Styled Out: Jenny Shimizu puts her heart on your sleeve

For Jenny Shimizu, every design is a story — literally. Her rad website is the only place you can currently find her exclusive T-shirt designs that each have their own unique tale to tell. The woman behind the designs took a moment to chat with us about her custom line. I think that most people view you as a model first and foremost, then an actress, but not a designer. Have you always designed clothes?
Jenny Shimizu:
Well, I don’t know that designing a T-shirt line is really designing clothes. It was more of designing the design on the T-shirt and the graphics involved.

I do actually want to do a line, a small line that is based on my style and my lifestyle that is really androgynous and unisex. That’s why I chose to do T-shirt design first because you can learn a lot by doing it, much more than I ever thought. It’s a lot of work than I thought it would be, definitely.

AE: What was the thought process for making the line androgynous?

JS: I wanted it to be authentic, and I wouldn’t design ball gowns or prom dresses so I wanted to do what I liked and what I thought there was a market for. There are a lot of girls that I know that dress very man-ish and they want things that fit them and they want things that aren’t men’s clothes that even if they tailor them, that are still affordable.

AE: Are you self-taught or did you go to school for design?

I am completely self-taught in all areas of my life. The school of life, the school of hard knocks — that’s how I learn.

AE: What’s with the “I am Linda Evangelista” T-shirt?

JS: There’s a wonderful story about why the T-shirt was made. One of my first jobs in New York was for a beauty ad where they were going to take portraits of our faces and when I entered the photo studio, number one, I saw five tents. One tent around each make up mirror. I was late, of course, and I looked inside the first tent and saw Christy Turlington, and in the next tent I saw Naomi Campbell, and I’m freaking out because never in my life had I ever thought I would even meet these people, let alone work with them and I’m breathing the same oxygen in the same space as these people.

Then the next tent was Kristen McMenamy and I saw an empty tent and I ran into it. I couldn’t look anymore — I was having a panic attack. I was telling myself how much I hated myself and that I didn’t belong there and I sat down in a chair, waiting for the make up artist to come. I’m sitting there and I can hear this whisper, “I am Linda. I am Linda Evangelista,” and it kept going, over and over again, and we were separated by two pieces of white fabric. I pushed the white fabric open and I see Linda Evangelista staring at herself in the mirror and she’s still saying, “I am Linda Evangelista,” and it’s just getting louder and louder, so I sat down back in my seat, getting myself back together and I said to myself, “I am Linda Evangelista.”

Basically, that line of strength got me through that day because I was flipped out and the story goes, every time I get very nervous or very scared or think that I can’t handle it, I always say, “I am Linda Evangelista.”

AE: So you don’t actually think that “Models Suck” then, as your bag says?

JS: Not at all, that’s like the whole thing, it’s ironic because everyone thinks that models suck, everyone hates models and thinks that they have a really skeezy job. It’s just one of those tongue-in-cheek things. If you actually end up getting to do it and get to a certain level, you know that it takes a lot of dedication and ambition and a lot of partying with the right people.

AE: Do you plan on having a runway show for your T-shirts?

JS: No, the level of what I know fashion to be, I would never disgrace it. I understand that a lot of people like to do that and promote certain things. If I was going to have a runway show it would definitely be something that was more than T-shirts. I love T-shirts, I wear T-shirts every day, I am never not in a T-shirt.

What I’m doing on my website on my blog is I’m having Kate Mulleavy and Kate Moennig holding my T-shirt, so what I’m doing is kind of a viral marketing plan where I get really cool people that are involved in fashion in New York. That’s kind of the angle that I’m going for right now.

AE: When and where will we be able to find your line?

JS: Right now it’s exclusively on my website, but I’m starting to open it up to the Asian market because there’s a lot of popularity over there. If you go on my website and click “merch,” you’ll see all three designs and they’re very reasonable, too.

That was one thing that I wanted to do, too. I didn’t want to create a T-shirt line and then charge $100 for a T-shirt, which is kind of normal now. I’m down to earth and I wanted it to be about me, too, not a greedy, weird T-shirt line.