Born: Bacup, Lancashire, 24 June 1949. Education: Studied at Birmingham College of Art, 1968-71. Family: Married David Cohen, 1985; children: Pascale, Oliver. Career: Freelance fashion illustrator, London, 1971-73; design assistant to Wendy Dagworthy, London, 1973-75; chief designer, Quorum, London, 1975-81; director/chief designer, Betty Jackson Ltd., London, from 1981; introduced
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My work is understated and easy. I do not like formal dressing and I always try to achieve a relaxed and casual look. The mix of texture and pattern is very important and we work with many textile designers to have specialness and exclusivity on fabrics. Unexpected fabrics are often used in simple, classic shapes.
"What makes you most depressed?" Betty Jackson was once asked by a fashion editor. Her reply was that it was only when work was going badly, and that in such situations, strength of character and conviction became important assets. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to find that she admires strong women, "bold and casual like Lauren Bacall." A stoic, no-nonsense fashion approach underpins a business that Jackson declares began in a recession, only to find itself in another one when the company celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1991. As she celebrates her 20th anniversary, Jackson has diversified into home furnishings, accessories, and knits. She continues to be an important name in the international fashion industry.
Jackson began her career at Birmingham College of Art in 1968, working in London as a freelance fashion illustrator until 1973, when she joined Wendy Dagworthy as her design assistant. She moved to further positions at Quorum, then Coopers, before setting up her own design company with husband David Cohen in 1981. Success was quick to come, culminating in several awards, including the Cotton Institute Designer of the Year in 1983 and the Fil d'or award from the International Linen Council in 1985, the year she was also named British Designer of the Year; two years later she was awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to British industry and export as well as becoming an elected member of the British Fashion Council.
Betty Jackson has gained an international reputation as a designer of young, up-to-the-minute clothes. "I've never liked prettiness much," she has said, and this is reflected in her designs. She rescales separates into larger, unstructured proportions; loose, uncomplicated shapes with no awkward cuts are often made up in boldly colored and patterned fabrics. Jackson loves bright prints and knits, often working in conjunction with the textile designers Timney Fowler in colors complementing the warm, smoky, and earthy base colors of the collections. The oversized printed shirts and hand-knit sweaters are always popular and usually the first garments to sell out. Her previous print and knit themes were inspired by Sonia Delauney, oversized paisleys or abstract painterly shapes and textures reminiscent of Matisse or Braque.
The rescaled sporty shapes give the clothes an androgynous feeling reflected when the menswear collection was launched in 1986. However, Jackson never uses androgyny to shock or alienate her established customer or to make a fashion statement. Instead, her themes evolve each season, incorporating the newest shapes, lengths, and fabrics. She tends to favor expensive, supple fabrics like linen, suede, or viscose mixes, crêpes, chenilles, and soft jerseys.
Jackson has said she prefers not to follow trends set by other designers or predictions from fashion forecasters. She prefers to source her own ideas for inspiration, ideas that are relevant to her and her own design philosophies. "There's nothing like taking a color you love, making something wonderful, and seeing a beautiful girl wearing it. I think if you ever tire of that feeling, then it's time to think again," she says.
An important development at Betty Jackson Ltd. was the opening of a shop that she describes as her greatest extravagance. She was quick, however, to deny this extravagance implied recklessness, "and it's certainly not reckless as it is part of a well laid plan." She has also turned her talents to accessories: chunky jewelry in bright colors encased in bronze and silver, soft suede gloves, belts, bags, and printed scarves.
Elsa Klensch on CNN in 1997 said that Jackson's spring-summer collection was "streamlined" and reminiscent of the 1940s' Bloomsbury period, with a mixture of fabrics, such as sheer with opaque or shiny with matte. "It's streamlined, I think, rather than tailored," Jackson told Klensch. "My collection has nothing to do with revisiting the 1980s or anything like that. I really think modern women want that choice of softness or fluidity or versatility in clothes, and it has to do with how you put different fabrics together, and is much more simple, I think, than before." Klensch noted that Jackson's color palette included suggestions of herbs such as rosemary, coriander, and sage.
The British Fashion Council has called Jackson a "directional classicist." Her designs are not "tailored" but are easygoing, with great fluidity. Her spring and fall collections in 2001 were noteworthy for their emphasis on freedom of body movement. According to Boyd Davis, online editor for the Fashion Windows website, Jackson's fall show "presented a contemporary romantic show straight from Mills & Boon and Barbara Cartland." She emphasized soft colors of beige and green, with brighter colors as highlights. The fluidity of the garments was complemented by harder leather accessories. Outer-wear included fur coats and stoles and Pashmina, and skirt lengths varied from just above the knee to below the knee.
Jackson declares the single thing that would most improve the quality of her life would be more time. "I organize myself badly and never have enough time to do anything." It is the dilemma of many creative people, forced to sacrifice precious creative time to the dayto-day practicalities of running a business. Lack of time, however, has not halted Jackson's achievements. Her business is thriving and she was made honorary fellow of both the Royal College of Art, London, and the University of Central Lancashire.
updated by Sally A. Myers