Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Extinct Design & Dr. Sketchy

(June 01, 2011)

Interview with Heather Jones

Cymru Culture has always celebrated the unusual and individual in Wales. So, how about a mix of burlesque-themed, life-drawing evenings with stunning fashion design? Sounds like a strange combination to some, but makes perfect sense to Heather Jones, better known as Madame Ex, a charismatic and talented pervayor of all things individual and fashionable. Madame Ex created Extinct Design and in the first part of this interview Heather tells us how the brand started, what her major influences are and what her plans are for the future. In the second part of the interview we discuss her involvement with the Dr. Sketchy art evenings, which are transforming gloomy evenings in North Wales into sensuous, and fun, burlesque-themed art evenings.


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CC ... Extinct Design is heavily influenced by vintage items. What started your interest in vintage?

HJ ... I love this question, as it takes me back to those times just after school when I was able to express myself through my clothes. Living in south Wales at the time where charity shops were plentiful and laden with vintage dream outfits. I was compelled to don a pair of flares, skinny t-shirt or indulge in some beautiful crochet dress that I would team with big hairy boots. I loved it when people would remark on my clothes as they really reflected the "me" of Me. I giggle now as I remember a huge pair of bell bottoms which I adapted with some crudely hand stitched on pink fur, I would proudly say "I made these". People would smile and say "Yes … ahem we can tell". Such true freedom to express through fashion is often not seen as a creative one. It’s lovely to know, feel and be yourself that’s why I started Extinct; to encourage that in others too.


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CC ... Why do you think vintage items are more desirable than modern day pieces?

HJ ... Individuality foremost. Quality and style a very close second. This expensive fast fashion turnaround doesn’t give anyone a real chance to take the time to notice what suits them, colours, shapes etc. Once you take yourself out of that cycle, of buying cheap each season (more like every couple of weeks in some people's cases) you can rest to see what works, that quality lasts and that you have at last developed your own style.


CC ... Your pieces have an environmental conscience. Why is this aspect so important to you and Extinct Design?

HJ ... I’d say it’s the wastage that frustrates me. Great design really excites me and I like to applaud those companies and small businesses that embrace great style, quality with an eco-conscious. It just makes sense. When I hear about cheap products, labour and companies … I guess I think, "well, why bother?" If you take my earlier point on this fast fashion community that has snowballed, we’ll end up with man-made mountains of cheap jewellery, clothing and shoes that will negatively affect the places in which we live. Buy the best quality you can afford, keep aiming high ~ the old adage of quality not quantity.


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CC ... Your ranges encompass diverse pieces, from accessories to clothing. Are there any area's of design you have yet to explore?

HJ ... Ha, ha. Yes, well I do like so many things. I am keen to include my homeware and art sections to the site this year. Again these will be made up using vintage, recycled materials breathing life back into them!


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CC ... Extinct Design has a very definite look and feel. Is it important to you that fashion is a form of personal expression that shouldn't be mass-produced?

HJ ... Couldn’t have said it better myself. It's not only a form of personal expression, it can really help in terms of confidence, self awareness and easing any body issues. Dressing "right" for you in terms of look, feel, colour and style comes from a very personal place. I want everyone to feel that. I started running a few 'Vintage Dress Up' parties last year with girls gathered in my front room and kitchen, supping cocktails and trying on vintage dresses with their co-ordinating accessory counterparts! It was great to see, when through my guidance they could see as I see, how a colour or shape particularly suits them. I will be running these events again – anyone wishing to come along can find out about them via my site or facebook page.


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CC ... Who are your main style influences. Are there any particular celebrities whom you really admire?

HJ ... My love for the 60s and 70s (as well as earlier decades) doesn’t just stop at the fashions. It’s the sofas, pictures, materials, films, art, photography, food ... I was very struck by the 70s TV shows while I was growing up - from Dukes of Hazard (Daisy Duke!), Charlie’s Angels (Farrah Fawcett) and The Good Life (Margo). Also, music has brought those visual psychedelic images that strongly connect with me and my designs; everyone from Tim Buckly, Donavan and The Doors, to Doris Day, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald.


CC ... Extinct Design often work in collaboration with other designers. Can you tell us about this fascinating concept?

HJ ... I wanted to set up Extinct not only to promote my vintage and re-created wares, but to showcase and promote fun, quirky, creative businesses with an eco- conscious and a strong design aesthetic. I am as enthusiastic about bringing individual designers, labels and artists onto the site to work in this way. Guest designers remain on the site for anything from 3 months to a year, or even longer! To me, it feels great to hone in on some fabulous up and coming designers and give them a space, opportunity and mini-shop within the site. The items work off each other; customers often buying from a few different designers at a time.


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Bag by guest designer Cloth Magpie



CC ... Tell us about your founding of Extinct Design. What lessons did you learn about starting your own business and what advice would you offer someone thinking of doing the same?

HJ ... When I started Extinct, the biggest lesson I was to learn was to take it step by step. Work methodically, give yourself a break, and not be pulled in too many directions by others. I did find it a challenge to get the balance of enough stock verses marketing the site. I didn’t want to spend my time marketing the site only to have a few items in there, thinking people would not want to come back. One of my key goals is to develop a relationship with each and every customer ensuring that they will come back time and time again. Get your goals right from the start, but don’t be afraid to change them!


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CC ... You are also involved in Dr Sketchy's Anti-art school. Tell us about this fascinating concept and how you became involved in it?

HJ ... Yes. I am the Host and Headmistress of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art school North Wales & Chester. It is essentially what a life drawing class would be like if they held them at the Moulin Rouge. The perfect blend of fun and creativity. I designed and taught my own art classes some years ago and was looking to involve my costume making, theatrical background and teaching in a new venture. I enquired, and was granted, the license for the whole North Wales area, I thought as long as I can enjoy myself then that all that matters! Since the start however, it has been really well received in the area with artists, non-artists and those in-between; the last event being sold out with more people trying to squeeze in on the night! It creates a great atmosphere, where anything is possible!


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CC ... The art school is heavily influenced by the phenomenon which is burlesque. Tell us why this particular topic, and why North Wales?

HJ ... When thinking about the more traditional idea of "life drawing": sterile rooms, bad lighting and bored, silent, models in the same reclining poses with nary a hint of personality come to mind. Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art school is here to change all that. Bursting onto the stage with colour and outrageous costumes, sass, comedy and performance to strike up a sexy, fun and cheeky poses to really get the imagination pumping. Why North Wales? Well as a resident here, I have found the nightlife in North Wales did leave me somewhat wanting ... Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art school is a great night out for anyone! Think of it like a creative karaoke.


CC ... Why do you think that burlesque has captured so many people's imagination in recent years, with celebrities such as Dita Von Teese becoming really prominent, especially in the field of fashion?

HJ ... I think that as women have continued to prove themselves successful as equals, whether at home or in work, the conscious need to fight that fight has lessened. Now, we get to choose when, how and where we want to be seen as sexy, be admired, be flirty and fun. As with any shift in social change, so it is reflected back in fashion.


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CC ... What can people expect if they attend a class?

HJ ... A fun relaxed atmosphere, free paper and pencils, gorgeous dancing girls, underground artists and me, Madame Ex ~ your Headmistress guiding you through a night of short sketches, longer sketches, challenges and more! There are also prizes to be won! What more could you possibly ask for from a night out? Oh yeah, its set in a bar too.

CC ... It seems it's art not taken too seriously, there's a mention of sketching and drinking, whilst listening to old tunes. Is this part of the attraction .... the fun, uninhibited element?

HJ ... The best way to learn is to feel relaxed and in a joyful mood (that’s where the booze comes in). Also, to be inspired and have your imagination piqued (that’s where the girls come in) and the fun uninhibited now that we’ll save for YOU, our Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art school pupils! So Come one, come all, those 'I can't drawers', the 'not surers' and 'cult explorers'... win prizes, dress up in disguises for Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art school is waiting for YOU to enrol ...


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CC ... Tell us about the plans for Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art school. What events do you have planned?

HJ ... Next up we have a Circus Sketchy, Murder Mystery, Myths & Legends Night and a Halloween Special. I can’t wait to see you all there!


CC ... Heather Jones, thank you.


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