Tastemaker: Jessica Barkley Simplifies

Jessica Barkley knows what’s missing from Orange County women’s wardrobes—pieces that bridge the gap between workout clothes and cocktail attire. So the former designer of wedding and evening wear started Aïe, a new line of basic dresses and tops rendered in a body-conscious yet forgiving cotton and nylon, with a clean silhouette that’s elegant, sexy, and refined. Aïe is pronounced “Ayyy” and is a French exclamation of excitement. She launched the collection in San Clemente in February with business partner Isaura Garner, and it just hit the web at aieofficial.com.

What made you switch from dressy to casual clothing?
I love designing for the bridal and evening markets, but the way I was producing each piece was not cost-effective. I still like to work with private clients for bridal and evening.

What was your inspiration for Aïe?
It came as an epiphany. After closing my (Laguna Beach) atelier in 2014, I decided to go to Paris. My original intention was to stay

Aïe’s classic long-sleeve dresses  in black and off-white, $156
Aïe’s classic long-sleeve dresses
in black and off-white, $156

there and never come back. That’s when it hit me. The French do elegance so well. Seeing the simplicity of lines being placed
so efficiently on the body inspired me to create this collection. I sent a few sketches to my friend and partner, Isaura, and she loved the idea. I did the same with my daughter in New York, and she embraced it as well. We decided to create a line of basics that are well thought-out, with smart, easygoing fabrics that are comfortable and yet look well-made.

Paris has played a role in your life before…
I’m from Peru and came to the U.S. to get my degree in international affairs. While I was studying, I modeled for Donna Karan and Calvin Klein. Later, when I got my master’s degree, I decided to stay in Orange County and marry. That’s when I changed careers and enrolled at FIDM. I decided to study in Paris to finish up. That’s when my long fascination with Parisian fashion started.

You call Aïe  “minimalist.” What do you mean by that?
In art and architecture, “minimalist” is used to express efficiency in transmitting a sentiment or purpose. This is what I think the true meaning should be when used for clothing. Nowadays, the term is used very loosely in the fashion world. When I design with minimalism, I think of how a piece can be the best without useless lines and decorations. I think of space and how it can be best used for enhancing a style and conveying a purpose. For example, in using transparencies for sleeves and hems, we allow those clients who do not normally show their arms or legs to show them in an elegant and sexy way. It’s functional, yet clean and modern.

Will the clothes be sold in stores or online?
We’re looking to partner with some major e-commerce platforms first, as well as selected boutiques.

How would you describe the Aïe woman?
She’s smart, confident, has great elegant style, yet believes in being comfortable. She lives a busy lifestyle, travels, and needs pieces that can take her from day into night, pack well without wrinkling, and pair easily with a scarf, a jacket, heels, or tennis shoes.

Your color scheme?
Black and white will always be our basis, but we’ll introduce limited colors that will go well together so our customers can always build up their collection of pieces (from $92 to $162). We’ll also introduce new designs every month, so there will always be something to look forward to on our website. We also have one limited piece per month—the unique piece that makes a statement.

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