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J McLaughlin Opens in Lenox

by Kathryn Boughton

Illustrator Patricia van Essche of Ardsley, NY, was a natural to portray all ninety-six of the trendy J.McLaughlin Stores as the franchise has expanded, store by store, around the country. She is currently hard at work preparing a final sketch for the newly opened store, located at 68 Main Street in Lenox.

J.McLaughlin offers classic, preppy, American clothing and accessories for women and men. It was founded in 1977 by brothers Kevin and Jay McLaughlin with one shop on Manhattan's Upper East Side. van Essche has worked for the firm since the days when there were only three outlets, all in New York City.

van Essche said her association with J.McLaughlin was forecast when she interviewed with Steven Siegler, currently J.McLaughlin’s chief executive officer, while he was still working for another company. “I started out in the fashion industry,” she said, “and he connected me with Jay and Kevin McLaughlin. I went to work for them creating mood boards.”

A “mood board” is a design tool that summarizes a collection’s theme, helping to keep lines of apparel focused and consistent.

Her own focus changed from mood boards to exterior sketches of the new stores as the chain expanded. “With each store I have all these memories,” she said. “I used to go more often to their office in the city. In fact, I was supposed to go in on 9/11. I was getting ready to go and trying to get ahold of them, but couldn’t get anyone. Then a friend called, crying, and asked if I knew what had happened. There are just all these memories … ”

van Essche said her interest in art was rooted in her Kentucky childhood and nurtured when she studied at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture and Art. The fashion design major worked in the field for 15 years, traveling the world for such fashion icons as Ralph Lauren, Liz Claiborne and Calvin Klein.

She found the work “high pressure, but a lot of fun,” but she and her husband decided to move out of New York City when their twin sons were 5, seeking a rural environment for them and their daughter. “We wanted more land and green grass,” she said.

Dislocated from the world she had known, she said she “started saying ‘yes’ to every job that came my way.” She even contemplated opening a brick-and-mortar store, but finally decided that the Internet was the best way to promote her work and formed her own business, PVE Design.

The Internet and scanning soon eliminated trips to McLaughlin’s headquarters. “Almost every day, I scan and sketch for them,” she said. “In fact, I am working on one as I speak.”

She eschews some modern technology, however. “I don’t do Photoshop,” she said. “I’m kind of a dinosaur that way—I try to be honest.”

While trained in all art media, she said she prefers watercolor. “It’s light, and quick and loose,” she explained.

Now, from her hilltop studio, van Essche, better known to her friends as PVE, creates whimsical illustrations and art that includes Christmas cards, stationery, monograms, illustrations of chic homes, pets, events and, not least, private commissions for McLaughlin stores, Sheridan Road magazine and Lava Barre.