When It Comes to Fashion, ‘The Weirder the Better’ Says Molly Wellmann

The owner of Japp’s Since 1879 has a unique passion for colorful shoes (and we’re here for it).
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PHOTOGRAPH BY DEVYN GLISTA

OCCUPATION: Owner, Japp’s Since 1879

STYLE: “The weirder the better.”

Describe your style.

There’s a little bit of old school [and] classic pinup, but I don’t consider myself pinup style. I mostly try to stick with the ’40s, ’50s, and into the ’60s.

You don’t personally identify with pinup style?

A lot of people think I do. I mean, I like the style. I wear winged eyeliner and I’ll sometimes put my hair in pinup styles. I love pin curls and vintage pieces, but I don’t go all vintage. I don’t have the time or money to search for those [pieces] anymore.

What kind of pieces do you search for?

Mostly my passion is shoes. I look for the weirdest, most interesting, colorful shoes. And then jewelry. I found this acrylic necklace; it’s a ham. I call it my glam ham.

Where do you find your shoes?

I don’t buy used shoes just because a lot of times they fall apart. I search online for interesting shoe labels; a lot of them come from Europe. Ruby Shoes is one. I’ve been buying every kind of Doc Martin right now because there are so many different colors and styles. John Fluevog is one of my favorite shoe designers; he’s from Canada. I just bought a pair of Betsey Johnson ruby red rhinestone boots that I’m obsessed with, and then Irregular Choice always has the weirdest shit—and I’m talking weird. I have shoes that I can’t even walk in but they’re so cool that I just buy them. They’re shoes that you can only take photoshoots in or you have to just sit down in and show off. I’ve been finding a lot of really cool platforms through Dolls Kill. I found [a pair] that have a whole barnyard scene around them.

How many pairs do you own?

About 500 pairs. I have a full freaking wall of shoes. I got into shoes when I lived in San Francisco. I worked for this Chanel boutique, and they made me the shoe manager and I fell in love with learning about how shoes fit, what you should look for, how they should feel when you walk in them, what makes a good shoe and a bad shoe. Then I worked for Prada doing the same thing and loved it.

When you build an outfit do you start with the shoes?

It depends on this situation, but I usually do start with the shoes.

You started sewing at age 7 and dreamt of becoming a fashion designer when you grew up.

I wanted to be a fashion designer so bad. I would steal my mom’s and [sisters’] clothes and try to recreate them. My grandmother taught me how to sew my first pattern, which was this simple circle skirt, and I got my great grandmother’s Singer sewing machine; it was from the ’30s but it still worked, and it was awesome.

I used to go to the thrift store and buy things or I would steal pillowcases from our linen closet and make shift dresses out of them. I remember stealing sheets one time and trying to make this wedding dress; it was ridiculous. I just love dressing up and creating things. I got my first subscription to Vogue as a Christmas gift when I was like 7 or 8 and loved it. I would be like, I’m totally gonna wear all these clothes when I grow older.

You know what’s funny? In the ’90s before the internet and stuff, like all through junior high school and high school and even into my 20s, I would make scrapbooks from [fashion] magazines like Vogue and Lucky. I would cut them out and put them into plastic sleeves in binders. I have probably, oh gosh, 15 binders full of all these cutouts. I still have them and look through them, and I’m like, Oh my gosh, this has totally been my style this whole time.

You became an entrepreneur long before you opened Japp’s in 2010. In high school you made and sold jewelry to classmates and your mom’s friends.

I learned how to wire wrap rocks at one point and then I got into beading necklaces. I learned how to make these chokers out of glass beads, and I would make these big flowers to go on the chokers, and I thought they were so cool. I wore them throughout high school and girls wanted to buy them from me, so I made a little business out of it.

Eventually, you realized you didn’t want to become a fashion designer and turned your focus to jewelry.

The people were great, but [working in high-end fashion] was very superficial and I’m a very real person, so I just knew that wasn’t gonna be the career for me. So, I put myself through [jewelry arts] school and learned everything like how to cast, fabricate, and even set stones. I loved to create weird costume jewelry out of silver, copper, and brass. I don’t have time to make jewelry anymore. I wish I did. I think about it all the time. I was gonna open my own jewelry business and then 9/11 happened and everything changed, and the price of a metal went up, so I decided to go into the service industry.

At Japp’s you serve classic cocktails from the 1700s to the 1950s. Does your style influence the bar’s theme or vice versa?

I don’t know. My style is always my own. Even if I was not a bartender or cocktail maker, I would still have my own style. My style is just Molly, whereas my cocktail making and my love for history, that’s my business.

Now you make hats?

I make fascinators. They’re headpieces—not like big hats—that I attach with clips. They’re all kind of weird. I wore one for New Year’s [last year] that I attached a champagne cork to, and I made it look like it was exploding champagne. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff from the 1800s…I love all the old hats. I’m weird, so the weirder the better. I have to throw in some kind of weird [element to my outfit], so hats are usually it.

Will fashion always be like a major part of your life?

Oh my god, yes. I hope that I never follow somebody else’s fashion [trends]. Never. When I’m old, I hope I’m still wearing really weird shit and that I’m always the eccentric aunt. I think I will—I know I will, actually.

Go behind the scenes of our Style Counsel shoot with Molly Wellmann on our TikTok @cincinnatimagazine.

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