Overlooked No More: Jay Jaxon, Pioneering Black Designer of

“No one knew his real name was Eugene,” Hardy added.

Eugene Jackson was born August 30, 1941. His father, Sidney Jackson, worked for the Long Island Railroad as a track conductor and his mother, Ethel Rena-Jackson, was a housekeeper. The house was traditional and strict, although Eugene was more outspoken than his three older siblings, a trait he retained throughout his life.

“He was a little different from the rest of us in that he responded and he expressed his opinion,” his sister Arlene Patterson said in a telephone interview.

As a teenager, Jaxon moved in with a family who lived nearby, helping with childcare while attending high school. The family frequently made clothes at home, using fabrics and patterns from bustling Jamaica Avenue. Jaxon enthusiastically joined in, said Rachel Fenderson, who has curated several Jaxon exhibitions and written a book about him.

Jaxon received a BA from Hunter College in Manhattan in the early 1960s. He attended New York University Law School for about a year with the intention of becoming a lawyer, but decided he was over interested in clothing and enrolled in a costume design course at the Fashion Institute of Technology, also in Manhattan. Before long, with the money he saved by working as a bank teller, he enrolled full-time.

There he met fellow minds like designer Stephen Burrows, a classmate. In an interview, Burrows said that Jaxon “knew more about fashion than almost anyone I knew at the time,” after years of reading fashion magazines. He was also familiar with high-end clothing stores in Manhattan.

During this time, Jaxon dated her first boyfriend, hairstylist Kenneth Battelle, who chose to only be known by his first name. Battelle’s affluent clientele included philanthropists like Bunny Mellon; some of his chic clients have become Jaxon’s first clients.

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