, so I can put my things in there and run out the door. I have a seven-month-old, so I feel most comfortable in something when I can have a nap, lounge in my house, but can also pop out for lunch and meet friends and still look like I’ve put in effort. 

We don’t pay attention to trends because a trend is exactly that, it’s going to come and go, and that makes that piece of clothing no longer relevant. Wear what you want, when you want to. I think there’s a difference between fashion and style, and I definitely prefer the latter. I also live by [the belief that] if you love something, buy lots of it, buy multiples. I always do that. 

What do you love about Victoria?

I think Victoria is a community that supports local. And we share those values. That’s amazing for a brand. The community has been so supportive of Leisure. And you can’t think about Victoria without acknowledging its natural beauty. And the people in Victoria really have a way of being laid back and elegant, and that really embodies why we named the brand Leisure.

Continue Reading… Where to Buy Stylish Masks in Victoria