Meet Barbara Campbell, the artist behind the bold pocket squares that are adding distinguished pops of color to the men’s floor at Saks.
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Barbara Campbell had just come from buying more fabric for making pocket squares when we met, and she was beaming. It’s not surprising that she’s so passionate about her craft, as her enthusiasm and creativity shine through in her designs.
If you’ve ever browsed the formalwear at Saks Fifth Avenue, you’ve probably noticed her pocket squares bursting forth from the jackets. Her collection with Saks launched three years ago with 100 one-of-a-kind pieces and has grown to a whopping 1,600 unique editions per year, available nationwide in the retailer’s stores. And, yet, she still sews each one herself in her New Jersey apartment.
“I noticed that some of the guys on the sales floor were wearing these amazing pocket squares. When I asked where they got them, they told me about Barbara,” says Eric Jennings, the vice president and fashion director of men’s wear at Saks. “I immediately called her to meet with me. It’s not often that a large corporation like Saks gets to work with a small artisan who really makes each one of her pieces by hand—especially someone as full of life as Barbara.”
Campbell got her start in fashion at Barneys, where the company’s former president Fred Pressman served as her mentor. One day, while Campbell was working in the Chelsea store as a personal shopper, a customer asked her for pocket squares that wouldn’t get lost in his pocket. “I thought, I can do this,” she says.
She went home and started sewing. Today, more than 20 years and 25 sewing machines later, Campbell creates exclusive collections for Saks, Kleinfeld, and private clients, all out of her apartment.
Unlike the slinky shapelessness of most pocket squares, Campbell’s versions are structured and easy to style. Her secret lies in a unique method of stitching, which she says she discovered accidentally, when her sewing machine got stuck one day. The thick edges—often sewn in colors that contrast the fabric—curl over as though they’re supported by wire. When you tuck the fabric into your pocket, the borders form an almost floral shape.
Like flowers, no two Barbara Campbell pieces are the same. She cuts many of them freehand, which results in subtle variations. Even for wedding parties she puts an individual stamp on each square—a contrast-color detail, for instance, or a scalloped edge. Her creations have included a 10-piece pocket square, made for a client who loves color, and a red one with pointed edges that resembles a lotus flower. They come in silk, cotton, lightweight wool, and cashmere, and can be customized to your taste (from $75).