Fashion Quarterly: Life in a New York minute with Visionary fashion director and New Zealander in New York Heathermary Jackson

by Jessica-Belle Greer for Fashion Quarterly, Issue 04, 2018

Visionary fashion director and New Zealander in New York, Heathermary Jackson has worked with some of the most successful creatives in the world but, as Jessica-Belle Greer finds, there’s always the next project.

It’s Sunday evening in New York City and Heathermary Jackson has just detonated a bomb. In a bid to entertain her 11-year-old son William, she’s spent an afternoon running around an abandoned warehouse in hazmat-style suits for a team game called Beat The Bomb. “One is a laser room, another is a hacker room, another is kind of like a giant game of Simon... you then have to kind of get through these corridors and if you don’t beat the bomb, basically, you get completely sprayed by these big blasters of paint,” she relays over the phone from her Brooklyn Brownstone apartment. “So that’s what I did today!”

It may not be a typical day in the fashion director’s Adidas slides (she’d usually be on set styling and directing fashion photoshoots with some of the most interesting people on the planet) but she’s already planning to go back again with her son and his friends soon. “I’m happy to do it,” she says. “Because it was actually really fun and not something that I ever would have done.”

While her industry friends were at a celebrity-filled Chanel party this weekend, Heathermary (46) is quite happy at her quiet Clinton Hill home, having moved there recently after 15 years living smack in the middle of the city in the Lower East Side. “I must say, since I had a child I don’t really use New York for what I think you probably should,” she muses. “I like to cook, which is very un-New York of me.”

The loquacious New Zealander is a world away from her upbringing in West Auckland. The daughter of two teachers and the youngest of seven, Heathermary’s introduction to fashion came through her sibling’s love of music – her first concert was Pink Floyd, the second David Bowie, and a love of Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Queen followed suit.

Her first job was at a fashion store called Feline, in the nightclub and fashion hot spot of High Street. The store’s top sellers were 80s Club Kids catsuits and Heathermary could often be found at Alfie’s next-door, known for letting in underage partiers like her.

Heathermary’s dream was to attend the Juilliard performing art school in New York, but having left school halfway through sixth form she first needed to save up and took on a hairdressing apprenticeship. Due to visa issues, she ended up at the London Academy of Performing Arts and through a friend began working part-time for luxury retail company Club 21, which represented DKNY and Bulgari at the time.

“Getting into that internship made me realise what was possible. I wanted to try and work my way into the fashion industry. That was the way that I saw that I could do it.”

Juggling call-outs and couriers in the fashion cupboard, Heathermary discovered The Face, iD and Dazed & Confused magazines, as well as the possibility of a career as a stylist. Another connection introduced her to the original super-stylist Charlotte Stockdale, and her real education began. “Getting into that internship made me realise what was possible. I wanted to try and work my way into the fashion industry. That was the way that I saw that I could do it.”

Charlotte introduced her assistant to pop sensations the All Saints, who were in need of a stylist for less important events such as the now iconic 90s Top of the Pops show, and Heathermary soon set out on her own, freelancing for the very magazines she’d fallen in love with during her internship.

With her powerful, raw aesthetic, the stylist went on to become the fashion editor, and then fashion director, of boundary-pushing publication The Face. You could write a book about the controversial covers Heathermary captured here, but some of most memorable include; Macaulay Culkin, still in character after playing a real-life murderer in Party Monster; Anna Nicole Smith, just months before her untimely death; and a four-page foldout of all the young actors Kids director and creative Larry Clark had scouted, with Chloe Sevigny posing nonchalantly on the far left. Heathermary also may have helped split-up Destiny’s Child, when she put Beyonce on the cover without Kelly or Michelle.

Often in New York for shoots with leading photographers, including Steven Klein, Heathermary finally made the move permanent in 2001. “I was lucky. I was working all the time with Steven, who kept me extremely busy,” she adds. “He is probably the most creative and amazing person that I had the pleasure to have such a long relationship working with.”

Heathermary was styling high and low fashion together before it was mainstream and put her impeccable styling to good use, launching hip-hop fusion magazine America as fashion director, taking on the role of freelance fashion editor for Teen Vogue, styling Karen Walker’s international shows and working on a number of big brand campaign and runway shows, including Salvatore Ferragamo.

It’s hard to remember all the famous faces but her Instagram reveals some rather epic work, including Pharrell and 50 Cent for America, Amy Winehouse for Spin, Gisele for Arena and Sally Field and a slew of other celebrities for Time. One moment that stands still, however, is a shoot with Viggo Mortensen. They were on location at the Chateau Marmont, with photographer Terry Richardson, and the actor couldn’t help sharing his photos of New Zealand, having just wrapped filming The Lord of the Rings.

Currently, Heathermary is the fashion director of Puss Puss magazine, and has befriended many stylish cat ladies along the way, from Grace Coddington to Jamie Bochert. She’s just put an issue to bed but she’s already trying to woo Christopher Walken for the next. “We don’t just want to shoot people with cats,” she adds. “The idea of someone being a cat person is of someone that doesn’t give a fuck and just does their own thing. They’re their own person and they’re creative. They’re just like a cat, basically.”

Heathermary is a cat person and gravitates towards achingly cool labels such as Staud and Collina Strada which she styled for the runway at New York Fashion Week this year. She’s also combined her love of music with fashion for a “dream come true”, doing the costumes for David Byrne of Talking Heads’ American Utopia tour, with suits made by Kenzo and Opening Ceremony designer Humberto Leon.

But, of course, that’s not all. Heathermary curates issues of the artistic Fat magazine and freelances as a stylist and fashion editor for various publications, including Numero Tokyo, for which she’s just wrapped a shoot with top model Candice Swanepoel.

The “incredible” Uma Thurman is one of her favourite stars to work with. She styles the actor in luxurious looks with a little edge – something that will continue as her supernatural Netflix show Chambers is released.

“I’m trying to focus on something that I feel I can actually help with in some way, or educate myself and educate other people, and kind of spread the word.”

Despite all her famous associates, Heathermary admits she still gets butterflies when working with those she admires, and says it’s needed to keep her on her toes to do the best job possible. “If I ever lose that feeling I should probably know that it's time to finish.”

The lover of Acne, old Celine and 90s Margiela has seen more changes in fashion than just the tiny sunglass trend come and go. She’s witnessed a welcome increase in diversity and representation, and personally enjoys working with models who don’t always look like models, or with regular girls that have just been spotted. “There’s something more real about that for me.”

The fashion stylist of choice for Victoria’s Secret’s Pink label, Heathermary’s also seen the industry become a lot more responsible for the welfare of women in our #MeToo era. “It's discussed a lot. There’s definite conversation and protocol making sure that people feel comfortable.”

Being a creative in America can be a challenge, though, with rising concerns for global warming and the political climate. “Living here and having this constant barrage of craziness coming from the White House – it's crazy and I can’t stop looking at the news.”

Heathermary, who is already a vegan, is trying to take control back by making positive, sustainable choices in her own life, as well as with the brands she chooses to work with. She’s also using her Instagram as a vehicle for change. “I’m trying to focus on something that I feel I can actually help with in some way, or educate myself and educate other people, and kind of spread the word.”

While she creates a sense of escapism for lovers of fashion with her strong styling, Heathermary finds it hard to tune out from the world herself. The saving grace is her son, and her constant quest to amuse him.

“I don’t turn off from things that easily, except when I am making sure that I am present with my kid and doing things,” she says. “Like ice-skating and detonating paint bombs.”

This article, Life in a New York minute with Visionary fashion director and New Zealander in New York Heathermary Jackson, was originally written by Jessica-Belle Greer for Fashion Quarterly.
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