Fashion, Fascinators and Footwear: A Tucson Designer’s Fabulous Journey

Fashion designer Jeanne Bjorn was walking down Fifth Avenue in 1980s New York when a woman asked her where she got her stylish fur coat.

When Bjorn replied it was her own design, the woman gave her a business card. It was Jean Rosenberg, vice president of iconic Henri Bendel.

The meeting would become fortuitous — not in launching Bjorn’s fashion star — but in ushering the now Tucson-based designer into compelling work in Oscar and Tony-Award winning costume creation, beautiful millinery and shoe design.

“She came to see my clothing and she said, ‘I think your work is really amazing,’ ” Bjorn recalled. “ ‘This is how much money you are going to need to go forward, if you’re going to compete with say, Donna Karan or Calvin Klein.’” “And I looked at that number and I was stunned. It was so much. It was like a New York wake-up call.”

Bjorn grew up on a Missouri farm, fascinated with her mother’s bolts of fabric. She would meticulously touch and study their textures, designs and sheen. Her passion led her to a degree in textiles and fabric design at the University of Georgia and then propelled her across the country to San Francisco, where she would launch her own label of women’s designer sportswear. Her namesake line, J Bjorn, would be featured in shows and stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, where she had just relocated when she met Rosenberg.

After that Bendel moment, Bjorn instead sought out a job in costume design for stage and film with Barbara Matera Ltd. and would eventually help with creations for Broadway’s Dream Girls, The Secret Garden, the Tony Award-winning Crazy For You, Oscar-winning designs for The Age of Innocence, Hook and the New York City Ballet’s production of Sleeping Beauty.  “I used to joke with my friends that I had to leave fashion because the pay was lower and the hours were longer, but the creativity was over the top.”

Bjorn also continued to take classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She chose millinery by opening up the class catalog and blindly pointing a finger. She instantly loved it and soon began making hats for clients and select lines for stores. But after a health-threatening experience at a New York costume shop where she was head milliner, she moved to Portland, Ore.  There, she spent more than a decade teaching millinery and eventually shoe design, too. “I love designing and creating, but teaching is the best gift I can give someone because it passes the skill on, not to be forgotten.”

Indeed, some of her students included shoe designers from Columbia sportswear, as well as, rising young artisans who, after her instruction, ultimately moved to Italy to further their studies.

Now in Tucson, Bjorn has continued classes in hat and shoe making. Though she is awaiting her next move after the Covid-19 pandemic, the designer can look back proudly on a career that has seen her work featured in Women’s Wear Daily, California Apparel News, The San Francisco Examiner and The Oregonian, to name a few.

“We need a world of good designers,” she said. “Some of these skills, I worry we are close to losing them if we don’t teach a new generation.”

 You can find out more about Bjorn’s classes on her website, jeannebjorn.com.

Fantasy White Out

We just finished an epic White Out for the Arizona-Texas Tech game this weekend–which actually worked out well for us Wildcat fans as we notched up a W! But, it got me fantasizing about other stylish white outfits you could wear for such a theme!

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Bebe Finds New Life on 6pm.com

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Though Bebe, which once had a store in La Encantada, has closed (seems to be a Tucson trend of late…). The brand has found a new online hub on 6pm.com, and it’s really worth checking out!

Personally, I was always a bit leery to walk into the store when it was here because it seemed just a bit much, a little too in-your-face sexy. Plus, the Tucson store mostly carried smaller sizes. But, now that it’s online, Bebe has a better vibe. 6pm.com–which in itself, is an amazing site for unique clothing at a low price–carries some really pretty dresses by the brand, and most are less than $40. I have recently purchased a pink jumpsuit and a red, flowy dress — both of which fit well and didn’t make me feel like I was trying to be a teenager, grasping at my youth, trying to be something I’m not…..you get the gist.

Though the site still carries Bebe’s blingy, crystal studded clothing too, it’s definitely worth browsing through the dresses. There are some good finds!

Cannes Do It

Some of my favorite looks from the 2019 Cannes Film Festival…

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Tod’s in Tucson

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Tod’s is a luxury brand that seems to go unnoticed in Tucson, especially in resale stores. Yet, its Italian roots are as storied as Ferragamo and Missoni. The brand was founded in 1920 by Filippo Della Valle in his basement but made its way into American department stores by the 1970s. Today, Tod’s still produces handcrafted leather driving shoes and bags made with the highest-quality materials and techniques. Chairman Diego Della Valle—the founder’s grandson– continues to bank on this tradition. Della Valle has also donated millions of euros toward the restoration of the Coliseum in Rome. You can expect Tod’s goods to be of sterling quality and the brand continues to have stores all over the world. So, if you see Tod’s signature shoes and bags in resale stores here, you should snap them up!

Tasty Monsoon

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I’ve been droolingly (a word?) following the Instagram account of Tucson’s Monsoon Chocolate and finally had to visit the place this week. Monsoon Chocolate encompasses both a chocolate factory and a petite cafe, located at 234 E. 22nd St., which opened earlier this year. The place is at the corner of 4th Avenue and 22nd Street–a short drive south from Armory Park. While its website is under construction, you can buy Monsoon’s chocolate bars, wrapped in stunning artful wrappers, and bon bons at the cafe, and also find its goodies around town at places like The Loft Cinema, for one. A specific shout-out to the Mesquite White Chocolate bar, which features ground mesquite pods from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm. It is very unique in taste and color, it is vintage Tucson and a great desert-themed gift for the upcoming holidays.

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