Jet Shenkman launched her womenswear brand, Eponine London, in 2011, taking inspiration from the feminine shapes of the 50’s and 60’s.
Born and raised in a small village on the outskirts of Amsterdam, from an early age Jet dreamt of discovering the world. She joined the Dutch Foreign Office as a secretary and was delighted that her first posting was London where she lived and worked for three years. In 1986 Jet was posted to Tokyo, a place that holds particularly sentimental value as this was where she met her husband, Gregory. They married the following year and upon their return to Tokyo after their honeymoon Jet decided to pursue a different path, styling and advising Japanese clients. This meant styling in the broadest sense: from clothing to interiors and from hosting Western style dinners to Western etiquette.
It was only once Jet turned 50, a pivotal moment for her, that she felt that her life lacked the creative outlet she once had in Tokyo. With her children grown up it was the perfect time to jump into her next adventure.
A room in the basement of her house in Kensington was turned into the Eponine studio, her designer Petar, still with her today, hired, her sitting room turned into a showroom and clients soon followed. The brand’s big UK and international breakthrough followed in 2016 when the Princess of Wales first wore a piece from a collection.
Jet’s passion for sourcing and showcasing fabrics made by artisans, in particular from Japan, Thailand, India and Transylvania, has meant that each collection contains dresses made from her treasure trove of vintage fabrics. Each of these dresses are unique and have become much coveted collector pieces.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself and how you came to start the Eponine brand?
I’ve always been interested in fashion, I worked as a part time stylist in Japan when we lived there twice with our growing family in the eighties and nineties. As a busy mother of 4 it never felt like the right time to start my business but when I turned 50 it felt the time had come. I started from home and worked there with my designer Petar for the first 7 years and in 2017 we finally moved into our current studio and showroom in the heart of Kensington.
Two of my children work alongside me which is such a joy, a real family business and I am proud of how they have thrown themselves into building the brand it has become today.
What have you found the biggest challenges to be?
The biggest challenge in a small business is keeping your client base engaged in what you have on offer. In my case it is a never ending quest to find new interesting, often vintage, embroidered fabrics from all over the world. The other challenge is to keep growing, managing risk and scaling collections. Recent years have been unpredictable for so many of us and a steep learning curve. I do like a challenge and we have hopefully risen to the occasion!
How would you best describe yourself and your style?
An outgoing, fun loving empath. My style is eclectic, full of colour and patterns, often teamed with argyle knee highs and chunky ankle boots
What are some of your sources of inspiration
We lived in Japan and Hong Kong so our travels in that part of Asia have inspired me hugely in terms of fabrics, artisans, colours and embroidery. I also love nature and take photographs which we then develop into prints. Most of our couture pieces are lined in our our printed silk satin as I firmly believe that the inside of a garment needs be as special/ luxurious as the outside.
Favourite place you have ever travelled?
Without a doubt Japan. It has everything that anyone could ever dream of, exquisite food, a rich and interesting culture, mountains, seaside and a quirkiness that I have never encountered anywhere else in the world. I could not recommend a trip to anyone who has never been there more highly.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Never feel concerned about how you might be conceived, be unashamedly yourself and explore life to the full.
If you had a different career path, what would it be?
Ballet dancer or psychotherapist
Favourite Eponine piece to date?
Not easy to choose, it must be either any of our Hmong dresses, they are conversation pieces where ever I go, or one of our tweed coats. The Japanese dresses are so gorgeous too … I can’t choose!
What’s next for you and the brand?
We are keen to expand the Eponine RTW part of the business. We are working on a unique line of fifties inspired swimwear and are developing a line of cashmere. I like these new challenges as they keep the studio a creative and vibrant hub. It is also a place for every member of the team to contribute and share their ideas which means there is never a dull moment.