Jhane Barnes

Owner/ Founder, Jhane Barnes Inc.

07/31/2014

Background: 

I started my fashion design company 39 years ago when I was 21. I left Maryland to attend FIT in NYC, and after getting rave reviews at the FIT year-end fashion show, I borrowed $5,000 from a professor to start my company. I created unusual men’s clothing for 38 years and sold them under my name to top specialty and department stores in the U.S. and other countries. In the early 80’s I started designing products for interiors when Knoll approached me to do textiles.

Key projects/accomplishments:

  • Being the youngest person and first woman to win the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award at 25.
  • Bringing color, pattern, and texture to men’s fashion for 38 years.
  • Designing furniture for Bernhardt.
  • Designing unique fashion-inspired textiles for Knoll for 14 years.
  • Designing floor coverings for Tandus-Centiva for 18 years and still going strong.

Guiding design principles:

  • Our company motto is: “Good design is that which inspires, challenges, and endures.”
  • Look to the future not the past.
  • Design from within.
  • Knowledge is power. Knowing deeply the processes involved is as important as the final product.
  • Never chase trends.
  • No details for purely decorative reasons. 
  • Products must feel good to the touch as well as be pleasing to the eye.

What aspects of your design approach, if any, have you appropriated from other design practices? 

Is it useful? Is it necessary? Does it improve quality of life? Taken from architecture.

Do you believe there is a universal language of design that spans mediums?

I do think there is a universal language of design. I use all the same guiding principles for everything I design. 

Is there a design standard to which you once held fast that has given way to another principle or priority?

When I started my company I wanted to change everything about the way a man dressed: the fabric, the color, and the silhouette. I wanted men to look to the future and not the past. I still believe that but if I had not been flexible, I never would have lasted 38 years.

Would you say you like to bend the rules, or adhere to them strictly? 

I think it’s important to break your rules from time to time because that’s how we learn. However, one rule that I broke and shouldn’t have: never design anything that you wouldn’t want yourself.

What rules of design do you feel should never be broken without exception? Everything my team and I create must have our company’s look and feel. Your designs should always look like you.

Never take a project solely for the money. This always gets in the way of good design. 

 Have you passed on any of your principles to other designers?

Here’s what I hope my staff members learn from working with me:

  • Work harder than anyone else, and do what’s right as a human being.
  • Break up your design formula. If you have a successful formula, don’t depend on it to work forever.
  • Respect and honor the people who make the final product and earn their trust and respect in return. Long lasting relationships breed the best design and outcome.
  • Mistakes are your biggest opportunity for learning and growth and often serve as inspiration for the future.

Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Design

Dieter Rams is one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. A minimalist, functionalist, and protégé of the Ulm School of Design in Germany, Rams has created innumerable iconic works since he began his career in the 1950s. Case in point: the iOS calculator is based off of Rams’ 1987 Braun ET 66 calculator.

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