Personalities

Five Questions for Fashion Designer Lan Jaenicke

By Anh-Minh Le

Lan Jaenicke, whose namesake atelier opened on Jackson Street this spring.
(Anthony Perliss)

For Lan Jaenicke, the opening of her atelier on Jackson Street this spring was a full-circle moment. Eleven years ago, an auspicious visit to Eden & Eden, a boutique mere blocks away, led to the launch of her namesake label.

Jaenicke walked into Rachel Eden’s store wearing a cashmere jacket of her own design — and walked out with an order for seven items, all of which she sewed herself. The brand soon expanded from cashmere outerwear into tops, bottoms and dresses, using the same luxurious material.

Next, Jaenicke introduced linen and silk apparel, including blouses made with vintage silk that belonged to her mother, Li Yanping, a ballerina turned fashion designer. Wanting to establish her own professional identity, Jaenicke initially shied away from a career in design. At the University of Central London, she studied math and later did a stint in advertising in New York. But somethings are simply meant to be: Jaenicke moved to San Francisco in 2002 and a year later enrolled at the Academy of Art, where she earned an MFA in fashion design and merchandising.

During a recent break, over roséand pâté at one of her favorite neighborhood spots, Verjus, the designer talked shop with the Gazette.

Why is cashmere such a wonderful everyday fabric? A lot of people think cashmere is delicate, but it isn’t. It’s resilient and breathes well. It doesn’t wrinkle — making it really great for travel — or absorb oil or dirt. It doesn’t retain odors and it’s anti-microbial. It wicks moisture away from the body, yet traps air and provides insulation. So it manages to be both lightweight and warm.I call it the most intelligent material. Plus, it’s 100 percent natural.

What makes your cashmere special? A well-made piece starts with the raw material — it’s like using the best ingredients when cooking. I work with a Japanese-owned mill based in Shanghai that purchases the longest fiber cashmere from Mongolia. The fibers are sent to Japan for testing to ensure they’re the highest grade and the purity is 100 percent cashmere; then they’re woven into fabrics. The finishing is also a very important step: We use a Japanese finishing that makes it supersoft and it never pills.

How does your Jackson Square atelier offer a distinct experience? The beauty of the atelier is that we make things right here; we design things right here. We can also work with individuals to design something really beautiful for them. I didn’t want to have just another boutique. I wanted it to be more like a workshop, where we design constantly. People can see the process of making, which you don’t often get to see when you walk into a boutique.

What kind of custom projects are possible? We were working with this guy who already had a lot of suits and jackets. So we did a cashmere hooded vest for him, which he can wear layered over or under other pieces. We can also tweak our existing designs to cater to your individual needs. We keep the integrity of our design, but can adjust little things — like pockets on a dress. Some people want us to add pockets and some people don’t want the extra material.

What new designs are you working on? Everything in the window is from the last week or two: There’s the kimono dress and top, made from rectangular pieces of fabric without any waste and finished entirely with hand stitches; a wrap dress in woven cashmere, sewn into the form of the wearer, with silk side pockets. We design things, people come in and if something resonates, we can do a run of production. All of our pieces are made one at a time by tailors, not a production line.

Interior Design Details

The space, once occupied by Ghirardelli, features original exposed brick walls and wooden ceiling beams, along with newly installed raw white oak flooring. (Caitlin Flemming)
Hang ups: Suspended from the ceiling are custom racks composed of black bamboo and hand-knotted black cotton rope. (Caitlin Flemming)
Light fantastic: A pair of 1920s pendant lamps came from a gallery across the street whose owner purchased them at an auction in Paris decades ago. (Caitlin Flemming)

Atelier Lan Jaenicke 431 Jackson St., San Francisco lanjaenicke.com

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