Fashion Forward Vision

Fashion Designer Jay Godfrey


By Linda Marx

Jay Godfrey grew up loving fashion but never thought he would make it a career.

Born and raised in Toronto, Godfrey admits he didn’t excel in art. With a painter mother and entrepreneur father in politics, sports team ownership and the newspaper business, he comes from a prominent family of super achievers.

As a young boy, he spent hours reading fashion magazines and admiring menswear designs created by superstars like Giorgio Armani. “Armani was at the top of his game,” says Godfrey. “I was enamored with his work. I found it enchanting. This started my love affair with fashion.”

Once he took a summer job in the Canadian showroom of Hugo Boss, his dream became a Technicolor reality. He was young with a low level position yet able to see how collections are designed. “I even had a clothing allowance,” he recalls. “I knew I loved color and fashion.”

Godfrey, now 36, is based in New York City. He is founder and creative director of his eponymous collection of ladies fashion. His sleek, sexy and sophisticated designs are worn by celebrities like Eva Longoria, Eva Mendez, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Olivia Palermo, Laverne Cox and Taraji P. Henson.

His collection is carried at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Intermix, House of Fraser, Stanley Korshak and many other luxury stores and online retailers around the world.

Godfrey calls himself a minimalist. His dresses and separates are inspired by the chic and active New York woman; his contemporary pieces accentuate the female form. He designs cocktail dresses, tops, jackets and pants at a contemporary price point which have given him a niche and put him on the fashion map.

“I meld the classic tailoring techniques of Savile Row with modern silhouettes and luxurious fabrics,” says Godfrey, whose cocktail dresses retail between $295.00 and $695.00. “I design the perfect dress—well priced, clean, sensual and modern while embracing color.”

But his New York fashion career started in an unlikely way. He first studied finance at Montreal’s McGill University because he was eager to learn accounting and business. After graduation, he headed for Wall St. to work for Citigroup. After one year of delving headfirst into finance, he was bored and unfulfilled.

“I wasn’t enjoying myself,” he admits. “Everyone talked about the stock market while I read Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue!”

During a vacation from work, he soul searched and talked to his family. After studying Tom Ford’s modus operandi and style, he learned how the designer captured both art and commerce to make himself an international brand. In 2001, he took a chance and applied to New York’s Parsons School of Design and was accepted.

“They asked me why I should be allowed in when I had no real art or design experience,” says Godfrey. “I told them I had a fashion forward vision, a contemporary design at a sharp price point. And at the time, I wanted menswear.”

While studying at Parsons from 2002 to 2004, Godfrey had a professor who once worked with designer Jean Paul Gaultier. The instructor told Godfrey to think about ladies clothing instead of men’s. “As a straight man, I had never even thought of it,” he says.

After graduating, Godfrey got lucky and landed a job working for the late designer Oscar de la Renta. He learned how to drape and make “something beautiful” for women. But Godfrey wanted to create a gown that shouted “designer” in feeling yet offered a less expensive price point. So he started his own line.

“I was dating my wife Dara at the time while she was a student in Canada,” he says. “I set out to design the perfect dress for her: well priced, clean, sensual, modern and embracing color. I got lucky at an event where my wife was wearing that dress. The owner of Intermix was there and loved it.”

The dress was one shoulder trapeze, chic, simple and sexy. Since it was priced well, a version of the dress sold tens of thousands to all kinds of buyers, from regular working women to socialites to glamorous actresses. “Eva Mendez wore one on the red carpet,” he says. “I got in on a niche and other stores start buying the line.”

In 2008, Parsons presented Godfrey with the school’s Alumni Achievement Award to recognize his talents and success. He also appeared on TV’s America’s Top Model as a special guest designer, where he dressed the contestants for a red carpet event.

In 2012, he got a big break. In collaboration with Cintas, he redesigned the uniforms for W Hotels worldwide. “Michael Kors had done them before,” says Godfrey. “I created new uniforms for both men and women. W employees at bellstands, front desks, concierge areas, etc. wear my designs. This corporate opportunity gave us unexpected growth potential.”

The following year, the Cachet Hotel Group hired him to collaborate, rebrand and renovate the guest rooms at the URBN Hotel Shanghai, China’s first carbon-neutral hotel. He reimagined everything from the towels to the upholstery, and curated a selection of branded retail products from robes and cosmetics to decorative items and mattresses.

“I flew to Shanghai and spent several days in one of the hotel rooms,” he explains. “I came up with 20 new design ideas both big and small. When I returned on another trip, they asked me to do the entire hotel.”

He is also reimagining Cachet in Shanghai and Bangkok, two more of the company’s hotels. Godfrey sees this kind of interior design as a natural extension to fashion design. He loves perusing architecture and lifestyle magazines so he has plenty of new ideas.

“Architecture and design inform each other, and I like doing both,” he says. “I love to exercise the design mind.”

Another new project is his daytime “desk to dinner” collection for Home Shopping Network, a line he calls clean, modern and well priced. This gives him millions of more potential customers, keeping him busier and constantly on a plane.

Since he spends much of the year traveling around the world visiting factories and working on his variety of collections, he does need to take family breaks and enjoy some down time.

When he wants to unwind, Godfrey brings Dara and their daughters Allegra, 6, and Bardot, 4, to Sunny Isles where they own a condominium. “We come to Florida about once a month,” he says. “Miami is detox quiet time where we unwind from the madness and craziness of New York.”

He also takes the family to the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico. The kids enjoy an activity-filled camp while mom and dad get some adult time. He also plans to take the family to Israel next year.

“I have had many amazing work opportunities,” says Godfrey. “But spending time with my wife and kids is also wonderful. We all love to travel and see both familiar and new places. I am very lucky!”

Indeed he is.