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Pieceful Purpose

She may have dreamed of a life in international politics, but Jessica Barkley’s a designer at heart.

Jessica Barkley’s Laguna shop showcases her timeless frocks, which boast striking details and quality fabrics.


Growing up in Peru, Jessica Barkley didn’t have access to trendy clothes—so she designed her own. You could say she was destined for a career in fashion. But she took a detour first in hopes of fulfilling a dream of immigrating to the U.S. and holding a diplomatic position in D.C. She earned a Fulbright Scholarship to Lewis & Clark college in Oregon and studied international politics. After graduating with a master’s degree, she chose love (followed by marriage and three kids) over a career. Now, firmly planted in Laguna Beach for almost three decades, her passion for fashion has been rekindled—hence Jessica Barkley Atelier (, a boutique filled with her elegant dresses. We spent some time talking style with Barkley.

How did you get drawn back into fashion? It never really left me. My mother and I [both were models] would talk endlessly about dresses and details of our favorite designers. Now that my children are grown, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to pursue this passion. This isn’t your first run at designing though… Shortly after I was married, I created a line of alpaca coats inspired by my Peruvian heritage. I was showing in New York and Milan, and doing the manufacturing in Peru. With small children at home, I wasn’t able to do both effectively, so I devoted my time to my family.

The turning point? A trip to Paris—I had studied there when I was in school and always felt it was meant to be my other home. Everything about the city appeals to me, and the way Parisians dress is the ultimate in timeless style. I came home full of ideas and began to create my dress line.

Describe your collection. I want women to feel comfortable, yet sexy. My line features pieces that convey a professional look, focusing on luxurious fabrics that shape amazingly on the body, not too clingy or tight. Draping is a key component to the line, as well as details.

Let’s talk fabric. I love going to fabric shows. They’re held a year ahead of the design season, with the color trends already having been dictated. I let the fabric speak to me, and from there I develop my ideas. My line is full of French laces, toile and decadent silks.

Do you have a favorite piece? I love the piece we did for evening created from a black silk organza. The skirt overlay is a fine lace that gives a peek-through appearance. And the best part—it doubles as a cape.