With ethereal floral embellishments, romanticized lace, flirty and feminine pearls and edgy retro jewelry, Jordon Willis has woven a fantastical world of fashion that dedicates its daring designs to the everyday woman who fearlessly expresses herself. Jordon Willis’ eponymous brand and brainchild carefully conceives a dreamy design aesthetic that defies rigid dress codes, transcends trends and inspires individuality in fashion. Through his punk-derived dresses, romantic gowns and extravagant design details that speak to his sustainable craftsmanship, the Brooklyn-based designer invites the industry into his whimsical wonderland.
In his intricate and inventive creations, the avant-garde artist unveils the deepest depths of his imagination, showcasing how he pushes the limits of fashion with his handmade pieces. As a one-man show, Jordon juggles all of the moving parts of his namesake label alone: from scouring the internet for antique, kitsch accessories and hitting the city streets to source deadstock fabric to perusing pieces within his own wardrobe to customize for his collections and acting as the manufacturer and one-person production team behind the bespoke masterpieces and poetic collections and campaigns of Jordon Willis.
With nearly a decade of design experience, dating back to his early college days in Connecticut designing wrap tops from the comfort of his dorm, Jordon has found his footing with his buzzy brand. The cutting-edge creative has cultivated a niche aesthetic, capturing mass audiences online and offline, inspiring them to immerse themselves in his fashion fantasyland. From Hollywood hitmakers such as SZA, Cardi B and the City Girls’ JT donning different iterations of his Embellished Series to the everyday woman who uses fashion as a form of expression, the 25-year-old talent seduces the audacious and the adventurous with his doll-esque designs.
Continue reading below to find the candid conversation between Jordon Willis and Hypebae where he shares his sources of style inspiration, recalling a ‘90s rap icon, how the fan-favorite Embellished Dress has evolved over time and how his brand beginnings sparked out of a need for survival and an innate interest in fashion.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? Where do you draw inspiration from?
I definitely would describe my design aesthetic as hyper-feminine, campy, romantic and glamorous. [I draw inspiration from] the everyday woman, women from different walks of life. I’ve gotten inspiration from women who were strippers, women who were bartenders, women who worked in corporate. I gather my inspiration from the everyday woman who expresses herself. Beyond that, my real design inspiration – and I always have to give her my props – is Lil’ Kim. I always loved Lil’ Kim growing up. I always loved female rap. I was a Barb, I loved Nicki [Minaj]. I love all the female rappers.
I love a boisterous woman who’s not afraid because to wear my pieces you can’t be afraid. I can’t wear them anymore, I’m like “oh that’s too much for me.” But I love and get inspiration from the fearless woman, the woman who isn’t afraid, the woman who’s extra. It’s about the woman who does it all and who wants it all, because when I design, it takes me to a fantasyland. I always say I sell fantasy. I don’t think about wearability and people see that and want to buy into the fantasy because it’s so magical and enchanting.
You touched on Lil’ Kim being one of your biggest inspirations. Within the past year, a lot of major stars in the music industry have commissioned your work. How does it feel to see Cardi B, SZA and the City Girls’ JT wearing and styling pieces from you?
It feels so rewarding because growing up I loved the culture, specifically rap culture. I loved music culture. So, to finally see these women wearing my designs, it just lets me know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and that everything’s going to be alright. I’m following the right path and I’m attracting the women I want to wear my clothes.
It’s very rewarding and reaffirming especially as a Black designer because it just confirms how my clothes are part of the culture. I always say that I put my Black culture into my designs. To see this generation of celebrities in my clothes and to see it happening in real time, lets me know, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do. It makes me want to go even harder.
Speaking to that a bit more, have you ever encountered challenging moments, and how do you manage to keep pushing in the face of them?
Oh my goodness, all the time. The first time after SZA wore my pieces, it was this big hype and then after that I was like “ok, what’s next?” It’s like this any time a celebrity wears my pieces. I experience this climax, this big hype and I get a lot of followers, but then after, I’m just sitting and waiting. I’ve even had slow seasons before all this, where it’s just me playing dress up in my clothes and trying to sell it. For those moments when I ask “what’s next?” I create and coach myself to create through the confusion. When I’m lost and don’t know where to go, I just make, I don’t think I just do.
What inspired you to start your self-eponymous label?
It’s been a long, long journey. I had a label before in college and I remember being in my dorm sewing. It was really hard for me to get a job because of how I express myself and being different. It was hard for me to get in professional settings and I was struggling to get a job. I remember wanting to be a stylist at a retail store, or wanting to be a visual merchandiser, but I just wasn’t getting those opportunities. So, I started my own brand so I could be my own visual merchandiser. I’m my own stylist, my own photographer, my own makeup artist and I’m my own hairstylist. I know I have these talents and nobody’s really giving me this chance, so let me create the chance for myself. And I can just keep going because someone’s going to hear me. I’m going to keep singing because someone’s going to hear me. What really made me start a brand was the lack of opportunity for me. I had to make a living and survive.
Each design of yours is unique and handmade. Talk to me about the creative process behind your one-of-one pieces.
I’m really a one-man show. The process is just me in my room, I don’t even have a studio yet. It’s just me in my room with a bunch of unconventional materials. When I have a massive order volume, I get no sleep,r I’ll take a one minute nap. Other times, I go to sleep, wake up at eight in the morning and start listening to podcasts and music because music makes me feel things. It’s just me and my mannequin; it’s very intimate. My pieces come from my soul, they come from me. Each one evokes how I’m feeling that day or what I’m going through. It’s really just me, my needle and nothing but pure creativity.
Many of your designs incorporate the use of nylon spandex, fishnet fabric, safety pins, pearls and other vintage jewelry. What inspired you to incorporate these elements into your design?
Each and every one of my pieces tells a story. If you look back, it started with the Embellished Dress. My original Embellished Dress was just rings, and then I progressed and started sneaking little things on it. I added belly rings – belly rings are so sexy – and then I put some piercings. There was a moment in my life where I loved lace and pearls and that’s how I came up with the Antiques series. Each and every dress I wanted to make an aesthetic for it, that’s what inspired me to search for those pieces. Whatever would complete that aesthetic, I bought and got it. I describe my brand as romantic, what makes you feel romantic? Lace and pearls. What’s sexy? Belly rings, nipple rings, toe rings, little novelty items like that. It makes my garments niche.
In what ways does your brand align with your unique identity?
I would say my brand definitely encompasses my full identity because I model my clothes and there’s that aspect of me being a boy who loves to dress up. I love to play in hair, to play in makeup and I love to put it on myself. While I design for women, I also design for me. I design for the woman I envision each and every day. I don’t want to say it’s cosplay because it’s not, it's just me. I walk around, I wear dresses, I wear heels, I wear nails. I think the brand encompasses me because it is me. Even further on in my brand, I want to dive deeper into that. I even bought breastplates and hips because I really want to get into making myself my own doll. I think that this is so special coming from a Black man who does this. Like I look up to RuPaul who I love. I just love different aspects of culture.
I get the culture. Like I said, I love Lil’ Kim, I love Nicki Minaj. That’s a prototype of a woman. I took that and made it into my own type of woman. It encapsulates me because it’s so special. That’s why I feel like nobody has ever done what I’m doing before.
What does the future have in store for Jordon Willis?
I’m going to get my own showroom. I want to get this from being in my room, which I will within due time, but I really want to keep pushing this and getting it where it’s not just me. I think it’s hard for me to trust because I don’t want to hire someone and have them see how I do things and then try and go and do it [elsewhere.] I’m ready for my brand to grow but I give that to God. I think God will place the right people in my life at the right time.
For now, I’m going to keep grinding in this room. Keep breaking boundaries, setting trends and doing it all because that’s just me. I’m ready to grow as a brand. I want to grow, I have goals for myself. I want to challenge myself design wise and be more innovative and resourceful and show my outlook on fashion because the Embellished Dress and the tank, those are just my starter pieces and they’re already iconic. So, wait until I dip into what’s really in my mind right now. I do this all for the love of fashion. I never got into fashion to have celebrities wear my things, I do it for the love. I try not to get clouded by industry things because I don’t even like the industry that much. I think it’s a very grimey industry. If my local Brooklyn girls were still wearing my dresses, I’d be happy. But God took it and pushed it up.