News & Runway

Designer to Watch: Jennifer Elster of J. Elster


J. Elster; Image: Courtesy of J. Elster

Jennifer Elster is known for her experimental films and upcoming film series starring top tier talent like Terrence Howard, Yoko Ono and Alan Cumming. Now, she’s also channeling her avant-garde sensibility into a new men’s and women’s accessories line, J. Elster, filled with luxurious leather pouches, neck and headpieces, belts and couture. We caught up with the New York native to get the scoop on her foray into fashion.

theFashionSpot: Did you always want to be in fashion?

Jennifer Elster: No, actually. I didn’t even have an interest in fashion. It wasn’t something that I thought about. Back then it was very different — you didn’t really know what stylists were. But I had style since I was a kid, so creating was a natural thing for me. I spent my entire life creating something from nothing. I used to make sculptures of people out of clothes. 

tFS: What was your first fashion job?

JE: When I was 20 years old, I got a job at Condé Nast, which was more or less really to help me pay for my tuition at NYU at the time. I started off as a fashion editor’s assistant at Mademoiselle. I had a very serious work ethic, so I moved up quickly and became an editor and stylist. I got such a professional training at Condé Nast, so it was a great way to start off. At some point, I decided it wasn’t for me. I was going to become a writer and do my thing, but then they sucked me back in.

tFS: In what way?

JE: I’d get offers for freelance jobs. Agencies would call me and say things like, “Do you want to style Bowie?” At the time, I was trying to see how far I could push things and eventually, I just became kind of frustrated because I was somebody who was much more of a storyteller, so it wasn’t completely fulfilling.

tFS: What was your experience like with David Bowie?

JE: He was very warm. And he’s very much aware of his intrigue. He was in an extremely exploratory stage in his career and he had a fascination with computer manipulation at the time, so I was there to just take it all the way. In one shot, he was a suspicious detective. In another shot, he was a transgender creature named Ramona. 

tFS: What was your most memorable styling moment?

JE: I won’t say who the person was, but at the time I was working with somebody who was the top rock star at that moment. While I was on the shoot, he started crying because he couldn’t take his life anymore. And then I started crying because I didn’t want to be a stylist anymore. It was at that moment that I thought, “Wow, I’m on a shoot with somebody who I really respect and I’m creatively taking it as far as I can possibly go right now. It’s totally interesting and I’m not happy.”


J. Elster; Image: Courtesy of J. Elster

tFS: How did you break into film?

JE: Everything in my life takes time, so I don’t feel like I ever break into anything. I feel like I kind of learn and develop along the way and then forge.

tFS: How do you get A-list talent to appear in your films?

JE: I already knew a lot of the people, so it came naturally. And what I’m doing is original. The films are unusual and fascinating. They’re a warm-up for what’s coming. I think that I’ve been waiting for the right time when people would be able to receive this type of documentation. I think the time is upon us now.

tFS: When did you decide to launch a fashion brand?

JE: In post-production on one of my films, I needed a way to compartmentalize my existence. I could never find anything. I would always be looking for my keys, looking for my credit card, looking for my phone, so finally I said, “Why don’t I just have a necessity bag?” That’s when I made the first leather pouch.

tFS: You define J. Elster as “raw luxury.” What does that mean to you?

JE: The collection is precise and sophisticated, but yet it’s completely rough and raw. It feels very sexy to me. It has this ravenous edge to it. The pieces are not behaving and yet at the same time they’re quite sophisticated.

tFS: Who are you designing for?

JE: The one thing that I enjoy doing is giving some of these pieces to people that I care about. And as we all know, some of our friends and family look very different from one another. They could be 80 years old or 20 years old. It works for everyone.

tFS: How do you plan on balancing your film career and a fashion brand?

JE: It’s all about forming the right team of people to help me because I can’t do it all on my own. As long as I check in with myself throughout the process, I’ll be OK.