How Ballerina Jennifer Tierney Found Her Fashion Voice in KC
Risk-taker Jennifer Tierney made the leap from the ballet stage to the fashion runway look effortless. A classically trained ballerina who has performed all over North America, Tierney took her dance experience and flung herself body and soul into a fashion label that’s causing ovation within the regional design world. KC has taken notice, inviting her back again this year for KC Fashion Week’s 2019 Fall/Winter show.
As the owner and director of the American Dance Center in Overland Park, Tierney was already renown for her artistic influence over the past 12 years directing hundreds of dance students ages 3-18 in full-scale productions. The costuming required for these performances became the platform to showcase Tierney’s latent design skills. Of necessity, she learned to sew. She learned to pattern. She experimented with fabric in motion.
From stage wear to dance wear to activewear to runway to women’s wear to swimwear, Tierney has embraced it all, giving herself design permission to go full extension.
“There isn’t an aspect of design that I feel I would avoid at this point,” Tierney says. “I don’t mind taking risks, even though it’s not always welcomed as much as the safe choices. I like to find an idea and explore every square inch of space in it – from the core to the fringe.”
The result is exciting yet still evolving, as evidenced by the three-year-old J.Tierney Designs, the fashion leg of Tierney’s entrepreneurial world.
“I have a couple of collections in the works for both children’s clothing and swimwear. Even though I’ve been super fortunate to receive some initial success, this company is still in its infant stage. That’s what I love most about it. I’m still finding my voice.”
That voice has been described as iconically nostalgic, classically vintage, unashamedly feminine, and no matter how big some of her designs are, her collection ideas always begin with one “teeny tiny spark.” She says: “One color. One shape. One abstract idea. From there, every element is considered and woven into the core. From the models chosen, to their runway walk and lineup, to accessories, hair, makeup, shoes and music — each element is incredibly important and considered, and I am so appreciative to every artist involved in the process.”
Mixing large-scale bold with impeccable details is a life skill in which Tierney excels. As costume designer for the professional company Concept Zero Contemporary Dance (Summer 2019), Tierney interprets into fashion the work of esteemed co-director and choreographer Kristopher Estes-Brown, whom Tierney calls her “forever best friend,” and whose work is a revelation.
Tierney says she was influenced in life by her French grandmother who sewed dresses for her and inspired her design aspirations. Tierney also admires Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel for her “entrepreneurial spirit, impeccable fashion taste and grit,” and she often turns to her oversized Dior book at the foot of her bed that’s almost too awkward to hold.
“The weight sucks me into the pages and sparks an idea that I once had but had forgotten,” she says. “Reading it feels like I’m digging through my own personal inspiration archives.”
Amped up with design passion, Tierney jots ideas in her sketchbooks and journals scattered throughout her home. Her design process involves creating a microcosm for each new collection to exist inside: “Each world is unique to itself; therefore, the pieces are unique to themselves.”
For example, her vintage picnic collection showcased at KC Fashion Week didn’t include designs a woman would wear to a picnic – too easy. They were the picnic itself, magically coming to life in a style reminiscent of The Nutcracker’s Land of Sweets, which happens to be a signature production of her ballet students. (Tierney lists her Christmas doll costumes for this production as some of her all-time favorite designs.)
Tierney says she loves designing for children, as well as working with them.
“My ballet students keep me centered,” she says. “They inspire me and are a constant reminder of what’s important.”
Tierney retired from dancing professionally only two years ago, but she still retains her inner ballerina. A 4-year-old student of hers recently boasted, “My ballet teacher is a REAL ballerina NOT a pretend one, is even prettier than Ariel, and she smells like cupcakes.”
Tierney, a Sacramento native, says she adores Kansas City and plans to continue to contribute to the dance, music, and fashion threads here.
“I’ve visited almost every major city in the country thanks to my dance career, and I can confidently say that Kansas City is my favorite. The arts are alive, well and supported in Kansas City, especially for our size. Each art community is incredibly welcoming and motivated to be inclusive, to collaborate, and to continue to push boundaries and thrive for the benefit of everyone who calls KC home.”
Look for Tierney’s upcoming showings at Omaha Fashion Week ‘19 as well as KCFW ’19. This spring, Tierney will present at JCCC’s Fashion Show and hopes to be accepted again into W. 18th St. Fashion Show with a new collection for Summer 2019.
For more info, visit:
American Dance Center
11728 Quivira Rd.,
Overland Park KS 66210