La Douleur Exquise: Jack Weakly’s Visions to Challenge Norms at DFW

Photo courtesy of Douleur

Designer Jack Weakly knows what it’s like to be “the weird kid.” 

In fact, the search for belonging is what brought him to fashion in the first place. 

“I’ve always had a passion for clothing. I think it started because I was a really weird kid and I needed some way to gain confidence,” shared Weakly. “I believe there’s a lot of power in deciding what you wear and how you signal to other people who you are as a person. I feel like it’s the first point of contact.”

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Now, Weakly is a fashion designer who fosters community and belonging through his art. This ethos shapes the identity of his brand, Douleur —a collection of thought-provoking and painstakingly curated avant-garde streetwear and formalwear pieces. 

jack weakly douleur
Weakly at Colorado Springs Fashion Week, Photo Courtesy of Jack Weakly

Douleur began under a different name at a different time. 

French for “pain,” the name comes from the French expression la douleur exquise or “the exquisite pain.” As Weakly describes it, “It’s a colloquialism for knowing you’re in love with something that you can’t have.” 

For Weakly, this pain manifested itself not only in his struggles to belong as a “weird kid,” but in the very nature of his journey toward establishing a brand. He confronted challenges like layoffs and a global pandemic largely out of his control.

Weakly began making custom clothing in 2017 under the name Wasptooth. After changing direction in a moment of self-proclaimed hastiness, Weakly decided to pursue his design dreams the right way by studying fashion in London.

However, 2020’s pandemic thwarted this pursuit so he had to reroute.

Though he eventually did spend time in London studying fashion design, Weakly launched Douleur a few months after lockdown started while living in a laundry room in his hometown of Colorado Springs. Not wanting to wait to pursue his passions, he began creating with a decades-old sewing machine and officially launched his brand in 2021.

Now, Douleur exists as two separate branches: soft products and cut-and-sew.

Photo courtesy of Douleur

Douleur’s soft products are more traditional streetwear staples: from screen-printed hoodies and graphic tees to cargos and trucker hats. His most recent ready-to-wear collection centered around the concept of family.

The pieces in this collection are each reminiscent of various facets of what family means from chosen brotherhood to maternal guidance, represented by a teddy bear graphic tee adorned with a platitude from Weakly’s own mother: “Until it is my turn, I will clap for others.” 

Weakly’s cut-and-sew line takes a more non-traditional route, reinterpreting formalwear through unconventional silhouettes. This line is made entirely with sustainable materials, provided to Weakly through a sponsorship with Who Gives A SCRAP, a donation-based scrap store that carries secondhand fabrics and art supplies in Colorado Springs.

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Though Weakly is the one-man production team behind Douleur’s success, he largely keeps the brand’s two branches separate from each other. 

“I like having fun with both, but they need their own boxes to live in,” Weakly shared. 

Though Weakly says that he separates the two, these elements are likely to collide on the fourth night of this spring’s Denver Fashion Week (DFW), where he will be showing a handmade collection of couture streetwear.

READ: Streetwear & Sneakers: Meet The Designers for DFW Spring ’24

This collision is not quite as unthinkable as Weakly might be implying. The common thread behind the two branches of Douleur comes back to the brand’s origin. 

“I long to feel understood in the modern meta. I want to make people feel understood,” said Weakly of his brand identity. “And I genuinely believe that that can’t happen without some level of vulnerability. So, to make something is great. Making a cool shirt is great. But the ethos that I had to rewind to is sharing a piece of me and opening up a conversation out of that.”

Thus, Weakly centers this ethos around sharing stories — courageously, vulnerably, and helping others feel seen. 

“Hopefully people leave feeling a little more understood, they feel a bit more part of something, and a bit more unified,” Weakly said.  

Photo Courtesy of Douleur

For his DFW collection, “Fear and Trembling,” Weakly is bringing his vulnerable ethos and his cut-and-sew expertise to the runway – a coupling that encourages Weakly to “dream at a higher level,” push boundaries and tear down expectations. 

According to Weakly, a large part of this mission looks like deconstructing tradition in men’s formalwear. 

“One thing I can’t stand is that the male-presenting meta is a sports coat, suit and tie, slim fit dress pants right at the ankle and some derbies. I think it’s boring,” Weakly said. “At the end of the day, this should be about fun and self-expression. And so I’m really leaning into that and seeing what fits in this realm, while also trying to push some lines.”

To cross these lines and encourage more playfulness in his collection, Weakly’s designs will deliberately push back against the gendered binary in formalwear and masculine versus feminine clothing as a whole. 

“I think a good starting point is being careful with terms. There are masculine design elements, but I think some of the fun is incorporating all kinds of elements,” Weakly said of deconstructing this binary.

“When I refer to something as a masculine element, I mean more traditional, harsh lines from armpits to ankles and this very boxy silhouette. So, I think a starting point for what is colloquially men’s formalwear is blurring that line intentionally and making silhouettes that are borrowing from traditional ‘feminine’ designs – like adding curves to a masculine design,” he said.

As such, much of his DFW collection will feature playful silhouettes – from drop-crotch, wide-cut pants to oversized shoulder pads. 

Moreover, Weakly’s commitment to challenging convention contributes to a meaningful dialogue around antiquated traditions within fashion. In particular, by pushing back against these intentionally blurry lines, Weakly offers a perspective that both challenges norms and invites his audience to reconsider the possibilities of clothing and self-expression.

Photo courtesy of Douleur

In blurring lines and pushing boundaries, Weakly has established a brand that steps outside of the standards of streetwear and formalwear – in the ultimate effort to help others escape the exquisite binding pain of tradition. 

From his humble beginnings as a “weird kid” seeking confidence through clothing to the establishment of Douleur, Weakly’s commitment to authenticity, social commentary, and sustainability set him apart in an industry often characterized by conformity and excess.

Through his designs, Weakly not only challenges traditional notions of fashion but also invites his audience to embark on the sometimes painful pursuit of self-discovery and inclusivity. 

In a world where conformity often reigns supreme, Jack Weakly’s vision offers a refreshing reminder that true innovation lies in the courage to be unapologetically vulnerable. 

Denver Fashion Week Streetwear & Sneakers will take place May 14 at The Brighton.

Tickets for Denver Fashion Week can be purchased here. 

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