Jackie Fraser-Swan: The Girl with the Chanel Tattoo

Is this East Bridgewater mom the fashion world’s next big thing?

Fashion Designer Jackie Fraser-Swan

Photo by Scott M. Lacey

It’s February in New York and, 15 minutes to showtime, Jackie Fraser-Swan is calm amid the chaos backstage at her fall 2012 Fashion Week event in Lincoln Center. As one sinewy model purses her lips for a slash of purple lipstick, another gazes into a mirror while a hairdresser curls and teases her locks. Next to the stylists who are steaming silk blouses, neoprene pencil skirts, and faux fur capelets is a board covered with Polaroids of the 33 outfits Fraser-Swan is about to send down the catwalk.

On the other side of the curtain, hundreds of smartly dressed industry insiders shift in their folding chairs and finger the long-stemmed roses that have been left, along with boxes of gumballs, on the front-row seats. Photographers are swarming Leigh Lezark—the model, DJ, Karl Lagerfeld muse, and all-around “it” girl of the moment—who stars in the preview photos of the clothes Fraser-Swan will show tonight. B-list actresses Shenae Grimes and India de Beaufort are getting their share of attention from the paparazzi , as well. On the proscenium, meanwhile, is the room’s only décor: the name of Fraser-Swan’s clothing line, “Emerson,” which honors her great-great-great-grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Lincoln Center is the official epicenter of New York’s Fashion Week, the semiannual citywide spectacle during which top industry players like Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, and Charlotte Ronson unveil their latest collections before 5,000-plus editors, bloggers, and superstar photographers. But there’s room at Fashion Week for even an unheralded, small-town Massachusetts designer like Fraser-Swan. A successful show tonight could land her creations in Barneys or in the glossy pages of W. “Obviously, in the ideal world, Anna Wintour becomes infatuated with your brand,” says Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of the Tobe Report, a New York–based fashion forecasting company.

Backstage, Fraser-Swan, dressed head to toe in black, her blunt bangs streaked with shocking purple (a self-dye job done in the hotel sink), looks much like the edgy, successful designer she aspires to be. A few months ago, she got her first major break—the opportunity to present a collection at the spring 2012 Fashion Week shows. Though she was inexperienced then, she had enough money (her family runs a successful company) to finance a 10-minute catwalk. Big-deal press mentions followed, and her nubby wool arm warmers were featured in a Vogue Italia cover spread. That success led to her being invited back for tonight’s show. She’s been given a prime-time slot, and the expectations are much higher this time.

Fraser-Swan believes that with a few good New York shows, her line will take off. “I want editors and buyers to take Emerson seriously,” she says. “I am not just another new designer that is going to fizz out. I am a designer and a businesswoman who also has a heart. I am in this for the long haul.” She imagines launching a kids’ line (“I mean, I’d be all set with models,” she says, referring to her four daughters under the age of six), branching out into jewelry and accessories, and ultimately, becoming a household name. Fortunately, she’s got the financial backing to produce high-profile shows again and again. But does the 31-year-old art-school dropout and suburban mother have the talent, drive, and aggression required to conquer an industry notorious for its capriciousness and exclusivity?