A Link Apart
By Jenny Wonderling
In a world that looks ever forward, Woodstock-based designer, Juniper Rose, has a knack for learning from and building upon the past. With Falconiere Shop she has created an original line of chainmail-inspired body jewelry as sophisticated as it is free-spirited. Yet this is not just a story of how an artist successfully merged a medieval medium with a love for the classical, drapey glam of the Victorian and Gatsby eras, forging a unique style all her own.
Not unlike the development of her line and approach to fashion, Juniper has been realistic about her own limitations while building upon her uncommon strengths. Meanwhile, she has kept a lifelong love for fashion in her sights at all times, in spite of others’ skepticism and life’s obstacles. In an understated new chapter in the Hudson Valley, she has found resiliency, hope, and connection where least expected, one tiny link, and Instagram order at a time.
Juniper Rose spent a lot of time dressing up as a girl. Then, as now, her unusual style paid homage to bygone eras, while bringing her own unique flair, a penchant for deconstructivism and a sturdy resourcefulness. Recently, a letter resurfaced that she wrote at twelve in a flourished cursive in which she had declared, “I’m going to be a famous clothing designer when I grow up.” She may finally be well on her way. Yet she has done so on her own timeline and after a circuitous route that was not without deterrents.
Award-winning author and motivational speaker Terrie Davoll Hudson once said, “The things that excite you are not random, they are connected to your purpose.” While an inclination and passion may be a spark, often disappointment and adversity may test and cloak our resolve, or the pressures of family and society will topple a dream. Still, with enough resilience, some, like Juniper, may continue to fan that original flame and even build a life. And with perseverance and creativity, it can look unlike anyone else’s.
When asked, “What would you tell your younger self?” Juniper answered without delay, “To hang in there because it all may seem like it’s working against you. There’s nothing I could have known then. I simply wouldn’t have ‘gotten it’ with the channels I had open to me at earlier points in my life. They became open decades later. You just have to not give up.”
A quick perusal of her Falconiere Shop presence on Instagram reveals a love for classic feminine lines of the past, simultaneously pushing beyond any ideas of confinement or expectation. Regal, sculptural, chic, and provocative, Juniper’s designs cannot be pigeonholed stylistically any more than their broad range of appeal to clients whose only commonality is perhaps that they are not afraid to be bold.
“Thanks to Instagram, there is not one demographic,” explains Juniper, “It has knocked things wide open for small designers. We’re no longer reliant on the sales and customer reach of a particular retailer or magazine. A famous actor or a bohemian rockstar like Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine will follow me or buy a piece, but so will a barista, an architect, a sex worker, a cos-player, or a fine artist at Saatchi Gallery. And the wonderful thing is they’ll tag me wearing my pieces and I’ll share it in my stories, so then all these people, who in real life would never cross paths, get to see how the others style it – the fancy interior designer with multiple home, the tattoo artist in the South of France, the edgy fashion person in Brooklyn– they’re brought together in this precious, diverse tribe, and all “protected” by my armor-like pieces. My line is not limited to a particular demographic, rather it’s people who are united in their individuality and creativity.
Juniper lives alone just beyond a walled, Zen-inspired garden that is hemmed in by a trickling brook. Within her humble two-storied flat, stuffed racks of vintage and antique clothing hang unceremoniously, taking up much of the small space. On the opposite side of the room, chainmail pieces in process splash across a desk. Ever-inventive and adaptive, it is here that this one-woman show designs, creates, styles, photographs, films, uploads, promotes, and ships her wares across the country and world.
She shared her stories with a welcome frankness, donning an old sweater and jeans, no makeup and her wild hair tied up haphazardly -even though design and fashion are obviously important to her. Down to earth, with easy laughter, she spoke openly about her artful family, the unexpected gifts of the pandemic’s isolation, and how she has created authentic relationships with a wide-reaching audience, thanks to a social media platform that continually helps her to become even more resilient.
In less than two years, Falconiere Shop has organically built a loyal and engaged following of more than 36,000 on its inclusive, eclectic appeal. Sexy, textural and kinetic, each piece pairs surprisingly with antique or vintage dresses, as accents on bare skin, or with more modern or grunge style. Laughing, Juniper explained how, “One woman had recently bought a piece and she said, ‘Well before I got to it, my boyfriend did. He’s in a rock band.'” A lot of transgender people also buy and wear her pieces. She explained, “I am very accessible on Instagram, happy to chat and answer questions. It’s an inclusive environment. I will alter my pieces for size and fit, and the inclusive environment that’s formed is friendly and engaged. I do these fashion editorial type posts – and everyone gets to be a part of it…versus seeing things in a magazine, and having it be unattainable and elitist.”
Juniper is the principal model in her “feed”. She hides her face most of the time, moving fluidly away from the camera. Her self-made photos and videos elicit curiosity and feel intimate and provocative. Meanwhile, she grounds ruffles and a feminine flow with something altogether original and edgy. Without competing, a prim hat or gloves contrast with metal, a torn dress, and the human form. A delicate blouse from another century meets a chainmail brass corset and epaulets, rising out of a translucent flowing skirt to reveal white briefs and stockingless thighs. The split-crotched antique bloomers part as she turns while remaining elusive. Wildflowers are tucked into the metal chainwork of her metal garters; there is a little playful lift of the hip. And yet she manages an artful taunt, never crossing a line too gaudy or cheap.
Juniper explained, “I look at everything constantly, I find it all fascinating. I started by watching and studying the people on Instagram who were the best at it, vintage shops, fashion magazines, jewelry and clothing designers, etc. Then I was watching the people who were copying the best. What is this tier doing? And this tier. Who is maintaining their engagement, who is growing in followers but shrinking in engagement? There are some people whose whole business is based on their persona – their face, their personality – and they might have great success with it, but I wonder how long it will hold out, and how it might limit the scope of their business if their personal appeal eventually fades. Personally, I’m not interested in centering myself, but it’s not in an effort to be an enigma or to be mysterious, I just don’t see how it would enhance what I do. To me, a face’s appeal is subjective and can be a barrier for the viewer.”
“I see people struggle with their engagement on Instagram – and yes, this is something we all struggle with and it’s terrifying and stressful because your livelihood is at stake – but instead of changing things up and throwing everything they can think of against the wall to see what sticks, they just double-down on what they’ve been doing because maybe it brought them some success and maybe they’re too tied to . I I just don’t understand that mindset, that it’s their followers or the algorithm that needs to change in order to embrace them. Instagram is amazing but you have to stay fluid and innovative and it is really hard work.” Juniper continued unapologetically.
A diminutive, exotic beauty with an air of mystery, Juniper doesn’t mind a hint of the outrageous, while somehow remaining innocent and original. The intimation of the nipple, the framing or highlighting of erogenous zones, but again, she pulls it off without ever seeming tawdry. If not shot against a plain white wall, Falconiere’s videos immerse the viewer in a lush natural world. We are voyeurs accompanied by the sounds of crickets and wind, the crunch of grass and flowing water. An old upholstered standing screen may be plunked into the grass as a backdrop. Loosestrife is nestled in chainmail short-shorts, a garter lashing up over-the-knee floral stockings. An old silk embroidered dress is slung up on one side revealing skin. The caption reads, “heavy metal in a flowering field,” and speaks to Juniper’s ability to not take herself too seriously. Instead, she has highlighted draped pleats and softly ballooning sleeves grounded by avant-garde chainmail and tall grasses, revealing an ineffable love affair between form and the formless.
When asked if her boldness and originality have gotten her into trouble in a world of copycats and artifice, she answered unabashedly, “In the past, my frankness has helped me get to the top and make a lot of money–as well as get fired over and over! I see the throughline. And it’s not that everything I do is a success with Instagram now, nor has it been. But the flops are invaluable in terms of helping you gauge what direction to go, that is if you learn the lessons.”
Not everyone is as willing to see and embrace obstacles as an opportunity, something that seems to have shaped Juniper’s career. Mediocre grades in most of her classes at fashion school also helped highlight a rare flair for draping and seeing three-dimensionally. After a lucrative but uninspired stint in mass-market fashion with the Olsen Twins, she narrowly avoided being pigeonholed as a commercial kids’ designer, when a friend who worked at Donna Karan suggested she make her a necklace to wear to work to see what happens.
Juniper made her first piece by upcycling old bygone jewelry. “It was just sort of a hodgepodge of bits and pieces that I had taken apart. I learned how to use pliers and do jump rings, so that’s how I started.” Her second and subsequent pieces, utilized chainmail, leather, crystals and chains. The friend wore one to work and Juniper’s capsule collection for Donna Karan was born, with her own line, Falconiere, to follow with a first season launch exclusively at Net-a-Porter.
The first time through with Falconiere, I was reliant on retailers and the press with no connection to the actual customers. It was amazing press – W magazine, I don’t know how many times, shot on Linda Evangelista, shot by Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Tim Walker, styled by Edward Enninful, by Lori Goldstein. I was included in features, my pieces were in American, Italian, French, Russian and Latin American Vogue, etc. But did great press result in sales? No. Not at all.
“Here’s an interesting thing: I was a mediocre fashion student but what I excelled in, and maybe my only solid ‘A’ was in pattern making and draping. That’s where you learn to do these 3D shapes. I could visualize them in my head. Some people struggled in draping class but they excelled in illustration. Well, I didn’t excel in illustration, my work got made fun of. I was pretty much a solid C student, but in draping, you create three-dimensionally, starting with manipulating your muslin on a dress-form, then transferring it to a paper pattern; then to fabric and cutting it. My trouble was with pressing and sewing, I’m a messy worker, which you can’t be. But I was good at envisioning three-dimensional shapes.”
For years I would do this sort of subconscious thing where I would draw geometric shapes in my head, over and over again. Then when I started doing the necklaces, I was too excited to sleep. I’d get up at night to keep working on them. Something just connected, from dressing up in my mom’s jewelry to the vintage clothing I used to alter and wear as a kid, to my clothing career and finally to my own jewelry. It was fascinating, it all finally clicked.”
Falconiere, in its first life, lasted for about five years and ended in debt, leaving Juniper heartbroken. The luxury retailer she had launched with, exclusively by their request, had made her take back all the stock that didn’t sell, or they wouldn’t order her second season, essentially saddling her with an insurmountable debt from the start. She turned a dozen of these necklaces into a dress, coined by a friend “The Vengeance Dress” and after she stopped her line, she started finding other work.
“I was thinking, ‘Ok, should I become a teacher? A coder? What are the trending occupations that pay well?’ My well-intentioned sister said, ‘Maybe you should become an Uber driver…or a radiologist.’ And so you start believing it, that you were doing the wrong thing, because life is so hard, and you’re not able to support yourself and the thing you most loved to do ended in debt. So I got lost and flopped around a few years trying different things, and then the pandemic hit and those things came to an abrupt halt.”
“Initially, I was selling vintage on Instagram and Etsy, then I realized how hard it is to maintain an income when there are so many people that are better at it than me, and I turned to the dusty boxes full of my old Falconiere pieces.”
This time, chainmail would connect her back to an innate and secret affinity she had for daydreaming with repetitive geometric shapes. “I started by styling them with vintage on Instagram, I ‘boosted’ one post, went to bed and woke up to my first order from a fashion person in France.” That kept on for about a year, Juniper thinking that it was just what she was doing until she figured out what she was actually going to do with her life. “Then suddenly I was like, ‘Wait, what if this is what I’m going to actually do? What if it’s finally coming together?’ So I finally stopped self-criticizing or questioning my path as much and I have more goals, maybe I’m at the very beginning of building a brand.” She has also ditched the traditional route of wholesaling to retailers completely by selling directly to consumers exclusively through Instagram and Etsy.
“I’m making every piece myself, draping, patterning the pieces, linking hundreds of jump rings. It can take hours and days to create a new piece and get it right, but reproducing them goes much faster. I am still doing it all myself, if you order a piece from me, I’ll be the one to make it. People sometimes ask, ‘Don’t you get sick of it? Isn’t it crazy making?’ But I don’t and it’s not, it’s how I zone out, a nice balance to the creativity I need for new pieces and for styling photos, etc.” When asked how doing something meditative has changed her, Juniper said, “I don’t know, but doing something I absolutely love has completely changed me in ways I think I am just starting to understand. And now I am able to completely support myself with Falconiere. That’s a huge thing to comprehend and let sink in, that I have created this thing that resonates with so many people, that I am building a life on it. So I feel more fully realized as a person- living my authentic self, as they say, but it’s true.”
When asked about the healing powers of creativity, Juniper answered without delay: “The access I had to creativity gave me what I needed to survive; it’s the best gift my parents gave me.” It is also what seems to have lent her a hard-earned ability to reinvent and redefine “success” for herself along the way.
For most, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” as John Lennon so famously said. But to enjoy that life and not feel we have betrayed ourselves is another thing entirely. As Juniper’s path has revealed, when we follow our passion and natural inclinations, tenacity can eventually even lead to fulfillment.
And for more of this fascinating story…
My parents were born in New York and met in the early 60s while doing an arts program at the Brooklyn Museum. Both Fine Arts Majors, they married and got their Master’s at Berkeley. My dad got a series of Fulbright awards- that’s how they initially moved to Calcutta, India. They taught and traveled the world before I was born, finally settling in Portland, Oregon, where my dad taught painting at Reed College. That’s where I came into the picture, in a creaking house built in 1907, filled with their treasures from living in India, Florence, Italy and Morocco. They bought these showy kinds of necklaces and jewelry in the 60s which is what I grew up playing with. Eventually they divorced and my dad came back to New York and neither of them stayed in the arts because it’s so hard to sustain an income.
Even at school, first at Parsons in New York and then at Otis in LA, Juniper paired old and new, bringing a fresh spin to something discarded for her Todd Oldham senior critic project. “So you know those vintage crochet doilies? I hand-sewed a whole bunch together to make a tunic, then made these silk shantung cigarette pants with a hand-painted floral pattern on them and a huge painted wrap in silk. With me it’s always, okay that’s a lot, but how can I make it even more?”
“Years later, my career led me to I worked as a work as a Design Director with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of the Olsen Twins, for their mass market kids’ line. I was traveling to Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, France, Spain and the UK, eventually relocating from LA to London to run their European business. I was traveling to Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, France, Spain and the UK, eventually relocating from LA to London to run their European business. I had a great salary, but at what costs? I didn’t feel good about it, knocking things off and the waste involved with fast fashion and the many thousands of units that would live a short life before heading to a dumpster. It was before the awareness of fast fashion and how harmful it is. I said to my boss one day, ‘All we do is knock people off, this is horrible.’ And she said to me, ‘Well, you can either be able to afford the stuff you love, or you can design the stuff you love and not be able to afford to buy any of it.’ So I thought, huh, so I guess this is what it is. I was miserable. I was making good money and wasting it on expensive things, but I didn’t believe in or respect the work I was doing, and then it ended. The business imploded and I got laid off, but instead of going back to LA, I moved back to New York.”
I took time off which is what you’re not supposed to do in fashion. You are supposed to just keep going before age becomes a factor. By then, even though I’d once had my own contemporary clothing line, carried by Barneys, Steven Alan, etc, my stint working for the Olsen’s, pigeonholed me into mass-market which I refused to do ever again. I thought my fashion career was over when finally, my friend came along with the Donna Karan opportunity, and I had my chance to enter the fashion world in the way I’d always dreamed.
Now, thanks to Instagram, my business is better than ever. It’s all a direct relationship between me and the public. By making everything to order, I’m not taking the risks of buying material I’ll be stuck with, making pieces that won’t sell, etc. I can make something, post it on Instagram and sometimes it bombs, but other times I’ll get five orders in 24 hours for a piece that costs $600. I ship all over the US, and Europe, France in particular, along with Canada, Australia and Asia.
Instagram’s ‘boosting’ is amazing. I would say I built the majority of my initial following through boosting posts, through advertising. And then it keeps growing organically as people share my posts or pictures of them wearing my pieces in their stories. I’m so fortunate that the people who follow my line are engaged and supportive of what I do. The ones who maybe can’t afford to buy anything support my work in the ways they can, through sharing, commenting and liking, and that’s just as vital for maintaining and growing a community as sales. One customer that found me through a boosted post said, ‘Never before have I thought I would click on an ad and then buy it, but then here we are!’ And so they became an active, involved part of the story.
This March will be two years for Falconiere’s second life, and I’m building it slowly this time without being reliant on retailers or magazine press. It’s a brand new way to build a fashion line. I have options now, beyond the traditional fashion line trajectory, where you have to operate in a world that is inaccessible and elitist by design.
A major boost came a few months after I first started running ads. One came to the attention of a well-known cos (costume) player, Rachel Maksey, who has over 500,000 followers. She asked me if I wanted to collaborate. At that point, I had maybe 2000 followers and I asked, ‘Well what does a collaboration entail?’ She replied, ‘You’d gift me a piece and I would wear it and credit you back.’” I immediately said yes.
In Cosplay, people dress up in various period, pop and sub-culture, and fantasy costumes, medieval chief among them. It’s inclusive and joyful and builds the type of close knit communities that can personalize social media, and make it meaningful. And the world is SO accessible. Everyone can dress up. Everyone can comment on each other’s outfits and support a person whose work they like, and be involved in the progress that person is making. It nurtures belonging and openness in a way that is the dead opposite to fashion, which nurtures elitism, materialism and unattainable beauty standards. With cosplay there’s room for everyone. When Rachel Maksy wore my piece, she took Falconiere to the next level in the span of a weekend, and let me be a part of that community.
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It’s nice, coming from the mass market and wondering what the heck am I doing with my life. My earlier work used to be in the best stores and the best magazines. The reception to my line the second time around means the world to me. I used to hate what I did. My friends would be frustrated with me because I’d never talk about work, but now it’s hard for me to stop. I don’t need the empty status symbols of a Balenciaga handbag or Chloe shoes anymore to prove that I’ve made it. I was miserable when I was buying those things.
“I’m just now getting closer and closer to who and what I really am. But you don’t understand it all when you are betraying yourself. Initially, you just do what people do, because that’s what we’re taught: that it’s about money. Before, I was trying to fit into the luxury fashion world, but the truth is, I’m not that. I don’t care about that life. I brush up against it, because fashion and style is what I love, but that’s the only aspect that interests me. Maybe one day I’ll have a small shop/workspace in Brooklyn, where I get to style mannequins, make my pieces and work with customers and there will be some crazy chainmail curtains hanging from the ceiling, that would be my next dream.
“’My favorite things to do in the Hudson Valley?’ Honestly, I like my own space. I don’t even pick up my phone if it rings. Am I an extroverted introvert or an introverted extrovert? I don’t know. Obviously, the way I talk, I’m not an introvert, but then I do like space and I don’t like going out just to go out. I am very picky about what I’m going to do and who I’m going to do it with. And up here that’s not been great, it’s been really lonely up here. I’m not going to go to a bar on my own to meet people. I’m not going to a function by myself to meet people. So how do you meet people? [Laughter] I haven’t been good at it. But what I have done is build my business. I do have friends, but they don’t come up here. ‘What do I do for fun up here?’ I work. Or walk the Upper Byrdcliffe loop, go to yoga once a week at Euphoria Yoga. They’re great! Sometimes, I will go to the city to see friends or go on a date.”
What brought me up here?’ It was the pandemic, and I had to get out of my situation. I didn’t think I could afford to move to Brooklyn, and in overhearing the constant sirens in the background when I talked to my friends in Brooklyn on the phone, moving to the Covid epicenter seemed nuts. I knew about this area from a friend who lived in High Falls, so initially, I was looking around there. This was the only thing I could find that I liked that was kinda affordable so I moved here. So it’s really just been about work and personal growth, which is invaluable. ‘Do I think I’m a better person since the pandemic?’ Oh yeah, I think I’ve had an incredibly hard time, but it’s been so good for me. I built a whole business instead of being stuck in an apartment doing a job that didn’t fulfill me.”
“’Why vintage? Why the medieval influence?’ Vintage because I was so tiny and fashion forward in high school that the only things that would fit me that I liked, were the clothes I thrifted and altered. In this picture of me and my friend Beth in High School, we were acting like little punks, rebellious brats imitating Madonna Wannabes. Here I am at about ten, in my mom’s vintage dress, layered with her jewelry, and my hair in an upsweep looking like a Gibson girl. I dressed my little sister as the boy, she was a good sport, and between the outfit I’m wearing in that photo and the outfit I’m wearing with Beth, that’s the gist of Falconiere, along with a heavy dose of my parents world traveled jewelry.
“My parents were cool.They preceded the Beatles in India, the hippies in San Francisco. They used to go dancing at Andy Warhol’s club in the East Village. They were a step ahead of things and not very impressed. Because of my name, specifically taken from the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s Copper Kettle, people often ask if my parents were hippies. No, they were absolutely not hippies. They would take offense. They were their own thing, always.”
It seems, once again, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
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Connect with Juniper Rose’s Falconiere Shop