Welcome to the latest highly exciting instalment of Who What Wear UK’s Best Wardrobes in Britain. It’s where we do exactly what it says on the tin: delve into the most fantastical, awe-inspiring and downright influential wardrobes in this fair country of ours. We’re honing in on the women who cause the street style photographers to press their shutters as much as the characters you don’t yet know—the ones who fly under the radar with secretly incredible clothing collections.
Many have imitated the rock ’n’ roll look since its inception all those decades ago, but very few—only the truest real-life rockstars—live it each and every day. Forget fads or trends: Jess Morris, founder of celebrity-adored label Rockins and the former fashion PR of Agent Provocateur and Vivienne Westwood, is one of those rare Brit birds.
Her own aesthetic—and that of her iconic retro counterparts—has been artfully crafted into a lifestyle others can buy into. From the simple addition of a skinny silk scarf to the full rocker look, Rockins has established a steady niche in an ever-changing fashion market with a boutique on London’s Golborne Road. Jess kindly let us into her home to document her curated wardrobe and talk about the Rockins crew, which includes high-profile names like Kate Moss and Sienna Miller.
Phill Taylor; On Jess Morris: Rockins jacket, top and jeans
Do you have any early fashion memories?
That would be coming up to London with my mum when I would have been about 14 or something like that. We would come into Camden because my mum had a vintage store in Southsea, Portsmouth, at the time and she liked to buy these sort of spiky rubber cushions from Camden that were all the rage at the time in the early ’80s.
We came up and were on the bus when I saw Vivienne Westwood. I didn’t know who she was, but my mum was like, “That’s Vivienne Westwood over there.” She was wearing a tartan jacket and bustle and really ridiculously high shoes. I didn’t know I’d work for her for 10 years at that point, obviously (I was only 14 years old), but I was blown away with how incredible she looked, and I think that was the first defining moment.
So what was your look during those teenage years?
Well, at the time, it was the hair blow-dried upside down and bleached, so it was kind of like the Athena posters with the girls on the telephone. Everything I got was from jumble sales because, in those days, you used to go to get the most incredible things like ’50s stuff or Victoriana.
You wouldn’t even bother now because there’s nothing, but in those days, you really could, so I used to get these old white sailor trousers and cut them up into really short shorts and cut up old vests. Everything was kind of cut up and chopped up and slightly “abandoned on a desert island somewhere” but with big blonde hair and loads of makeup. Still lots of scarves—always lots of scarves tied around everything from a young age.
So you were clearly creative with your wardrobe from an early point?
Yes, I had a creative family. My dad is an artist, and my mum was amazing; she used to make her own clothes. She was a punk, but when I was younger, she more of a beatnik. She went through the fashions and was informed by her music choices.
Phill Taylor; On Jess Morris: Rockins dress; vintage jacket and boots
The fashion industry knows you for your rock ’n’ roll aesthetic, but when did that actually start to come together?
When I met Tim [my long-time partner]; that’s when Rockins happened. We share a great love of the same kind of music—well, all kinds of music! And when we met, we were particularly interested—and still are predominantly interested—in the ’70s. Without going into too much depth about Link Wray and things like that, it was the birth of the electric guitar, and that’s a period that really means a lot to us, both musically and that the music informed fashion so much.
What was really interesting about fashion at that time was the way rock ’n’ roll heroes like Jimmy Page, Marc Bolan and David Bowie blended the genders so beautifully. It’s really relevant today. So in those days, the guys were all wearing their girlfriends’ clothes and digging through their wardrobes wearing their flares and their scarves and their blouses. So when I look at my fashion icons from the ’60s and ’70s, they’re all men, but it’s the idea of women who are dressing like those men who are wearing their girlfriends’ clothes.
Before you were able to set up your own brand and wear the exact clothes you wanted, were you always in vintage?
Pretty much. I worked for Vivienne Westwood for such a long time, and then Agent Provocateur for such a long time, so I mean, there was a great chunk of my life when I was wearing pretty much only Vivienne Westwood. That’s probably a good 10 to 15 years. I suppose I was dressing a lot more ’40s-influenced, so I wore pencil skirts, jackets, boots, and scarves, but I always kind of did it my way.
Whenever I see Vivienne now, she always takes the mickey out of me for wearing so many jeans. She’s like [in a Derbyshire accent], “Ooh, you’re in your jeans again. Why are you always wearing denim, Jessica?” Because I’ve got a denim brand. “Ooh, have you? I didn’t know you had a clothes brand.” Which she does know! But she always pretends she doesn’t! I love her to pieces.
Phill Taylor ON JESS MORRIS: Rockins jumpsuit; Alexander McQueen boots
Do you think the look you have now is your “forever” style?
I don’t know. Gone are the days of wearing miniskirts. I recently did a proper clear-out and got rid of seven bags of mostly vintage stuff I’m never going to wear again. I feel comfortable in what I wear now. Which is usually jeans, a silk shirt, a blazer in velvet or a leather jacket and boots, as a rule. I imagine that will probably see me through. Then I dress up more in the evening.
There’s something very effortless about your outfits. What is the trick?
I like my clothes to look like they’re worn in. I don’t like anything to looking too brand-spanking-new. And I’m not a dressy-dress kind of girl. I mean, I love a slip dress or something that’s quite easy, but I don’t like going out and feeling uncomfortable. I don’t mind having heels on because they make me feel comfortable, weirdly.
Phill Taylor; On Jess Morris: Rockins suit and scarves
What are your shopping habits? Do you shop often? Alone or with people?
No. Weirdly, I really, really don’t. I need to go shopping for shoes desperately because I need more shoes—I do! I need more wearable things like black boots. My favourite boots that I have, which are a pair of Christian Louboutins, are just completely worn out. They’re just black, suede stretchy knee-high boots with good stilettos (a good heel that’s only about three inches) and a round toe. It’s really hard to find that.
I don’t really like shopping with anyone else. And I really hate going to department stores. I like boutiques. I really like boutiques like mine! So I suppose that’s why I’ve created it. I like to go in somewhere where someone is really helpful and they know what you want before you’ve even gone into the changing room. I like vintage shopping a lot—you can’t beat Portobello Market. I just pick up my extra bits on the market just wandering down of a Friday lunchtime, if I get a second. I don’t really shop anymore. Bella Freud for a jumper, but other than that, I make my own clothes now.
Can you remember a particularly big purchase or an item where you saved up and it really meant something?
I haven’t bought this for myself, but my business partner recently bought me a Yves Saint Laurent black snakeskin handbag for my 50th birthday this past summer. I opened up the box, and I don’t know what I was expecting (a kaftan or something), and I literally started crying because it was the nicest present anyone has bought me. You know, I’ve had lovely jewellery and stuff like that before, but in terms of a friend buying me something like that, it was really amazing. I wear it every day—it goes with everything, and I love that.
Phill Taylor; On Jess Morris: Vintage jacket; Rockins dress; Vivienne Westwood boots
What are you most sentimental about in your closet?
The leather jacket that Tim made for me. It’s actually an old AllSaints jacket that was his, which I’ve commandeered now. It’s kind of slouchy and it’s got a lovely shine to the leather. It’s quite thin and covered with different patches and badges—from Pac Man to Rockins patches to Kermit the Frog. It also has chains and all sorts of things all over it. It’s brilliant, and wherever I go, people stop me asking where it’s from. You couldn’t put a value on it, as there’s so much work that’s gone into it. It’s invaluable to me.
So like your musical icons, do you and Tim share clothing and accessories?
He can be really funny about me sharing his things! I wore his concho belt out the other day, which didn’t go down well, and I was like, “Alright—calm down!” I went out to the shops and bought my own, so we’ve each got one. He doesn’t like sharing. We share scarves—the scarf wardrobe is for all to enjoy!
Do you have any modern-day style icons you reference?
I think that like attracts like, and in my circle of friends, we tend to like a lot of the same things. I think that my girls always look great—Katy England, Kate Moss and Kim Sion. So does Serena Rees. And when you start hanging out together (they wear a lot of Rockins), you kind of tend to go into a “pack” look. So we all wear similar looks, I suppose, but not through copycatting.
Phill Taylor; On Jess Morris: Rockins suit and scarf; Alexander McQueen boots
Do you have any regrets over the things you’ve worn?
When I had my really short Letitia Dean haircut and button earrings. I suppose that was the ’80s. The ’80s didn’t work for me at all. So I don’t think I ever want to be reminded of that or ever go back there.
But the ’80s are back in fashion…
Not around here, they’re not!
As you’ve matured, how do you think your outlook on style has changed?
I suppose with age you are less bothered about what other people think. I used to spend way too much time putting makeup on for school, work, wherever I was going. Way too much time blow-drying my hair, and it wasn’t until I stopped doing it that I realised that my hair is a lot better curly. But I spent years of my life blow-drying it and looking like some sort of princess. It really didn’t suit me.
Shop Jess’s style below.
Thanks for having us, Jess!