What is it about Gail Elliott that sets her apart from other clothing designers? How did she find her way from fashion model to female founder of an enduring apparel line?
If you were ever a fan of the original supermodels of the 90s, then Gail Elliott requires no introduction. During her successful modelling career, which spanned two decades, she walked the runways for every haute couture designer, ranging from Azzedine Alaïa to Chanel. In fact, Gail modelled at the historic 1991 Gianni Versace Freedom show, where music, fashion, and art famously collided. She’s been photographed by the likes of Peter Lindbergh, Patrick Demarchelier, and Bruce Weber, for print ad campaigns that included Escada and Versace, and her face has graced the covers of all the top international fashion magazines.
In trying to explain the allure of Little Joe Woman, it’s impossible to pinpoint just one thing, so I’ll list a few. Gail takes the guesswork out of coordinating wardrobe pieces. She puts out pieces in a limited color palette, then adds pieces in complimentary prints and colors into her curated capsule displays, to simplify dressing. As her business is largely online, she ensures that her tailoring is impeccable, and her fits are consistent. She takes sustainability to a new level by producing all her prints and pieces locally. When customers have questions, Gail answers them personally via her website chat feature. Finally, her price point ensures accessibility of her brand to a broad spectrum of women.
In her interview with me, Gail talks about her experience in the world of modelling and high fashion, how she got her start as an entrepreneur and designer, and how at age 60, she is at the peak of her second career.How did you discover that you wanted to be a clothing designer?
Designing clothes is an extension of my 24-year modelling career, during which time I was based in New York City. I’ve been in the fashion world since I was 17 years old, and fashion is all I knew and loved. Being able to continue as a fashion designer and share with other women all that I’d learned about how wearing a perfectly cut dress, shirt, pant or jacket can make you feel, is something I will always appreciate.
I’ve seen photos of you alongside Karl Lagerfeld in his atelier. How did he influence you as a designer? Are there any other designers that you modelled for, who have shaped your own career as a designer?
Working with Karl was an absolute dream. Of course, at the time although I looked up to him and many of the other truly talented designers, I didn’t realize the experience I was receiving, and that I was being taught by someone so talented and knowledgeable. Karl made me feel very comfortable around him. I was very shy when I was a young girl, but he always made me feel as though what I said mattered. He listened, he asked my opinion - would I wear a certain length, color, fabric, heel height. Now I realize the models Karl worked with meant a lot to him, and he valued our opinions because he was making the Chanel brand younger, cooler and more hip and happening. He loved the way we’d style our Chanel jackets, bags and accessories with jeans, leather pants, t-shirts or whatever we liked wearing at the time. He was so generous - I’d never leave a fitting upstairs at Rue Cambon without him telling me to go downstairs on my way out and pick a nice Chanel suit, pair of shoes or bag for myself. I still have all the pieces he gifted me.
Was there a seamless transition from modelling, straight into launching your Little Joe Woman line?
I was still modelling when I felt the need to express my knowledge, and fashion thoughts and feelings creatively. My first designs were very simple, consisting of six silk slips and six silk camisoles in six colors - pieces I wanted to wear and couldn’t find in stores at the time, that worked with my hectic travel schedule. They were easy to pack, easy to style with leather jackets, coats, boots, pants and layered well depending on which city I was travelling to or worn alone as a dress if I was in a warmer climate. They made me feel good when wearing them and so, Little Joe Woman by Gail Elliott was born.
How did you come up with the name, Little Joe Woman?
My husband, Joe Coffey, and I started the brand together, but at the time it was just a project, “our baby” as he was a screen writer and I was a model, both living in New York City, and we were both so busy that we didn’t see it as anything more....so named it Little Joe, after Joe. As the brand grew, people thought it was a children’s line, so we rebranded and named it Little Joe Woman.
Please tell me about your design philosophy.
I’m inspired everyday by my life, the things I see, the people I meet, the places I travel to, and conversations and experiences that I have. I design for myself, my friends and for my customers, and gather information for the next collection months before we must put it down on paper.
In addition to using lovely younger models, you model your own pieces on your website. Has that always been the case?
I do appear in four collections as our model, because during the pandemic, for two years the airport in Bali was closed, and no models were flying in. However, we did realize that our customers enjoyed seeing me in our clothing on the website, probably because they could see that women of any age could look and feel beautiful in my designs. Now, the airport has finally reopened, and we’ve gone back to shooting our newest collection on a beautiful, blonde model, but we still shoot on me for social media where people can see me and our models wearing the collections.
What feelings do you want your pieces to evoke, in the pro-age women who wear them?
I love that fashion is forever changing, and there is always something new and exciting on the horizon. I also love how clothing makes you feel and can change your mood. One can feel powerful, professional, confident, sexy or alluring simply by what one chooses to wear.
What styling advice can you give to pro-age women about how to assemble a wardrobe that lets them dream a little bit?
First, I would ask them what lifestyle they lead. Where do they live, on a tropical island or in a city? By the beach, or in the mountains? Wherever you live, you always need in your wardrobe a perfectly cut shirt, pant, slip dress, camisole, cashmere sweater, maxi skirt, and leather jacket. With these seven pieces, you can travel or live anywhere. They can be worn alone or layered in the cooler months. Our Little Joe Woman collections consist of basically these items, and change prints, solid colors and vary slightly in shape with the arrival of every new collection.
Your pieces feel stylish and cool, yet practical and effortless at the same time. How did you find that balance?
I design basically with myself in mind, and what I feel I’d like to be wearing next season. I like to feel glamorous, yet my clothing needs to be practical for my lifestyle, for work, for meetings, for travel and for my life. I need clothing that makes me feel confident. I also like timeless, well-made pieces, and much prefer quality over quantity, so that reflects how I find the balance when I design.
If someone were to tell you that women should stop wearing slip dresses, put on a bra with lift, and cover up their legs and décolleté after age 50, how would you respond?
(Laughing at the absurdity of the question) I don’t think anyone would ever tell me to do that!
Do you believe there’s anything that at woman 50+ should not wear?
I believe that there are items that people of any age should and shouldn’t wear, and it’s not about the person’s age but their body type, their lifestyle, and about wearing something that suits them. I just turned 60, and I can wear a body skimming slip dress, go braless, and the outfit suits me and my island lifestyle. There are 30-year-olds who this style may not suit, because they may work somewhere where a look like this wouldn’t be respectful. Similarly, a 50-year-old would look silly wearing side ponytails with pink ribbons - I believe understanding and respecting yourself is incredibly important, and therefore leads to what is relevant for one to wear.
What is your size range?
Our size range is from XXS to XL, and we offer a custom service at no extra charge. We’re able to produce most items in smaller or larger sizes. We also make alterations like a strap length, shorten a hem, or lengthen a dress. We’ve even completely customized the bicep size for a customer who is a professional body builder, and needs all her sleeves changed for her blouses, dresses, and leather jackets.
What is your price range?
Our average price range for a slip dress is approximately Canadian$300. We ship worldwide via DHL and offer complimentary shipping, and occasionally a pretty or useful gift-with- purchase, when spending a certain amount.
Where can people buy your pieces?
At our webstore LittleJoeWoman.com where we offer a full range of slip dresses, maxi dresses, camisoles, blouses, pants, shorts, leather pieces, shoes, boots, sandals, jewelry, and accessories. We can custom make certain garments, depending on whether we have the fabric in stock, and offer custom alterations at no extra charge. I personally answer any questions regarding sizing, fit, style, and colors. I love building relationships with our VIP customers and enjoy seeing images and messages they send me in all their latest Little Joe Woman purchases and how they style them.
Who are your fashion designer role models, and why?
I still love Azzedine Alaïa, Chanel and Hermès. They’re timeless classics, and I have so many pieces of clothing, bags, shoes, and accessories from when I used to walk their fashion show runways in the 90s that I wear now and mix with my Little Joe Woman pieces.
How do you source your fabrics, and do you consider sustainability?
All our prints are designed exclusively in-house and printed locally. In terms of sustainability, all our products are handmade at our own factory, located ten minutes from our home in Bali, where we can monitor quality and ensure that our staff are well cared for. From our manufacturing choices and supply chains, we are committed to creating thoughtfully produced and socially responsible clothing that makes you feel great to wear and will last you a lifetime.
What is your favorite part of being a fashion designer?
Every collection is an achievement I’m proud of, as well as having people purchasing our clothing, or seeing people in the street or on Instagram wearing my designs. Everyone has a choice in what they wear, so to see the orders come in via our website on my phone, or I see someone walking past carrying a Little Joe Woman carrier bag, it always makes me smile.