Jenne of Arc: Legendary Fashion
“I bought some red tartan bondage trousers when I was 16. And I bought a stripper wig when I was 14. I had to buy it on layaway and pay few dollars at time – they were expensive back then!” And so begins the fabulous tale of magpie Jenne Osterhoudt, collector and founder of The Arc: an archive of incredible fashion gathered by Jenne on her adventures through 80s and 90s fashion legend.
Interview and Photography
All Clothing THE ARC ARCHIVE
Beauty Papers: What is the last beautiful thing you saw?
Jenne Osterhoudt: Yesterday, it was the BalletBoyz in their costume fittings for Glastonbury. Seven pretty ballet dancers styled by Nick Royal in pastel ostrich feathers with black chav trainers. I also saw my friend Sarah Harmarnee’s photographs from Saut Hermes – the annual show jumping event put on by Hermes. It’s the most beautiful horse show on the planet – the sheer magnificence of the venue and the incredible art direction of Hermes. They managed to create an otherworldly experience of equestrian chic. As an old and trusted friend she shared a work in progress with me.
BP: What is your first memory of glamour?
JO: Marilyn Monroe. Bob Mackie costumes on Cher, especially the floor length white feather headdress. Carol Burnette, All of Charlie’s Angels, especially Farah Fawcett. All of my 1970s Barbie dolls which I still have. Olivia Newton John in the black satin trouser look by DVF in Grease. Diana Ross. Gloria Gaynor. Rick James. Sylvester and all the album covers of the disco stars. The first record I ever bought was the Village People! The Can’t Stop the Music soundtrack, when I was 12. There were feathers and rhinestones involved…
I got this Vivienne Westwood corset in a little shop in the East Village in New York, when I lived there in the early 90s. I was a clubkid adopted into the scene by Michael Alig. We all dreamed of wearing the Westwood corset and her chunky platform high heels. It was the ultimate treasure. I later wore it on dates in Paris but I don’t know if dudes appreciated it.
BP: And what was the touch paper that ignited your appetite for fashion?
JO: The 1980s films Dangerous Liaisons and Amadeus. I just wanted to move to Paris and wear 18th century costumes in the street and have a little French dog in a pink Chanel suit! I wanted to be a costume designer, but then I snuck into the 1993 John Galliano Pirate Show at The Salle Wagram, and it was as great as costumes, but it was actual clothing. So I thought it would be the best of both worlds to work for him.
BP: What was the first look you pulled together as a teenager?
JO: There were so many… Trip Dagger pants, a green velvet Teddy Boy coat, brothel creepers and crimped goth hair. Colourful pastel petticoats under vintage 50s black and white ‘New Look’ dresses with a neon yellow rubber double belt and purple pointy velvet smoking slippers – very Cyndi Lauper! MC Hammer pants – before MC Hammer ruined them – with a grave digger tail coat and Chinese shoes from Mission Street.
"I just wanted to move to Paris and wear 18th century costumes in the street and have a little French dog in a pink Chanel suit! I wanted to be a costume designer, but then I snuck into the 1993 John Galliano Pirate Show at The Salle Wagram, and it was as great as costumes, but it was actual clothing."
BP: And the hair and makeup?
JO: I inherited a bag of 1960’s make-up from my grandmother who sold Avon in Fresno, California. In it there was a treasured little black cake eyeliner that you could wet and paint on those 1950s Marilyn Monroe flick eyes – the ones we all do now. Also, we used to wear rice powder to be paler – more dead looking. It didn’t really work and caused pimples [laughter.]
In 1984 I bleached not only my own hair, but also my 12 year old sister’s. I got in big trouble. I also bleached my Japanese-Italian cousin’s hair and REALLY got in trouble! Then with what was left of my hair I died it pink, blue, purple with Crazy Colour vegetable dye – that’s all there was back then.
BP: What was the first piece of fashion you remember buying?
JO: I bought some red tartan bondage trousers when I was 16. And I bought a stripper wig when I was 14. I had to buy it on layaway and pay few dollars at time – they were expensive back then! In terms of designer pieces, I found an Alaïa Houpette Dress in a consignment shop in Soho for £50. I nearly had a heart attack and actually screamed in the shop at the finding of such a treasure.
Hilarious, this on the left is the outfit that I wore on an infamous first date. For some reason I thought it would impress this very normal guy to wear it along with all of the accessories from that McQueen pirate show. I had the skull scarf prototype, the skull scarf pirate bag and the horn heel shoes. I guess I was really proud of the accessories I had developed for that show. I am still really proud of the skull scarf and happy that it was a commercial success for the house. This suit was my clothing allowance for that season.
On the right, this is the Lavender 20 foot long frock coat from Galliano’s first ever Haute Couture show for Givenchy in 1996. We called the show The Princess and The Pea and this coat was worn by Vanessa Bellanger my beautiful friend and colleague, as the back drop for the whole show. She wore it sitting atop a pile of 15 giant mattresses and it hung down to the ground like a curtail behind the models walking the catwalk. I used to have it draped over my four poster bed in Paris.
BP: At what point did shopping turn into collecting?
JO: From day one, I saw every garment as a treasure. You had to be lucky to find hand made vintage because cool clothes didn’t exist. There was no Lycra, no neon fabric, no striped tights, no access to clothes from London, no internet. It was so hard to acquire cool things – only quirky vintage and the odd rare import from London. I still have most of my clothes from since I was 15, in The Arc. Anything metallic was like a miracle. Candys clog high heels were coveted, and they made them in little girl sizes. I remember seeing the original gold disco platform wedges in 1979, in store windows and crying about wanting them and my mom yelling “NO!” My quirky neighbour had managed to find neon Green yarn and knit herself a cardigan and I thought that was the most amazing thing ever. I would stare at her with envy when I was 13 years old. I used to get beat up in school for staring at people but I was just taking in all the details.
This was such an emotional piece for me. I was in charge of getting all of the smocking done for this show, about 10 pieces. I had discovered a guy in Paris in the Sentier – the garment district – who made little girl dresses. I had to go knocking on doors to find him, as this was before the internet. He had this amazing smocking machine but had never made adult clothes before. We had to painstakingly spend days hand guiding the panels and pattern pieces row by row into the machine, loosening and tightening the tension to get the shaping in. Sometimes we would get half way through and the needles would skip a stitch and we would have to chuck it and start over. I was so desperate to get it done and not let John down.
BP: How did you set up The Arc?
JO: I had all the 1990s clothes in storage in Paris for 15 yrs. I left Paris in 2001 to move to London, to come work for McQueen. And it’s where I have been ever since. I never knew anyone who could drive or who had a car so I had given up on getting It all to London. I was carrying a bag at a time over the years on the Eurostar, but hadn’t really made a dent. Then on Tinder I found a cute Dutch boyfriend and he drove me and my clothes to London 5 years ago. That was the beginning of The Arc, but I had to find a nice showroom and it took a few years to find the beautiful place where we are now, in Hackney under the railway arches.
BP: Is there a manifesto?
JO: Yes, me and my business partner, stylist Nick Royal, must agree on everything that goes in The Arc. It has to be McQueen, Galliano, Givenchy by either of them or a few other designers like Vivienne Westwood, Alaïa, Chanel, Comme des Garcons, Gaultier. It has to feel like 90s Paris or London.
"I bought some red tartan bondage trousers when I was 16. And I bought a stripper wig when I was 14. I had to buy it on layaway and pay few dollars at time – they were expensive back then!"
BP: Are there any magic pieces you missed out on nabbing?
JO: Yes, I kick myself when I think of the private staff Givenchy Haute Couture sales I had access to and that I didn’t buy more stuff at the time. I know I am lucky that I got what I got, but there were pieces available that were so amazing. I got as much as could afford at the time. That’s where I got the gold ram’s horns from McQueen’s first Haute Couture show and the lavender 20-foot-long frock coat from Galliano’s first Haute Couture show, among many other things.
BP: What outfit did you have the most amount of fun wearing?
JO: I remember going out all over Paris in the clothes! To Anahi restaurant double dating guys with my friend and colleague Catherine Brickhill, who was Lee’s first assistant. I was wearing the massive zebra upside down coat by Galliano from the AW95 ‘snow show’. It was a tiny little restaurant with crammed seating and I could barely fit in there with the giant stiff coat. It weighed a ton. I used to wear most of the clothes to work or out to dinner. I would wear the Galliano ‘95 Poodle Jacket grocery shopping. I wore the Galliano frock coat on a date with DJ Moby on a date at Cafe Marly in the Louvre in 2000. He really liked that coat. At McQueen, I dated a Scottish guy and when he dumped me a year later he said “here’s a tip, next time you go on a first date, maybe don’t wear a Pirate coat with a Pirate skirt with Pirate shoes, a pirate scarf and a Pirate bag!”
‘Le Papillon et la Fleur.’ I loved this piece and ordered it for my clothing allowance. It has emotional value because nobody but me knew how to put it on as John showed me how and I was assigned to do it for all the buyers. It was a little stressful to get it right each time. I have also the first toile of this piece which was thrown in the garbage. I made a big show of taking it out of the trash even though John’s assistant Stephen was mad at me for doing it. I saw it as a crime to throw Galliano toiles in the bin and I have rescued several them.