Designer Jennifer Henry is the bag whisperer

The alternative materials artist creates feminine frocks for Fashion’s Night Out

Jennifer Henry fits a model into a creation made using Ted Baker materials for LVM.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Every year, the fashion world throws a party and invites absolutely everyone. That bash is Fashion’s Night Out on September 6, and up and down the Strip, Las Vegas is celebrating in style. To mark the occasion, Weekly sister-mag LVM commissioned a collection of alternative material looks from Flock Flock Flock’s Jennifer Henry, each design created using a notable fashion brand’s bags, paper and other materials. Head to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace on Fashion’s Night Out for parties, discounts and a display featuring two of Henry’s dresses across from Mac Cosmetics.

What are some of the challenges in making clothes from alternative materials?

I think a lot of people forget that paper bags and different packaging was created specifically to serve that purpose. So it’s really strong in that form, in the shape of the bag or with a lot of folded creases. But once you disassociate it from that structure, it becomes actually very brittle. It’ll tear and warp easily. … I really pride myself on creating garments that have a flattering silhouette, so instead of allowing the material to guide me 100 percent, I sort of split the difference. I guide it in the direction I want it to go, and I also don’t push it past its ability to accomplish something.

For these pieces, did you think about the brands and how your designs would reflect them?

For sure. I think every time you approach a piece of branded material by nature it gives you a set of feelings and thoughts and emotions—that’s what branding’s all about. And a bag is highly branded. It’s sometimes the only branded thing that you take away from a store. And so, definitely the material sort of spoke to me and had fun moments. You can’t make something boring out of pink-on-pink striped bags.

Jennifer Henry designs

When you’re out shopping, are you constantly examining the bags and materials? Is your designer brain always on?

For sure. One of the most interesting things about getting into alternative material design is, I’ve only been doing it two and a half years or so, but you do become incredibly aware of all the different pieces and parts. If you get a couple things from a store wrapped up in a very cool, unique tissue paper, you’re much more likely to save it. Ribbons and ties and things—you want this and that. Also one of the things that has begun to occur to me is surface texture. So that’s always a fun one. Nice glossy bags have a certain purpose. Matte bags have a certain purpose. Bags with a texture to them have a cool purpose.

Is there a brand whose bags and materials you particularly gravitate towards?

We didn’t do it for this shoot, but it would be amazing to use budget retailers like H&M or Forever 21 with their super big graphic but otherwise it’s just a plain plastic bag. How fun would it be to make a floor-length gown that’s all ruffles or something like that from these budget brand bags?

How much time does it take to create a look like this?

Each look is different, so it really depends, but I move fast. On average they took between three hours and seven hours. It’s not always the ones that look the most complicated that were the most complicated. Sometimes it’s just the structure of it is difficult to figure out because the paper doesn’t bend or move, because you have to figure out which parts to put on the model first and then attach the others parts to.

Do you have a favorite piece from your collection of work?

I think my most inspirational piece, the piece that moved me the most forward, is a large-scale dress I did last year for Circus Couture. It was a big bubble gown with this huge train. It took me forever, and it was pleating, pleating, pleating until my fingers were puffy. It was really beautiful, and super sparkly, and sexy but not revealing, and it was all these different things. … It was the first time I had ever made anything that was that scale. I realized I can make them as big as I want and all crazy and take up the whole universe and it’ll be awesome. … And this year I’m the featured designer for Circus Couture, so I’m going to be doing 10 looks.

Do you ever wear your own designs?

I don’t actually. I feel like they’re much better suited for somebody who’s super sexy and adorable. I’m not really that kind of a body type first of all, and I don’t know who would tape me in. I think someday there will be an occasion or a reason and I will do it. For my Halloween show for last Halloween at the Royal House I dressed up a bunch of girls and they looked super adorable as all different classic Halloween themes. … So we had all the different characters and then I wore one of my cellophane skirt things. So I was like, I’m a piece of glitter.

Do you have a go-to tool or material that you’d be lost without?

It is Office Depot brand heavy duty packing tape. … Don’t get the Scotch brand; that’s not going to work. You need Office Depot heavy duty packing tape and the little dispenser—a nice bright colored one so when you lose it amongst everything, which you will all the time, you can say, oh there it is. I’ve used so, so, so many, and I can’t even imagine now how many yards of tape I’ve created weird things out of. That’s that one. That’s the important one.

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