How does a woman who began her professional life as a child star make the transition from performer to clothing designer? Simply by inventing clothes that “perform,” engaging a wide and enthusiastic audience.
Jan Rhodes Norman, who, as a kid cavorted on TV’s “Ed Sullivan Show” and later moved on to wow ’em at the Continental Baths and in Los Angeles and New York nightclubs, retired at the ripe old age of 18 to raise six children, run a restaurant and open several specialty shops catering to children and their doting parents and grandparents.
Jan’s Silk Oak line of ultra-casual, cotton-knit, hand silkscreened clothes for men, women, and children, was a natural outgrowth of her previous lines of work. The clothes communicate with an audience as any good performer would, grabbing attention on first sight. They draw both adults and kids with their broad images of forest and farm animals—from dinosaurs to ladybugs—of fruits of the field, and of vegetables too. Their colors range from bright to brighter, and their sizes from newborn to extra-large; their popularity seems universal.
At a recent market show, buyers ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the playfully designed shirts and nightshirts. “All of her stuff is just beautiful,” said one, clearly conflicted over which to buy, and deciding on a slice of watermelon, a bunch of carrots, and a head of cabbage, each silkscreened onto a brightly colored cotton shirt. “You’re dangerous!” exclaimed a return buyer, explaining that she often sent the colorful dresses and t-shirts to a beloved out-of-town niece as a way of staying in touch. Others become obsessed with collecting the entire set.
Fortunately, new designs continue to emerge from Norman’s fertile imagination. Chickens cluck over a field of hot pink; a lion’s head, half ferocious, half funny, peers out of a purple, long-sleeved T; a green cabbage takes an ear of corn as its consort on a bed of yellow. The images are bold and expressive. Best of all, they are eye-catching performers that sell. And that is what performance is all about, isn’t it?
You can contact Jan at her studio at 607-275-9970 or visit her website at www.silkoak.com.